The Difference Between Fat loss vs. Weight Loss – It’s Not What You Think

Recently, one of my online coaching clients checked in to tell me about his progress. Training sessions? Check! Eating better? Check! Sleeping more? Check!

From a behavioral and training standpoint, he was kicking ass. Yet, he lamented that he still wasn’t losing weight.

His dilemma got me thinking. Why wasn’t he losing weight if he appeared to do everything I was telling him? (Mind you, this is without me seeing a detailed food and training log.) Was it possible, I asked myself, that he is in fact losing fat but not weight?

Understanding fat loss vs. weight loss

Mass media lets us believe that weight loss is everything in fitness when in fact; it’s a tiny little piece of the puzzle. It’s easy to lose weight. You just need to:

  • Stop eating for a few days
  • Eliminate all water while you’re at it
  • Take a laxative
  • Cut off your arm
  • Cry from thirst and hunger to shed the rest of that water weight

Voilà! Weight loss guaranteed!

The problem with this approach is, that aside from being dangerous and outright ridiculous, it’s simply not sustainable. You need your arm, you need water and you need to eat and crap normally. Fad diets and detox cleanses work (technically speaking) because they promote weight loss for a short period of time but they do not promote sustainable fat loss.

If you’re looking for results, shoot for fat loss, not weight loss.

Fat loss consists of lowering your body fat percentage and increasing lean muscle mass.

Weight loss, on the other hand, is just about a number on the scale. Your body’s weight includes your bones, organs, fluids, body fat and muscle tissue, etc. What are you supposed to do? Remove a lung to fit in a dress? Of course, not!

Relying on weight loss alone leads to another problem. It doesn’t give an accurate description of what’s happening with your body. Trainees may maintain their weight while seeing a decrease in body fat, increase in strength, leaner physique and elevated energy. Crazy, huh?

Do a quick Google search and you’ll find countless images of men and women that have lowered their body fat without much of a change in their total weight.

Nutrition is everything

Without seeing my client’s food and training logs to assess the issue, I am left with an educated guess. Experience tells me that nutrition is usually the area in need of improvement. In terms of fat loss, nutrition is king. You cannot out train a bad diet. If you eat garbage, your results will be garbage. It’s that simple.

Yet the problem for some of us isn’t so much about poor food choices as much as is about poor nutrition quality.

We can all agree that going to Burger King every day is a poor food choice. Yet we must also realize that even if you opt for the BK salad, the sodium, high fat and preservatives tend to lead to poor quality compared to what you make at home using fresh, organic ingredients. You need the right nutrients (think lean protein, healthy fats and vegetables) to keep you on track toward losing body fat.

Short-term vs. Long-term

Weight loss tricks and fad diets are popular because they’re quick. It requires a little bit of sacrifice for the least amount of time for what appears to be the ‘best’ results. Weight loss is shortsighted and oftentimes, dangerous.

Fat loss on the other hand is all about patience and perseverance. It’s not quick, it’s not magic and it takes time. In order to achieve true fat loss, you must train consistently (i.e. stop program hopping), eat quality foods consistently, get plenty of rest consistently, and keep your stress levels down – you guessed it – consistently.

It’s not sexy. It’s not new. But it’s fucking science.

Your fat loss strategy

Working with a professional trainer is a great first step toward fat loss, but you must take responsibility for the other elements in your life in order to achieve that goal. Trainers can guide you through a proper program and give you the tools for success. However, you are ultimately in control of what happens the other 23 hours of the day you’re away from your training. If you feel you’re not seeing results, connect with your trainer first to assess what or if anything within the program itself needs changing.

Next, take an honest assessment of your diet. For 2 weeks, log everything you eat and drink, at what times and the amount. It doesn’t need to be specific measurements. You can jot down ‘a fist full of chicken.’ Note what meals happened before and after your workouts, too.

Finally, take inventory of your stress levels and sleep quality. Are you tossing and turning every night or sleeping blissfully for 8-10 hours? If you think sleep quality has zero impact on fat loss than you’re wrong. Studies show that sleep deprivation affects your body’s metabolism and hormones, which all have a direct impact on your ability to lose or store fat. This article from USA Today hits the nail on the head in terms of how sleep quality affects the waistline.

There are so many elements that impact our ability to lose fat and keep it off, including hormonal and thyroid issues (in which case, you need to hit up a medical professional).

I want you to toss that scale and take inventory. Be honest with yourself and your trainer. Be patient with your body and stay persistent. Switch your mentality from weight loss to fat loss.

Now it’s your turn. Did you beat a plateau and lose body fat? Go ahead and share success stories in the comments below.

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