Weight loss is such a hot topic, but there’s a huge difference between losing weight (which is the sum of your bones, organs, muscles, body fat, etc) and losing body fat to achieve your fitness goals. Oftentimes when we step on the scale and observe a slight increase or decrease in our weight, we assume we’ve gained or lost fat, but the reality is that it’s not that simple.
First, it’s important to understand the difference between weight loss and fat loss. A healthy goal is to maximise fat loss without compromising your muscle mass and the required amount of water retention to sustain life.
Water retention is the most commonly overlooked factor for increasing or decreasing weight. Consuming a lot of sodium or carbohydrates will cause the body to retain more water than normal, creating a puffy look on the body. This can add anywhere from 3 to 5 lbs to your weight at the time of consumption. It’s common for people to confuse weight gain caused by water retention with gaining fat.
On the other hand, consuming less sodium and carbohydrates in addition to drinking more water will cause the body to flush out water retention, creating a more defined, leaner look. This may leave you thinking that you had a great day of fat loss, when in reality the unpredictability of water retention is messing with your weight.
Second, keep in mind that the scales can be extremely misleading. As you begin gaining muscle and losing fat through your exercise routine, the scales may be telling you that you’re not making any progress, or worse yet – gaining weight. An increase in muscle mass paired with fat loss may not change the scales, but the difference in your body composition will be undeniable. Two people the same height may also weigh the same amount, although one could have 30% body fat with little muscle mass, and the other extremely muscular with minimal body fat.
It requires a constant effort to build and maintain muscle mass, which inevitably leads to a leaner, more defined look. However, if your focus is to see the scales drop through increasing cardio and restricting calories, that weight loss may come at the expense of your muscles and strength, rather than fat stores. Losing muscle will directly lower a person’s Basal Metabolic Rate, meaning they’ll naturally burn fewer calories throughout the day.
So how can you track your fat loss progress? Taking body measurements using a measuring tape and fat calipers are the most reliable measuring tools to track fat loss. As scales can’t differentiate between fat loss, muscle loss or a reduction in water retention, taking before and after pictures to view your progress and change in body composition is another effective tool to view progress.