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Fat loss vs weight loss: Breaking the kilogram myth

The weighing scale can be your worst enemy.

Updated: Jun 29, 2018, 22:32 PM IST

The fitness industry can often be confusing. Companies and trainers may try to sell you a thousand different fitness solutions with little explanation or clarity on what exactly a certain training schedule or a product will help you do.

Some of the concepts that is most often confused are weight loss and fat loss. It is common for companies or trainers to just keep you focused on how much weight you will lose ot have lost. But weight is a more complex concept than that, and less may not always be better.

Here is a simple explainer on how weight loss and fat loss are different, to help you understand what you need:

What's the difference?
Weight Loss - You want to lower your body-weight, the sum weight of your bones, muscles, organs.
Fat Loss - You want to lower your body fat, the amount of fat your body carries. 

Problems with weight loss
Unreliable - Your body weight can fluctuate daily, since it's influenced by your stomach / bowel / bladder content, water loss / retention, muscle loss / gain. You'll have no idea what's going on.

Irrelevant - 2 people with similar height can weigh the same, but look completely different because one has lower body fat than the other.

The last point shows why the BMI standard is flawed. It doesn't take your body fat into account. Two people can have the same BMI. However, it does not reflect who is healthier.

Losing muscle makes your weight loss harder
Unfortunately, most people are so focused on weight that they don't prioritize muscle maintenance. So they over restrict calories.

Losing muscle slows metabolism
Loss of muscle mass will cause a rebound effect to weight gain. Muscle is metabolically active and lights your furnace, keeping your metabolism brisk and burning calories. Even when you're sitting on the couch, you burn more calories if you have more muscle mass on your frame. So losing muscle means your furnace slows down, your metabolism gets sluggish and the weight keeps on coming.

Here's how the weight scale can mislead you
Clothes, mirrors and pictures don't lie. Neither do fat calipers. But the weight scale can become your worst enemy by misleading you and killing your motivation. 

Carbs and water
Carbs bind to water. So eating less carbs will make you lose weight: water loss. This is why you lose so much weight on a diet like Atkins the first 2 weeks. It's mostly water. Of course, increasing your carb intake will make you gain weight again: water retention.

Muscle gains and fat loss
You'll gain muscle while losing fat when you get into strength training. But on the weight scale it will look like you're not making progress: your body-weight doesn't change. Track your body fat using a fat caliper and you'll see your body fat is going down.

How to make sure you lose fat and not muscle?
Get Stronger. Strength training builds muscle and prevents muscle loss. It also helps sticking to your diet.

Eat healthy
Eat whole, unprocessed foods 90 percent of the time and eat less starchy carbs.

How to track progress efficiently
Track progress every 2 weeks.
Stop weighing yourself daily.
Stop looking in the mirror. Shoot full body pictures and compare them with old ones.
Track body fat. Get a fat caliper and track.
Take measurements: Girth measurements of your neck, chest, arms, waist and thighs.
Strength stats: Strength going up means muscle gains and strength training prevents muscle breakdown.

Listen also to what people say. They'll notice your body change more than you will. Clothes will start to feel differently too.

Focus on fat loss first. Once you've got your body fat down, check if you like what you see. Then decide if you still need to lose weight.

(Vipin Rana is a master rehab trainer who has spent over a decade in the fitness industry. He is an expert on nutrition, fat loss, posture correction, and injury and pain management. He has been certified in metabolic training by the American Council on Exercise. He also works as a presenter on fitness education.) 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)