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Losing Weight vs. Losing Fat

By Anne Keckler | March 6, 2008

A lot of people join a gym to lose weight. When I first speak with them, they might tell me how many pounds they want to lose, and that they want to get “toned.” Of course, what most of them really want to lose is fat.

Now, it seems that what most people mean by “toned” is that they want to lose some bodyfat that is overlying their muscles so that they have a little more definition. What “tone” really means, with regard to our bodies, is to have a healthy elasticity to our muscles. But as you can see, that’s not really what people mean when they use the term.

So let’s get this straight from the beginning — There are basically two changes you can make to the appearance of your body through diet and exercise. You can alter the amount of fat in your body, and you can alter the amount of muscle. That’s it. Furthermore, unless you are an absolute beginner to resistance exercise or you’re coming back from a long layoff, you cannot both gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. To gain muscle, you’ll have to have a caloric surplus while doing the right resistance exercises to signal to your body that you need to build muscle. To lose, you’ll have to have a caloric deficit while doing the right resistance exercises to signal to your body that you need to maintain the muscle.

When you say you want to lose weight and get toned, what you are probably really saying is that you want to lose some fat and possibly gain some muscle.

“But I don’t want to get all bulky!” I can hear all the women now. They’re so afraid they’re going to look like goons if they put on any muscle! What you need to realize is that women don’t get huge and bulky by accident. You have to work hard for that, you have to have a caloric surplus, and to get really huge you have to have the genetic potential. On top of all of that, you might still have to take steroids to get as big as those masculine-looking women you see online! It’s not going to happen by accident, and it’s not going to happen just by lifting weights. Don’t fear the weights!

Now that we have our definitions straight, and we know what we want, how can we measure it?

Up until now, if you want to get “toned” you’ve probably watched the scale, trying to lose weight. That’s not the best way to go about this. The scale will tell you if you’ve lost weight, but that weight could come from water, or even muscle! You definitely don’t want to lose muscle, but if you try to lose weight by eating less and doing cardio without resistance exercises (ie. weightlifting) you are more likely to lose muscle. This will actually make it easier for your body to gain more fat when you quit starving yourself! You’ll get caught in a nasty spiral of losing muscle, gaining fat, losing more muscle, and gaining more fat. Each cycle it will become more difficult for you to lose weight.

Muscle burns more calories when we are at rest. When we have a decent amount of muscle, it’s easier to maintain a healthy weight.

So are we agreed that we want to have some muscle and lose some fat? Good. But how do we know if we’re on the right track?

Get your bodyfat tested. There are several ways to do this. Your bathroom scale might even have a way to tell you, but this is the least accurate method. Instead of relying on that bathroom scale, call your local gym and see if there is someone there who is experienced with measuring bodyfat. They will probably use calipers to gently pinch a small fold of skin on several locations of your body, such as your upper arm, your back, your tummy, and your thigh. Your bodyfat will be calculated from these numbers. It’s not 100% accurate, but if you have it done occasionally it will tell you whether you are going in the right direction.

Related posts:

  1. Lost Weight – Now What?
  2. How to Lose Weight
  3. 25 Fitness Myths, Part 1
  4. Obese Nation: Is Your Weight Causing You to Miss Out?
  5. Fitness for Older Adults

Related posts:

  1. Lost Weight – Now What?
  2. How to Lose Weight
  3. 25 Fitness Myths, Part 1
  4. Obese Nation: Is Your Weight Causing You to Miss Out?
  5. Fitness for Older Adults

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Topics: Losing weight, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Losing Weight vs. Losing Fat

  1. Vicham Says:
    March 7th, 2008 at 11:57 am

    Great article; I can relate to it fairly well. When I started working out at the gym again little over a year ago, I was able to lose weight while gaining strength at the same time. Being able to do that, though, doesn’t last very long. The number on the scale hasn’t decreased near as much the past 6 months as it did the first 3-4 months that I was working out. I haven’t let that discourage me from continuing to work out, though. :)

    I also wanted to get “toned”…but now I realize that I really wanted to shed a good portion of fat, then build some muscle. I’ve done the former fairly well, but need to continue on shedding more fat. Lately I’ve been hitting the weights pretty hard, so the number on the scale at home has gone up, but I’m not alarmed by that. :)

  2. Nutrition: Carbohydrates | Anne Keckler, Personal Trainer in Tallahassee Says:
    March 26th, 2009 at 11:13 am

    [...] diet. The truth is, you can lose *weight* without a caloric deficit on a low-carb diet, but you won’t lose *fat* without a caloric deficit. You absolutely must eat fewer calories than you are burning. On many low-carb diets you will [...]

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