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Difference Between Losing Weight and Losing Fat

by
author image Becky Miller
Becky Miller, an ACE-certified personal trainer, has designed strength training programs for people of all ages and fitness levels since 2001. She specializes in empowering women of the baby-boomer generation. Her writing career began in 2004, authoring weekly fitness columns and feature articles for the "Navarre Press" in Florida. She earned her B.S. in business from the University of Colorado.
Difference Between Losing Weight and Losing Fat
Lose fat, not muscle. Photo Credit airet/iStock/Getty Images

There is a big difference between losing weight and losing fat. Your goal should never be to lose weight, but instead should always be to lose fat. When you lose weight, you lose a little bit of everything--fat, muscle, fluids, organ size. You want the majority of your weight loss to come from fat, not the other stuff. If you are only concerned with seeing a smaller number on the scale, you may be losing valuable muscle instead, which will result in long-term weight--meaning fat--gain.

Body Fat Testing

To determine whether you’re losing weight or fat, perform a body fat test. If you’re a female who weighs 150 pounds, with 35 percent fat, you’re carrying around more than 52 pounds of fat. Ideally, a healthy woman will be around 25 percent fat, or about 37 pounds, so a loss of 15 pounds of fat would be required to reach a healthier level. Say you lost 20 pounds total, but only 10 pounds of it came from fat stores. You would still be at an unhealthy 32 percent fat. To reach the 25 percent body fat level, all 20 pounds must come from fat.

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Dehydration Not Real Weight Loss

One of the quickest weight loss tricks that has nothing to do with fat loss is from being dehydrated. If you lose weight because you’re dehydrated, you’ve only lost water, and those pounds will come right back. Don’t fool yourself into thinking those pounds are really gone. You still have just as much fat on your body as before. In fact, without hydration, the muscles will shrivel up because water keeps them plump and vital, leaving you lighter, but without any energy or strength.

Gain Muscle to Burn Fat

When losing weight, the way to lose just fat is by adding strength training into your fitness program. Don’t try to lose weight simply by performing cardio. The pounds you lose through cardio will come right back if you stop the cardio, without muscle mass to keep the weight off. Don’t worry about bulking up or gaining too much muscle. For the majority of the population, it’s simply not a concern. When you add muscle, you improve the body fat composition ratio, which is the main goal.

Losing Muscle Slows Metabolism

Losing weight other than fat is unavoidable, but the loss of muscle mass will cause a rebound effect that leads 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.

Lose Fat to Get Healthy

Losing weight can leave you looking like a smaller version of a fat person because you have no muscle tone underneath your skin. To look like a fit, healthy person, losing fat and having muscle is absolutely necessary. Hit the weights. If you don’t know what you’re doing, get some help because it’s important to do strength training properly to avoid injury.

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References

  • American Council on Exercies; Personal Trainer Manual; 1997
  • "Making the Cut"; Jillian Michaels; 2007
  • "Program Design for Personal Trainers"; Douglas S. Brooks; 1998
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