What’s the Difference Between Fat loss and Weight loss?
And if the scale number goes down, why does it matter?
First of all, let me just set one thing straight. You’re beautiful, no matter what your reason is for asking this question. You are beautiful. Now back to the question…
Like most questions involving body composition, nutrition and fitness goals, there isn’t exactly one simple answer to this question, but I’ll do my best to keep it simple. :)
Let’s dig into the difference between the two, first, to clear things up…
Fat loss happens when your overall percentage of body weight from fat (body fat percentage) goes down.
Your total body weight actually might not change at all, due to changes in body composition. Body composition is your weight explained in percentages of body fat versus lean body mass. Lean body mass (LBM) is everything your body weight consists of other than body fat. For example, water weight, blood volume, bone mass, muscle mass, organs, etc. are all part of your lean body mass. So, even if the number of pounds of body fat you’re carrying goes down, sometimes your LBM weight makes the different of that weight loss on the scale, so the number doesn’t look as if it’s changed. In other words, if your drop in body fat pounds equals your gain in LBM, the weight on the scale won’t budge.
Weight loss happens when either your body fat percentage or lean body mass (LBM), or both, drop in number. This is when you see the number on the scale go up or down. Still with me?
Check out this example:
Jane starts a weight loss program at 120 pounds. She has a body composition of 21% body fat, and 79% LBM. This means she that of her 120 pound weight, 25.2 of those pounds are plain body fat. 94.8 of those pounds are everything else. One week in, Jane seems discouraged because the scales says she still weighs 120 pounds. She visits her trainer and finds out that she actually lost 1.2 pounds of body fat, but gained 1.2 pounds of LBM! Her scale weight stayed the same because the loss of fat equaled the gain in LBM. She still weighs 120 pounds, yes, but she has a lower total body fat percentage and more LBM.
According to the chart below, she is healthier and leaner (more ‘toned’/defined) than before, even though her scale weight stayed the same, because she started at 21% body fat (the ‘fitness’ category), but is now at 20% body fat (the ‘athlete’ category).
Want more good news about Jane? After her first week, she kept losing body fat, and faster, because of the gain in LBM. Know why? Active vs. dormant tissue. Let me explain.
Body fat is inactive in your body, or dormant. It doesn’t use or need any energy (calories) to be there or stay there. It’s sits stored for later use, ‘just in case’ we run into a famine situation. Stored body fat is how our ancestors survived long periods of time between meals. Unfortunately, it’s the 21st century and we usually have food available when ever and where ever we want it. Our bodies store fat for many reasons (hormones, genetics, pregnancy, etc), but this is the most common reason. Fat is stored energy. If we don’t use it, we generally don’t lose it.
Lean body mass on the other hand is active! It requires energy/calories to function. Your body systems are all energy-utilizing systems (which is why we have a baseline of calories we need to consume every day at minimum to operate optimally. It’s called your Basal Metabolic Rate. Read more on that here). Muscle is one of the most active tissues (makes sense since it is the reason you’re able to be active), but that means it needs and uses a lot of calories. This is the reason your caloric needs go up the more active you are (even if you want to lose weight). This is a GOOD thing! It means that because muscle is active, it uses more calories, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn doing nothing! Muscle is good for fat loss!
Now, this doesn’t mean you can sit around doing nothing and eat. Your muscle will deteriorate rapidly if you don’t use them! It does mean, however, that you’ll burn more calories post workout and on your rest days than you ever would if you didn’t have muscle. Make sense?
So, go use those muscles! Build them strong! They’ll burn fat for energy, increase your resting metabolism, and make those occasional cheat meals a little less destructive. :)
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YOUR TURN: Do you struggle with fat loss or weight loss? Why or why not? Tell me in the comments below!
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