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Losing Weight vs. Losing Fat

Updated: May 27, 2021

By Chris Zinn

Picture this - you go on a diet, you start looking great, and you end up losing 15 pounds. Great! That's fantastic!

Unfortunately, at the same time, you notice your energy has dropped and you can't do as much as you used to. You feel a little more tired, a little more sluggish, a little weaker.

Well, it must be because you’re not eating as many calories, right? Maybe, but it could also be because you are losing weight, and not losing just fat.

“Huh? Isn’t that the same thing?”

Not quite.

Losing weight is simply a matter of dropping the number on the scale; it's lowering your total body mass. On the other hand, losing fat is a matter of tuning your weight loss to the specific tissue in your body that you want to get rid of - Fat.

Technically, if you’re losing weight, you are probably losing fat as well. However, general weight loss usually includes a loss of a bunch of other lean tissue in the process, not just fat. This becomes an issue when that lean tissue that's lost comes in the form of muscle tissue.

Now, moving from being overweight to being a healthy weight according to the scale, and hitting your target body weight, is a positive thing. However, you’d probably be better off keeping some of that muscle and just ditching the fat.

After all, fat is the real problem, not the number on the scale. Having more lean muscle tissue actually has a multitude of benefits that will aid you in your fat loss journey. Whereas, losing muscle in the process of losing weight is only going to slow you down in the long run.

Muscle tissue burns a higher number of calories than fat tissue because it is a more metabolically demanding tissue. So, increasing the total amount of lean mass you have in your body - or at the very least not losing any muscle - will keep you burning a higher number of calories daily, and contribute to a higher TDEE (total daily energy expenditure).

So why are you losing muscle mass during your weight loss journey, and not strictly fat? Well, there are a couple of reasons why this might be happening...

You’re trying to lose fat too quickly

One of the most common times for people to try and shed some of those extra pounds is right around April or May. People start thinking about that beach body that they want in the summertime, but they always start thinking about it a little too late.

If you try to shed more than 10 pounds in less than 2 months, you’re going to risk burning away some of that precious muscle that you’re hiding underneath.

A good place to start is to aim to lose around 1-1.5lbs per week. If you start dropping 3, 4, or 5 pounds in a week, you can be sure that not all of that weight is fat. (The first week you may lose more than 1-1.5 pounds due to body water loss, but that shouldn't continue).

Now, there are some exceptions. For example, if you are starting out with more fat to lose, you may be able to be a little more aggressive with your weight loss efforts and still maintain your muscle mass (especially if you are doing some strength training along with your weight loss).

However, the most important thing to do to set yourself up for success no matter where you're starting from is to give yourself a realistic time frame for losing body fat.

Don't let the upcoming beach season bias your planning. Just because you want to hit the beach in 1 or 2 months doesn't mean that you can lose the weight you want to in that time. If you try to take shortcuts, you're not going to set yourself up for long-term fat loss success, and you may end up losing muscle mass.

More often than not it requires more time than you think to hit your fat loss goal and do it the right way. If you're unsure about what a realistic time frame might look like, consult with a local nutrition coach *wink wink*!

You’re eating too little

Okay so you’ve planned ahead, and you're starting your weight loss journey with ample time for optimized weight loss and enough time to deal with any setbacks that might occur.

One thing you may have forgotten to consider, though, is how much you should be eating to lose fat.

You would think that less is more here and that you should try to eat as little as possible. That's not the case!

If you try to eat as little as possible, you will end up losing more weight, but it probably won't all be fat. Eating too little is a sure way to not give your body the nutrients it needs to maintain muscle mass and energy levels.

Extreme dieting comes with plenty of other problems, but we don't have time to get into all of that right now...

You’re not eating enough protein

Let’s say you’re taking your time with your weight loss now, and you're eating the correct amount. You’re all set, right?

Well, we can still get even more specific with what you’re eating to focus on fat loss.

Making sure that you are consuming enough lean protein to preserve muscle tissue is going to be crucial. Without enough protein, your muscle tissue will become catabolic and start to break down along with other tissues in your body.

It’s also important for recovery from workouts, as I’m sure you are pairing exercise with diet (you should be!).

When you're in a caloric deficit to try to lose body fat, it's going to be easy to overtrain and not recover properly. Eating enough protein will help ensure that you have what you need for your muscles to recover after a workout and avoid injury.

Less Isn’t More

When it comes to weight loss… or should I say, fat loss… slow and steady wins the race. The saying “less is more” does not apply here.

That means that eating less to create a bigger calorie deficit will most likely not be helpful, less time to lose fat will have you pressed for time, and less protein in your diet will inevitably lead to injury or suboptimal muscle tissue retention and recovery.

So, if your goal is to lose fat and keep your hard-earned muscle, try not to rush through your fat loss journey too quickly. Take the time to plan out your journey, make sure you're eating enough of the right foods, and keep up that protein intake. Your muscles will thank you!


Want to find out more about how to craft an approach to eating that will fit in with your needs, goals, and lifestyle? You can get started today working with Med Gym's own Certified Nutrition Coach, Chris Zinn, in our Nutrition Coaching Program!

If you've tried diet after diet and struggled to reach your goals, nutrition coaching may be the answer you need. Working with a qualified nutrition coach to craft and stick to the plan that is the right fit for you can be game-changing!

Contact us here to learn more about nutrition coaching and how you can get started.

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