The first thing that I want talk about is the phrase, “I want to lose weight.”
Weight encompasses everything in our body and its gravitational pull to the center of the earth. Our bones, blood, water, fat, muscle…all of it!
The reality is that you don’t want to lose weight. You want to lose fat. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Oh you know what I mean when I say I want to lose weight.”
I think the bigger issue here is that the average person doesn’t even know what THEY mean when they say they want to lose weight. Most people don’t realize the actual difference between losing fat vs. losing weight.
This is evidenced by the strategies that most people use when they decide they want to lose weight. They weigh themselves on the scale, write down the number or put it into an app, then they plan for how little food they can eat without getting so hangry that they do something and end up in jail.
They also might start exercising; usually in the form of cardio like running or biking (I’m looking at you, Peloton.) The longer they can go, the more calories they burn, so more is better, right?? Any of this sound familiar?
So, what happens? The number on the scale goes down over time and everyone celebrates! Yay, right? RIGHT?
They shout from the rooftops, “I lost 10 pounds!!”
The response should be, “10 pounds of what?” The scale said you lost 10 pounds, but the scale doesn’t know what that 10 pounds consisted of.
The above strategy for weight loss almost always consists of fat loss, yes, but also water and muscle loss too. The drastically low calories coupled with too much cardio exercise is a recipe for your body to release muscle to be used for energy.
This is where understanding the difference between weight loss and fat loss is critical because the scale doesn’t know. You think you’ve lost 10 pounds of fat, but the scale lied to you.
Let’s look at another scenario. You are looking to lose weight, so you go into a moderate calorie deficit and start doing resistance training of some type. Maybe bodyweight exercises, maybe lifting weights, using resistance bands, or Pilates…whatever it may be.
You start feeling great in your clothes and you can tell you’ve lost weight, so you hop on the scale and prepare to celebrate the fruits of you labor. But *whomp whomp* no change or worse yet, it’s up 2 pounds.
What happened??? Once again...the scale has lied!
Clearly, you’ve lost fat. Your clothes are looser, you feel tighter, you might be starting to see it in your face or arms. So why didn’t you lose weight?
It could be any number of things from muscle gain (muscle is more compact so when fat is lost and muscle it gained, it looks smaller) or it could be that you are holding some water from either a salty meal or for muscle recovery. Maybe you weighed yourself at a different time of day? There are several possibilities.
What is important here is that you have clearly and definitely lost fat which is infinitely more important than losing weight. The scale is a great tool to support your fat loss journey, but it should not be the sole decision maker - use it along with a tape measure, how you’re feeling, how your clothes fit, etc. And don’t forget - this is a marathon and not a sprint. You’re in this for the long haul. The most important thing is that you just keep going.
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