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The Difference between Losing Fat and Losing Weight
You’ve started a sensible weight loss program, with a nutritious meal plan and plenty of regular exercise. Every morning, you jump on the scale, hoping to see a smaller number than the day before. During the first few weeks, your weight probably did drop steadily – a gratifying and encouraging experience. However, if you have begun to notice that your weight hasn’t budged in days, even though you are doing everything you are supposed to, you may feel frustrated and wonder what is going wrong.
The truth is that when you are trying to lose fat and get fit, the scale is not always your friend. While it can be a motivational tool as long as you are actually seeing the pounds melting away, it does not always tell the whole story. Let’s take a look at what the numbers on the scale are really telling you.
Fat Loss vs. Weight Loss
When you get on the scale, the number you see tells you how much you weigh. This figure includes not just body fat, but water, muscle, bone, soft tissue, and whatever you ate for breakfast. However, when you talk about losing weight, what you are really trying to do is lose body fat – to slim down. The thing is that, assuming that you are including exercise in your weight loss program, you are probably gaining some amount of muscle mass. Muscle weighs more than fat, even though it takes up less room; so in effect, while you are actually trimming down your body fat, your weight may stay the same or even increase.
On the other hand, the initial weight loss you experience when beginning a diet and exercise program typically comes from loss of fluid, and in some cases, muscle mass. So while your scale tells you that you are losing weight, you are not getting rid of body fat right away.
In addition, when you weigh yourself, a number of other factors come into play: the time of day, your hydration level, or normal hormonal fluctuations. Because of this, your scale can be deceptive when it comes to measuring your true progress. Rather than just relying on tracking your weight loss, it is better use some additional methods to measure your body fat reduction.
Tracking Your Fat Loss Progress
There are several different things you can do to determine whether your diet and exercise program is really working:
Test your body fat percentage. Body fat percentage, or body composition, is the ratio of body fat to lean muscle mass. In order to keep yourself fit and healthy, your body composition needs to be kept to acceptable levels.
A healthy range for body fat percentage falls between 21% and 30%. Individuals with a body fat percentage of over 30% are considered obese; this is a serious condition which can lead to a wide range of health problems. If your body composition falls at under 20%, this can be unhealthy as well, unless you are a dedicated athlete – you need a certain amount of fat to keep your body functioning properly.
There are a couple of different options for measuring your body fat percentage. Your local university fitness department may be able to help you with this through a technique known as hydrostatic testing (basically, getting dunked under water); you can also see your doctor regularly to have your body composition checked. Since either of these methods can be a bit of an ordeal, however, your best bet is to purchase a scale that measures body fat percentage (using a mild electrical current) and body fat weight, in addition to your overall weight.
Take your measurements. Measuring your waist, hips, thighs and upper arms is a great way to keep track of your progress. Using a measuring tape, take measurements at your waist (the narrowest part of your trunk), your hips (keeping your legs together) and at the fullest part of your thigh. Record these no more than once per week – you will not see any major changes on a day-to-day basis.
Pay attention to how you feel. Perhaps the best motivator is noticing the changes your body is going through – whether your clothes are fitting more loosely, you can run a mile with ease, or your body simply looks and feels more slender.
Getting on the scale every day without seeing dramatic results can seriously derail your determination to stick with a fitness program. Instead, why not try putting it away and taking a break from your daily weigh-in? By finding other methods to measure your success, you can change the way you look at weight loss and develop a healthier attitude about how far you have come.
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