Fat loss and weight loss are two totally different things. Know the difference.
So you have started on a new healthy path and you have decided that you want to lose weight. Great! This desire creates a very healthy habit! However, most people, when they decide they want to lose weight, start measuring themselves on their scale (obsessively usually). The problem with this is that all you are measuring is weight loss, not fat loss.
When you are aiming to improve your health with "losing weight" what you actually want to do is lean down the amount of body fat you are currently carrying. In fact, it may be better for you to use the words leaning down instead of weight loss. This way you keep in your head that you are aiming to lose body fat and not be some specific number on a scale.
The Scale Does Not Tell You the Whole Picture
The scale only tells you your overall weight; it is not going to be telling you your lean muscle to body fat ratio, which is the far more important part. Remember that muscle does weight more than fat so you could be losing inches and leaning down, yet the scale may not budge or not move as much as you would like. For this reason scales are something you should not rely on. There are times when it is okay to use a scale, such as when you are working with someone who uses a variety of tools to assess your composition, then it is okay to use the scale to have an overall picture of everything going on. But if you or who you are working with are only using the scale to measure your progress, then it is time to become more sophisticated with what you are using.
Avoid Using BMI
BMI or Body Mass Index is the tool that some health professional use, but like the scale it is not a good choice to base the judgment of your health on. First off, the BMI does not take into account your body fat to muscle ratio. On the BMI scale many people who are muscular are shown as overweight or obese, because the weigh more. If you want to get a better calculation use some of the other body fat measurement tools.
How Do You Measure Your Progress?
There are ways to get a much better idea of where your body fat levels are at. Let's discuss some of them. Better ways to measure progress with your leaning down process are:
- DEXA (Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry) is just what it sounds like. It is using x-ray technology to test your body mass. This method is usually used to test bone density for osteoporosis, but it does calculate the amount of body fat and lean mass. The good thing with this test is it can tell you the percentage of each body part as well. This testing needs to be done in a laboratory setting and therefore will cost you.
- Hydrostatic weighing or water dunking is one of the most accurate test you will get. This is a test where they submerge you in water to test the body fat to muscle mass ratios. Once in a while you can find gyms that will set up tests once or twice a year. If you can find a gym doing this then get in on it if you can.
- Air-Displacement Plethysmography is similar to water dunking, but instead of using water displacement to figure out your body mass they use air. Like the water dunking above, you will not find this testing everywhere and it is more costly and time consuming than the calipers and bioimpedance machine.
- Caliper testing can be done by a trainer at your gym and does not require a lot of high-tech equipment. The downside to calipers is that they need to pinch your skin to get the reading and it is uncomfortable. Also, if people are very overweight, it may not work. With the calipers, you want to make sure you go with the 10 site skin fold test. This can be helpful because everyone carries weight in different areas. Make sure whoever is doing this test knows what they are doing so you get an accurate reading.
- A bioimpedance machine calculates your body fat through electrical feedback. The pros to this is that it is easy, and comfortable, as well as it does not matter how big you are. The downside is that it can be less accurate. You can get this done by a trainer or you can buy one yourself. They range in cost but you can usually find them for under $100.
- The easiest and cheapest way to measure your health progress without all of these tools is simply to use a cloth measuring tape. Measuring your inches will not give you a measurement of body fat to lean mass, but you will have a good idea of the progress you are making. A good plan of action is to use the cloth measuring tape and/or calipers for your regular check ins and then, once in a while, get your body fat tested with a more sophisticated system like the water dunking test.
Do Not Measure Yourself Too Often!
One of the big mistakes people make is measuring themselves way too often. Once a week is the most you ever want to do. Ever better, once a month. This is because it can take quite a while to see the results and people stress themselves out by being obsessive about the results. Focus on the process, meaning focus on your workouts and find things that you can enjoy. Focus on upping your strength, upping your stamina. Those are things you can measure each week since you are measuring your skill and not your waistline, it is a much more productive thing to obsess over.
What Kind of Exercise Should You Do?
Make sure first and foremost that you find something you enjoy doing. That will make the difference between a lifestyle change and a short fad. There are so many exercises and sports available that there is something you should be able to enjoy. As well as finding something you like, make sure you are getting in both weight training, whether that be body weights, machine weights, free weights etc., and cardio. When you are aiming to lean down and get healthy you want both, because they both work in a different way. Many people think when they want to lean down they just need to hammer away at the cardio, but actually the more muscle you build (tone up) the more calories your body burns all throughout the day. The weight training helps turn your body into a well working furnace.
Now you know the difference.
Obviously there is so much more to leaning down and creating the healthy you want, such as sound nutrition and getting your mind in the right place. Hopefully this has at least shown you that leaning down is the way to go instead of weight loss. You will now be more empowered to find the right tools to use to help you accomplish your goals.