When you step on the scales and find no change? Just don’t get disheartened if you are training hard and eating right but the numbers are not changing. In case you are doing it right then, you will surely make a difference but you might be measuring the wrong thing. So, its high time to learn the difference between losing weight and losing fat.
The terms weight loss and fat loss are generally used interchangeably, but they can bear very different meanings and outcomes. Here are the things that are jotted down which you need to know.
What is Weight Loss?
Our body weight is basically divided into two main categories i.e. fat mass and lean mass. Fat mass is exactly what it sounds like, it is nothing but our total body fat levels. On the other hand, lean mass is anything that’s not fat mass and which can be further broken down into bone mass, muscle mass, water, and organ mass.
This is were some of the confusion lies. A very few groups of people purposely try to lose lean mass as most of them are more interested in the fat mass side of the equation. Nevertheless, if we just use the scale to look at the change in weight loss, then practically there is no indication as to whether we have to lose fat, muscle, or something else.
Weight loss doesn’t actually discriminate on what exactly lost. It is simply a numerical measure and doesn’t take into account the quality of what is lost or gained in addition to this it can be quite easy to trick the scale. If you just switch from a high carb to a low carb diet, you can see a dramatic reduction in the weight loss. The reason behind this that 1g of stored carbs holds about 3g of water in the body.
This fact is also one of the main reasons why when people go on a low-carb diet, they witness almost an instantaneous drop in their weight but it is very important to remember that this change has nothing to do with fat loss.
There are various other things that affect our weight fluctuations on a daily basis and all of them are normal. For instance, hormonal fluctuations, varying sodium intake, different amounts of dietary fibre, and food sitting in the gastrointestinal tract.
All of these factors can cause your weight to fluctuate, so when you witness these changes on the scale, then is it weight or fat that is gained or lost? And is it right to focus on the weight at all?
What is Fat Loss?
Every individual has a certain amount of body fat. This fat is generally expressed as a percentage of their total body composition, for instance, 16% of body fat.
Women, in general, tend to have more body fat on average than men. One of the basic facts behind this is that women need to maintain a higher level of body fat for the reproductive system. On the other hand, men tend to have more lean muscle mass on average than women for a given weight which primarily leads to a lower level of body fat.
It is found that a male athlete has a body fat of anywhere from 7% to 13%, in comparison to the female equivalent of 12% to 20%. Also, various studies show that a fit and athletic men can be anywhere from 12% to 17% and females can be in the range of 17% to 24%. Whereas an average healthy man can have up to 24% and women counterpart can be up to 30%.
In case the body fat is not lost, it is stored. Basically, the excess fat is stored in the body’s fat cells which are called adipocytes. This is where the term adipose tissue is coined which literally means fatty tissue.
Basically, the most common types of body fat (adipocytes) that are spoken about are subcutaneous fat (the fat between the skin and the muscle) and the second type is visceral fat (the fat around the organs). There are many other body fats but these two are the ones that are most responsible for health and appearance. Fat loss is nothing but the process of breaking down and reduction of these stored adipocytes.
We definitely can’t choose where we want to lose fat from and also there is no special protocol to help spot the reduction of our body fat. This states that we simply can’t exercise or work out on a specific area that we would like to lose fat from and then hope that it works. Sadly, if one wants a flat toned stomach, sit-ups alone won’t help them to lose the weight but calorie deficit does.
Can Body Fats Be Measured?
There are a few ways through which body fat can be measured but they are generally the only prediction based on the equipment used or a mathematical prediction.
Skinfolds And Girth Measurements
Skinfolds can be considered a very practical and non-invasive way to measure body fat if it is appropriately done by a qualified practitioner. This process involves various skinfold sites to be measured with callipers to basically determine body fat levels.
It seems it’s worth noting that the sum of the skin folds could be more useful than the actual percentage as fat tends to shift around the body and basically the percentage is an algorithm based on equations. The sum is generally the total of all skinfolds added together. Girth measurement that is primarily performed with a tape measure is a useful way to compliment skinfold testing.
Taking pictures regularly can be a great way to measure progress. Also, it requires no special equipment, just access to a camera on a phone. While this might not accurately estimate how much fat you have actually lost or muscle you have gained, it simply gives us an objective measure of our aesthetic progress.
It is known that most people train or diet for various aesthetic reasons and in such cases visible appearance is an important indicator thus, a picture does just that. In case you are using this method then just try and keep the variables the same each time. For instance, what you wear, the time the shots are taken, lighting, etc all should be kept the same. The more you are able to reproduce a similar setting, the more visible the difference to your body you can notice in the pictures.
The scale has a lot of bad impressions lately and it has come into question whether it is useful for fat loss measurements or not. Nevertheless, the research indicates that people who weigh themselves more often are quite likely to stick to a diet and exercise plan as well as keep the weight off.
If this method is used by someone who is very overweight and starts a new diet and exercise program to lose the fat, the numbers on the scale might go down. But this might not take place on a linear basis, the trend over time should show a decrease.
The scale method might not be as useful for someone who is in good shape and is looking to slightly shift body composition. This method will only tell a part of the picture and it is possible that you might put on muscle or lose fat and have no impact on the scale i.e. the scale stays relatively similar.
Mostly, people with a significant amount of fat to lose will show a change in scale weight. Perhaps a better choice for both well trained and untrained would be to use the scale in combination with pictures and skinfold measurements, in case you don’t have access to a more sophisticated measurement tool.
There are few tools through which you can measure body fats like:
DEXA Scan (Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry Scan)
DEXA is currently considered the gold standard of body composition testing. It generally uses a type of low radiation x-ray to determine body fat levels. Originally, DEXA scans were used to conduct bone mineral analysis but then they were found to be useful for testing both fat and fat-free mass with a high degree of accuracy. A DEXA machine is quite an expensive piece of laboratory equipment often found in universities, few hospitals or exclusively for private practice.
Air Displacement Or Bod Pod
Similar to the case of DEXA most Bod Pod machines are in universities, few hospitals or private clinics. Although it is somewhat less accurate than a DEXA scan, a Bod Pod is handier to be used frequently if needed. DEXA scan specifically emits a small dose of radiation, so it can’t be used on a continuous basis. Whereas a Bod Pod machine uses air displacement to determine fat mass.
Underwater Hydrostatic Weighing
This is considered a very accurate way of testing body fat levels which is almost on par with DEXA. But obviously, there is an issue with it not being very practical to use as the subject needs to fully submerged underwater for the test to take place or perform. So a DEXA or Bod Pod scan is far more convenient.
Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA)
This is again one of the less accurate measures of how to determine the body fat levels. It generally involves running an electric current through a scale or handheld device. There is often a large margin for error as well as a lot of variables simply could affect the validity and reliability of the readings.
This way there are various measurement techniques which might give you a better understanding of what’s going on.
If you are amongst the one who is solely focusing on losing weight then putting on muscle might not be what you are after. This is generally more applicable to weight-related sports than it is for the people who are after ideal body composition. Also, muscle mass does carry weight behind it, so it can affect the scale weight.
In case you want to improve your body composition and achieve that lean and toned look, then gaining some muscles will help you with that. Obviously, there is a bit of a misconception that gaining lean muscle mass helps you to lose body fat. The real difference between these two is only very small in real-life scenarios. And in case it is possible to lose some weight and gain some muscles at the same time, it is better to focus on one specific goal at a time.
Either you must gain muscle or lose fat. There are a few circumstances where you can simply do both. But this is considered highly misleading and there are rare chances that you will get the best results. In case you are the one who is new to exercise or is coming back from a long injury then it is possible to lose fat and build muscle.
But in case you have been training for a long time, then it is unlikely that you will perform both effectively. Because building muscles need a calorie surplus diet while losing fat requires a calorie deficit diet. So, in most cases, these two don’t go off well together.
Basically, a person with a lot of lean muscle mass might have a higher metabolic rate due to more active tissue but it comes along at the cost of higher body weight. Lean muscle is often dense and carries weight behind it. So, in case you need to be light on the scale for whatever reason, then definitely adding more muscle might not be the best option. This is the reason why endurance athletes don’t carry around excess muscle mass.
However, if looking good and losing fat is the biggest thing for you, then adding some quality muscle could be a big advantage.
People most often talk about weight loss but what they really want is fat loss. Also, people who basically try to lose weight are doing so to look better, feel better and most importantly to improve their health.
In case you are overweight then focus on the scale might provide you with some useful accountability. So, set your goal right and give it a thought whether you are after losing weight or losing fat?