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Sept 18, 2012 by TAMMY McKENZIE
The Difference Between Weight Loss, Fat Loss and Which One To Focus On

A good friend came up to me one month ago and said "I lost 12 pounds...yay!" When I found out she lost the weight in one week, she wasn't happy when I told her she would gain at least half of it back in the next few weeks. One month later she has gained back 13 pounds. Most people automatically feel justified in their success when they've battled the bulge by losing large amounts of weight. However, the kind of weight you lose is a lot more important than the total amount of weight loss. Not fully understanding the impact of lean weight and fat weight can make your overall weight loss results very temporary and actually cause you to gain more weight in the long-term.

Understandably, many of us measure our weight with a scale. Insurance companies and health professionals have used height versus weight scales (body mass indicators, or BMIs) for years to determine overall health. However, these indicators are not always informative of an individual's overall health because they fail to determine whether a person is muscled or fat. Your BMI is actually a very poor measurement and a controversially inaccurate indicator to assess health.

Start concentrating on your body, not your weight. While on a fad diet, most of the weight loss comes from water and lean body mass loss. An exercise or weight program might be accompanied by a slight weight gain. If you are working hard to get fit and see a weight gain, you might think that your work is in vain, but the truth is, you may be adding calorie-burning muscle! The more muscle you lose the lower your metabolism will go and the more weight you will gain in the long-term. This vicious cycle is why yo-yo dieters never succeed.

How you feel is a big indicator of where the slimming down is coming from. When you are dropping weight on the scale, but feel weak, exhausted, cranky or maybe slightly nauseous, you are probably losing more than just fat. If you are losing weight through fat loss, you may see the scales remain the same but your clothes will fit better. This means that you are gaining muscle and bone density but losing fat, which is why you feel stronger, with more energy and not fatigued.

When determining your overall health or fitness regimen, it's important to consider your appropriate percentage of body fat to muscle mass ratio before establishing a target weight. Someone weighing 200 pounds with a body fat percentage of 25 is carrying around 50 pounds of extra fat. That same person weighing 200 pounds with 10 percent body fat would be carrying only 20 pounds of fat. This is significant in terms of health. Not only would reduced fat levels impact this person's energy levels, mobility and joint stress, but the more favorable ratio of body fat to muscle mass will also increase baso-metabolic rate (BMR) which will allow for a greater number of calories to be burned at rest.

Fat loss makes you feel good. It makes you feel stronger, fitter, and you will have that bounce in your step, and that added vitality and glow in your skin if you lose weight the right way. If you have people coming up to you and saying, how have you lost so much weight? Are u sick? Then you are probably losing far too much muscle.

Fat loss often results in more lean muscle building, higher metabolism, and higher fat burn. When more lean muscle is built, testosterone increases. Healthy levels of testosterone are essential for a healthy sex drive in men and women. Female libido is linked to testosterone inextricably. A common side effect of hormonal birth control pills is that it binds the sex hormones, mainly testosterone and estradiol, which means less desire for sex. Also, when women approach menopause, they produce far less testosterone than before, which is the reason why they experience far lesser sexual desire.

The same applies for men in that men who have very low sex drive will do well with a boost of testosterone that comes by naturally with some lean muscle building activities. This makes it important for any one to understand the basics about how to lose fat and not muscle.

Measuring your body fat percentage is a better indicator of health and fitness. It measures exactly what it says, body fat! Measuring body fat will help determine the composition of your weight loss -- the goal is to maximize fat loss and minimize lean muscle loss. By having your body composition measured by a qualified professional, you can better establish goals which are truthful to your overall health.

Skinfold measurement is the most common technique used which usually includes taking measurements at 3 (or 7 for advanced measurements) sites on the body. For women, the sites are the back of the arm, the abdomen (side of waist) and the thigh. A caliper is used to lightly pinch the skin and underlying fat. From these measurements, the amount of fat and lean body mass can be estimated. This quick and simple method of estimating body fat requires a high level of skill to get accurate results. Skinfold measurement is not 100% accurate, but having a skilled technician will help produce more accurate results. Your body fat measurement results should be used as a guide to help determine what steps to take in your health and fitness program.

General Body Fat Percentage Categories


Women (% fat)

Men (% fat)

Essential Fat













32% plus

25% plus

Just losing large amounts of weight in short periods is usually a result of crash diets, bad eating habits, too much of cardio, and an unbalanced life. A person who loses a lot of weight without building muscle is often tired, pale and insipid. You maybe able to sustain this for small periods of time but in the long run it leads to a lot of physical problems and a low libido is one of them.
If you're losing more than 3-4 pounds per week, you're likely losing a lot more than just fat.

By determining your percentage of body fat in proportion to lean muscle mass, you will have a clearer understanding of what you need to do to be fit and healthy. Don't be afraid of the mirror, as it can be a better indicator of your weight than any scale. Most of all, don't get caught in the weight trap, use it only as a guide in your quest towards better health.

Tammy McKenzie is a certified personal trainer and fitness specialist with a speciality in women's fitness.

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