Losing Weight Is Not the Same As Fat Loss, Doctor Says

If your goal is to tone up, start by asking yourself what you’re trying to achieve: weight loss or fat loss? You may be surprised to learn that these two terms aren’t necessarily synonymous.

Weight loss vs. fat loss

While we often rely on the scale to validate whether or not we’re doing a good job at sticking to our diet and exercise regimens, it’s not always the best indicator. For example, if you notice your pants are becoming loose but the number on the scale hasn’t changed after lifting and doing HIIT workouts for a few weeks, does that mean you aren’t getting in better shape? Of course not! (Related: 15 Underrated Weight Loss Tips That Actually Work).

Losing weight refers to any combination of fat, muscle, or water loss, according to Cedrina Calder, MD. Just because you dropped weight doesn’t always mean you blasted fat, which is key for maintaining optimal health and warding off cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, for example.

“Fat loss is what’s important for better health, but when you lose weight, you will also lose water weight and likely lose muscle mass, as well. If you’re overweight, fat loss is important in lowering your risk of heart disease” Calder says. “In fact, fat loss will improve your overall health, because excess body fat increases the risk for chronic diseases.”

Visceral fat is especially of concern. This is the type of fat that wraps around your abdominal organs deep inside your body. While it’s also referred to as belly fat, it’s not always clear just how much visceral fat is lurking inside of you. Your doctor would have to order a specific type of imaging test to properly assess how much visceral fat is cushioning your organs.

So when you’re trying to lose weight, the focus should be on fat loss, according to Calder. It’s also very important that you retain as much muscle mass as possible, because muscle tissue burns more calories than body fat—even when your body is at rest. 

How to achieve weight loss and fat loss

“To lose weight, you should decrease your calorie intake by first eliminating processed and sugary foods from your diet,” Calder says. “Incorporate lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats in your diet.”

In addition, you need to ramp up your exercise routine so you can scorch more calories on a consistent basis.

“Unfortunately, there is no way to target fat alone when losing weight,” Calder adds. “However, there are things you can do to reduce the amount of lean muscle mass lost.”

For example, avoid drastically reducing your calorie intake, and make sure you’re getting an adequate amount of protein in your diet. (For help, here’s exactly how much protein you should eat per meal.) Calder also advises against doing excessive amounts of cardio; instead, incorporate more strength-training workouts into your week.

Finally, aim to drop about 1-2 pounds per week. This approach is much more sustainable than dropping 10 pounds in only two weeks. After all, the end goal is to keep that unwanted fat off—right?

For workout tips, be sure to check out Best Ways to Stay Fit in 2021, According to Celeb Trainers.

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