When you feel like your pants a getting a little too tight for comfort, or when you realise you've been indulging in a few too many Krispy Kremes lately– the first thing that comes to mind is probably 'I need to lose weight'. When you think of losing weight, you may imagine a fitter, more 'toned' and athletic version of yourself.
Weight loss, however, is very different from fat loss. It's important to know because as you go on your fitness journey, it will dictate the perceptions, beliefs and actions that will lead you to either success or failure.
What's the difference?
The main question you need to consider is – what type of weight are you losing? Looking at your body composition is going to be a more useful way to understand your results. The problem with weight loss is that aside from fat, you can also be losing muscle, bone mass and water. Being weak, having little muscle and frail bones is probably not what you're after!
The fixation on weight loss can help to explain why people seem to gravitate towards extreme diets - the quick results that seem to be a miracle. They think the rapid weight loss attributed to a keto or crash diet is all fat loss when the majority is, in fact, water (carbohydrates make you store more water, for example). Weight loss is general; fat loss is specific.
By relying only on your weight scale, you're looking only at a total amount of weight lost. Even the fancy kinds of scales aren't all that accurate.
Should you throw away your scales?
For years, you've had it drummed into you that a healthy and attractive body is a certain BMI or a weight number. You might fear jumping on the scales if you think you've been eating a little less than perfect. Seeing the numbers creep up despite dieting efforts can also be disheartening and discouraging. If weighing yourself is giving you too much grief, consider the many other ways of measuring progress, both objective and subjective:
- How content you feel with your body
- The mirror
- How well you're sleeping
- DEXA scan
- Body fat callipers
- Inbody scan
- How your eating habits have changed
- How much energy you have
- Tape measurements
- How your clothes fit
- Your level of confidence
If you look only at weight, you may not get a clear picture. If gain 3 kilograms of muscle mass but lose 3 kilograms of body fat, your scale weight will be the same, and you might feel like a failure. Therefore, it's essential to have a look at how your clothes fit and how you look in the mirror, as well as take into account the various subjective measures.
If you can be objective about your weight fluctuations, there's no need to get rid of your bathroom scale - it's simply another tool in the toolkit! Instead of getting preoccupied with daily fluctuations, simply take note of where the weight is trending. Some people like to take an average over the space of the week - simply add up your daily totals at the end of the week, and compare it with past and future data.
It helps to have stability in what you eat - certain foods can make you bloated or cause you to retain water, which can throw numbers out of whack. Menstrual cycles also have an impact on female's weight, and it can be quite drastic. Even sleep can make an impact! If you see a big fluctuation happen overnight (for example, you've gained a couple of kilos seemingly out of nowhere), it may just be a water fluctuation, so no need to stress.
What to do if you want to look 'toned':
If you want a fit and 'toned' look, you have to work on muscle mass. 'Toned' means firm and well-defined muscles and less body fat. Without working on gaining or retaining muscle, you'll be a smaller version of your current self, or you may even look less toned!
Instead of worrying about what the scale says day to day, consider whether the trend is upwards or downwards. Then you can make educated guesses about what to change in your diet and exercise.
Know that all ways of measuring progress have flaws, even with a DEXA scan, which is considered the gold standard in body composition. Skinfold measurements are vulnerable to human error and need to be taken in the same place every time. This makes it challenging when you start to lose lots of body fat and don't have much room to move!
Photos can look drastically different depending on pose, lighting, time of day and the type of camera, so it's essential not to let a single measure of progress get you down if you feel like you're getting the results you're chasing. Your body is continuously changing during the day, so the way you look in the morning will be different from the nighttime when you've had all your meals.
By taking the focus away from just weight loss and looking to being fitter, stronger, and healthier, you'll be engaging in the activities needed to get you there. By doing resistance training and eating protein and whole foods that promote muscle growth, you'll be helping to stack the odds in favour of fat loss!