People use weight loss and fat loss often used interchangeably, although they do not mean the same thing. Yes, there is a difference between losing weight and losing fat. It is difficult to discern the difference between the two as often people will use what they can visually see or the number on the scale when weighing themselves to determine whether they are losing weight or fat. Only an in-depth analysis can determine whether a reduction in overall mass is due to weight loss or fat loss.
Weight loss vs. fat loss, as explained herein, should give you new insight towards your body goals.
Types of Body Fat
There are two main types of fat in the human body. Essential fats also are known as good fats and non-essential fats.
Essential fats are assimilated into the body and required in small amounts stored in the bone marrow, central nervous system, and a little in muscle tissue. It is broken down in the mitochondria to release the energy required for the normal functioning of the body for day to day activities.
Non-essential fats are excess fats stored in the adipose tissue of the skin and the body cavity. These are harmful fats that increase blood cholesterol and are a health risk. Too much of it causes individuals to become overweight or obese.
Fats can also further be classified by its composition; under this classification we have:
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These are healthy fats that help maintain a healthy lipid and cholesterol profile and provide the body with essential amino acids. You can find them in nuts, avocado, fish, and olives.
Saturated fats. These are harmful fats and a significant cause of many cardiovascular diseases. They accumulate in arteries, clog the lumen, which may lead to clots or interruption in the normal flow of blood through blood vessels. You can find them in dairy products, smoked and processed meats, and cheese.
Omega 3 unsaturated fats. These are healthy fats derived from the diet entirely, as the body cannot synthesize it. The most abundant source is fish but also present in wheat germ oil, flaxseed, and canola oils.
Trans Fats. Probably the most harmful of them all, they are found in hydrogenated fats and oils. Hydrogen makes unsaturated fats solidify, and its purpose is to increase shelf life. However, in this very same manner, these fats can solidify in the body and clog blood vessels, causing complications. In addition to this property, trans fats increase harmful LDL cholesterol and lower the good HDL cholesterol and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Sources include margarine and processed foods such as cookies.
Can You Lose Fat And Not Lose Weight?
To answer this question, it is crucial to understand what is meant by fat loss and weight loss. Weight loss vs. fat loss has been an ongoing debate. Fat loss is resultant of the body, breaking down and eliminating excess fat stored in the body or consumed in the diet. Weight loss, on the other hand, is an overall reduction in mass due to the loss of water, lean body mass (muscle), and fat. When you weigh yourself, it is an indication of the weight that has gone down, but there is no indicator of what you have lost from the body.
If you lose fat and gain muscle, then it is possible to retain the usual weight. This is ordinarily characteristic of people who work out. They appear leaner and slimmer, but their body weight does not reduce and could even increase. When a person wants to look lean, the overall objective should be to eliminate the bad body fat and not necessarily decrease the number as it appears on the weighing scale.
However, the loss of body fat contributes to gradually losing weight if you do not gain the muscle.
Which is Better? Weight Loss vs Fat Loss
So what should be the ultimate goal, weight loss vs fat loss?
Having seen what each translates to, losing fat has more health benefits than losing weight. Weight loss only gives the illusion of a fitter body. However, that very same individual could still have high cholesterol levels and excess fats. You want to lose fat to avoid health complications. Losing weight loosely translates to losing some fat, but water and muscle as well. There is no known risk caused by lean body mass or extra moisture to prompt an individual to want to lose weight. Thus, priority should be on reducing excess body fat then perhaps losing weight after that for that feel-good feeling and appealing look. Bodyweight is more than just that model-like figure.
Can I Lose Belly Fat by Dieting?
Dieting is the practice of consuming a specially curated choice of meals to attain a specific objective, such as to lose fat. There are many types of diets out there, with many of them structured to facilitate weight loss. Some work others do not, but what is constant across the board is that it is not a sustainable way of life, and once you stop the diet, there is a likelihood that the weight or body fat will come back.
As a popular topic, there will be many articles online with clickbait titles like how I lost body fat in 5 days. Many of these focus on generating traffic on the site and giving shallow recommendations, some of which lack scientific evidence to back it up. You will not lose fat in a day, and there is no guarantee a certain quantity can be lost per week, either.
While many believe that foods high in fats cause upper body fat, this is only partially true. Granted that fats are higher in calories than proteins and carbohydrates, the body needs its fair share of dietary fat. On the contrary, starches, refined sugars, and processed foods are more likely to raise body fat (visceral fat)—the body stores all non-utilized calories as fats.
Diets are good, but the most important thing to do is improve the quality of food consumed instead of reducing the quantity. Taking less food will not help you lose belly fat if the little you consume comprises all the wrong food choices. You can hop on to a diet as a short-term strategy to get rid of body fat, but you must cultivate a culture of healthy and informed food choices to avoid a relapse and regain all the fat you lost.
Does Cutting Out Fat Make You Lose Weight?
No. Cutting off fat from your diet may not necessarily lead to weight loss. The stored fat in the body comes from two sources; dietary fat and excess carbohydrates. The starches we consume that are rich in carbohydrates are broken down in the body to release energy, and all the excesses converted to fat and stored in the body. Cutting out fats only will not cater to the excess derived from converted carbohydrates, and you will find over time, there might be no weight changes. An overall change and modification of diet and exercise are the only way to lose weight. For weight loss vs. fat loss, working out at least thrice per week on a proper diet should yield some results on weighing day.
Tips to Reduce Fat Intake
- Loss of fat will begin with reducing intake as a first move before taking care of that already in the body. Here are some pointers to consider while reducing dietary fat:
- Read the nutrition information on food packaging labels to be aware of what you are consuming and choose foods lower in fat content.
- Avoid fast foods, deep-fried foods, and pastries. Instead, use grilling, steaming, or baking as alternative methods of cooking. If you can, eat at home more often instead of eating out as this way you can control what goes into your food.
- Substitute cooking fat with healthy oil substitutes such as sunflower oil, sesame oil, flaxseed oil, or canola oil.
- Opt for lean meat cuts over fatty ones and remove the chicken’s skin as it is high in cholesterol.
- Limit the amount of oil used while cooking.
- Choose low-fat dairy products and milk over whole milk to reduce the amount of fat contained in it.
- Incorporate more vegetables in your day to day meals to keep you fuller and reduce fat and carbohydrate intake. Maintain the recommended intake for the day for protein to help build muscle.
Benefits of Fats
The term fat is always associated with the negative, but contrary to this belief, the body requires fats for several uses. It is broken down into glycerol and then to glucose to provide energy for the body. During the metabolism of fats, the body produces heat, and it helps to maintain average body temperature. Fats play a role in the development and growth of healthy skin cells and hair. In the body cavity, stored fat helps to insulate body organs against shock. They also promote healthy cell functioning.
Having said this, fat is not an enemy, and it is a major macronutrient required for optimal health.
Why Weight Loss Differs among Individuals
The breakdown of fats varies in different persons. Even with the same routines, diets, and exercise, different people will respond differently to attempts to lose weight or body fat. The scientific explanation behind this is due to the varied Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This refers to the minimum number of calories that the body needs to function.
It determines whether an individual will maintain, gain, or lose weight. As much as everyone has a predetermined BMR, it is possible to increase or decrease your BMR. The higher your BMR, the more likely it is to lose weight faster.
You can increase BMR by losing weight and gaining muscle. The leaner mass you have, the higher your BMR will be, and the more calories you will burn. If your goal is weight loss, you might want to keep your calorie intake less than what you burn on average. For what gain, ensure that your calorie intake exceeds what you burn.
How to Tell if Your Weight is Healthy
There are several parameters you can use to determine if you have a healthy weight. The easiest and most commonly used being BMI or Body Mass Index. This is a measure that uses body weight against height to determine if an individual’s weight is healthy. You calculate it by dividing weight with the height squared. The normal range is between 18.5 to 24.9.
You have to consider these measurements alongside body fat percentage. Body fat percentage is a ratio of fat to the total weight of a person and is measured using 3D scanners, dual-energy Xray absorptiometry, and hydrostatic weighing. These are expensive and could be unreliable at times. A more straightforward way is the use of skinfold calipers, which must be administered by a professional to get accurate measurements.
Women typically have higher body fat to lean mass ratio than men. The normal percentage of essential fat in women is between 10-13%, 14-20% in athletes, any value above that is okay up until 31% beyond which it is an indication of obesity. The normal percentage for men is lower, as males generally have more muscle tissue than women. Essential fat percentage in men is between 2-5% of total body weight, 6-13% in athletes and sportspeople, every other value below 25% is okay with a percentage greater than 25% termed as obese.
Body Fat Distribution is Where it is at
Many body fats are usually concentrated around the midsection, hips, and thighs, away from the limbs that mainly comprise muscle tissue. Genes, age, sex, and hormones play a significant role in determining where and how much fat an individual accumulates.
Half of an individual’s body fat is usually determined by genes, with other factors playing a secondary role. Males tend to accumulate more fat around the midsection while women gain it around the hips and buttocks. Due to slowing metabolism, loss of muscle tissue, and changing hormone levels, older persons tend to have higher fat, making it more difficult for them to lose fat.
Individuals with high upper body fat distribution, particularly around the abdomen, have a significantly higher risk for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, and some cancers.
Even though we cannot change genetics, we can aim to lose fat and reduce it to an optimal healthy level. Studies suggest that regular physical exercise can help lose fats around the abdomen. Adopting better habits and diet can drastically reduce your overall body fat and contribute heavily to your general physique.
Is There Such a Thing as Too Little Body Fat?
We often hear of the evils related to having too much fat. But ever wondered if there are adverse effects to having too little fat? Well, having low fat can be as detrimental as having high fat.
Fat is essential for numerous body functions. Low body fat predisposes an individual to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and damage to the nervous system. Moreover, one is likely to suffer from infectious diseases because low-fat compromises the immune system.
Ideally, women have 10 to 35% fat levels, while men range between 2 to 24%. Anything lower or higher than the ranges can have adverse health effects.
If you do not have enough fat, the body starts breaking down muscle for energy, making one weak. Eventually, this leads to starvation and death.
How Can You Tell You Have Low Fat Levels, You Ask? Well:
You are always hungry: If you are always experiencing hunger pangs, it could mean you’re taking in fewer fats than required. Low fat reduces the circulation of leptin (hunger inhibiting hormone) in the blood, a hormone produced by fat cells. Since leptin is a hunger inhibiting hormone, the hormone receptors in the brain detect the drop and increase hunger.
Carbs vs. fat. Another possible reason is that people who take fewer fats tend to take more carb intense diets. Carbohydrates spike blood levels, a spike that declines rapidly. Fats, on the other hand, slow digestion and leave you feeling full longer.
You are always tired; When you have low fat, you have no energy reserves. Your body cannot perform at its optimal level. Low fat leads to a drop in thyroid hormone production, which contributes to fatigue.
You have an irregular menstrual cycle: Low body fat (less than 10%) can stop your menstrual cycle. Subcutaneous fat produces and stores estrogen. The more fat you have, the higher the estrogen levels and vice versa. Without enough estrogen, the menstrual cycle is affected.
You have dry skin. You can spend every dime on skin moisturizing creams, but if you are not eating right, it is a waste. Having fats as part of the daily diet is essential in keeping the skin supple and nourished. 15% of your calories consumed in a day should come from fats and oils.
Health Risks Related to Low Body Fat
Over the years, heart diseases have been linked to high body fats. However, new research has found that a specific gene, IRS1, is linked to low body fat and increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The gene lowers only the “subcutaneous” fat under the skin, but not the harmful “visceral” fat surrounding organs.
Fertility issues resulting from low-fat levels affect both men and women. Women need a regular menstrual cycle to get pregnant. Low fats cause low estrogen levels, affecting the menstrual cycle making it difficult to conceive or sustain a pregnancy.
On the other hand, men experience a decline in testosterone levels due to low leptin levels. As a consequence, the body suffers a condition called hypogonadotropic hypogonadism. Here, the reproductive system shuts down, and there is no sperm production.
Fat-soluble vitamins, ADEK, can only be absorbed in the presence of fats. Insufficient vitamin A can impair vision, while a lack of vitamin D can cause brittle bones. Vitamin E is vital for cell regeneration and skin health, whereas Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting.
It is easy to drop your email address on those ‘How I lost body fat in a week’ pop up ad forms, to get quick fix tips, but the truth is, weight loss or fat loss is not an overnight process.
Even though there is an emphasis on recommended body fats or BMI, these are not the full measure of an individual’s health. They serve merely as a baseline indicator of health. Your mental and spiritual being, as well as your diet, contribute to your overall wellness. Overall body health is more than the number on the scale.
As a society, we are perpetually obsessed with body image, and conversations around bodyweight are here to stay. Countless diet and workout programs promise phenomenal tips for those who want to lose weight; we cannot fight nature. Our bodies are different and have different needs. Understanding that fat is essential for normal bodily functions is the start of losing fats healthily. You need a balanced diet to stay healthy-and fats are part of that balance.
When it comes to comparing your weight loss journey based on the number on the scale, the results may be misleading. Muscle is dense in weight and occupies less volume. This explains why someone may look lean, but the scale reads the same. Moreover, muscle mass is difficult to measure as there many factors in play including, age, gender height, and ethnicity, and this can greatly contribute to how much muscle one gains per day or week.