The journey to weight loss can be so confusing — particularly when it comes time to weigh yourself. The scale is one of the biggest heartbreakers of our time, but a simple understanding of two concepts (that we tend to look at as one) could lighten the burden.
Have you ever gone to the gym consistently but found that the numbers on the scale just don’t seem aligned with the work you’ve been putting in? You might have even tried on that one pair of jeans you haven’t worn in ages and discovered that it finally fits, but you’re still the same ol’ 75kg on the scale and all you keep saying to yourself is: “WTF is going on?!”
So many of us place so much power on that number on the scale, and when it doesn’t affirm our efforts, we easily get discouraged. This is why it’s important to know the difference between weight loss and fat loss. While we tend to use these terms interchangeably, they refer to two completely different things…
Fat Loss vs Weight Loss
Human Movement Specialist and founder of My Health TV Ronald Abvajee breaks this down for us.
“Our bodyweight can be divided into two main categories — fat mass and lean mass. Fat mass is exactly what it sounds like: our total body fat levels. Lean mass, on the other hand, is everything else that is not fat mass,” he explains.
“Everyone has a certain amount of body fat. This fat is often expressed as a percentage of their total body composition. Fat loss/fat burning is when you tap into the body fat storage — and the fat loss results in a lower body fat percentage.”
What you weigh is not a reflection of your fat mass, but of everything together — including the ring on your finger, the watch on your wrist and the hair on your head.
“It’s purely a numerical measure and doesn’t consider the quality of what’s lost or gained. Your body weight is the sum weight of your organs, bones, muscle, soft tissue and everything else inside and outside of your body.”
So, can I really lose fat and not lose weight?
While it might sound strange, particularly because so many of us use the terms interchangeably, it is possible to get thinner without seeing a change in your weight at all — or seeing a change that doesn’t seem to correlate with your efforts.
“This happens when you lose body fat while gaining muscle,” Abvajee says.
“Your weight may stay the same, even as you lose centimetres — and this is a sign that you’re moving in the right direction.”
The key message here is that the scale is not the be-all and end-all indicator of your labouring. We need to stop believing that nothing is happening because the scale seems to say so.
“Knowing the difference between losing weight and losing body fat can change how you see yourself, your progress and your body,” Abvajee encourages.
However, he does add that if you are overweight, then focusing on the scale might provide some useful accountability.
Abvajee’s advice for someone who specifically wants to lose weight
- Engage in regular physical activity and exercise.
- Increase the frequency of physical activity in a disciplined and purposeful way (this is crucial for weight-loss success).
- Avoid setting unrealistic goals.
- Eat varied, colourful, nutritionally dense food and control your portions.
- Eat mindfully (this involves being fully aware of why, how, when, where and what you eat).
- Stay positive (weight loss is a gradual process — you may feel discouraged if the kilos don’t drop off at the rate you’d anticipated, but push on).