A seemingly basic question that is often misunderstood is simply “What is weight loss?”, and for good reason, as it is widely accepted that standing on the scales and decreasing in weight means that you are on the path to becoming slimmer. Although this may be true, in part, it fails to uncover the whole truth.
What Should We Be Discussing…?
When we are talking about weight loss, for most people this means; slimming down to fit into those jeans, following recommendations from a doctor or losing unsightly fat from places that were never there before, among many others. In these cases and nearly all others (unless your muscles are that big you’ve been told to slim them down – and what a terrible state you must be in if that is the case, lol) when it comes to weight loss we should actually be talking about “fat loss”.
Fat Mass & Fat Free Mass
There is a big difference between losing weight and losing fat and it is worth taking note, for this should not only help you in achieving your goals, but make you feel less guilty and demoralised should you ever step on the scales and see the weight has increased.
For the purposes of simplicity and describing this topic I’m going to divide the body into two separate components;
A) Fat Mass – the amount of fat contained within the body, weighed in Kilograms and/or Stone & Pounds
B) Fat Free Mass (FFM) – everything else in the body, not including fat of course, also weighed in Kgs/ St. & Lbs
Nearly all of the fat found in the body is either “Subcutaneous” (found under the skin, between the skin and the muscle) or “Visceral” (found around the the front midsection protecting the vital organs). The rest is found in smaller quantities in the liver and between joints.
Fat Free Mass (FFM)
FFM incorporates everything else in the body that isn’t fat, so your bones, brain, organs etc., but not least your muscle, as well as all the water found in the body.
* Side Note – By design, a litre of water weighs 1Kg (2.2Lbs), so if you were to consume 3 litres within a short space of time, without peeing or sweating significantly, then you will have gained a whopping 3Kgs (6.6Lbs) on the scales. This is why you should always way yourself naked, first thing in the morning, after going to the toilet – so that results are consistent. Just this simple thing alone may demoralise someone looking to lose fat, when the actual weight gain is just down to water.
Examples of Body Fat Composition and Body Fat %
So, what we need to look at more accurately is the difference between body fat and FFM. Let’s takes look at some examples:
Let’s say I’m a very fit guy, around 6″3 weighing 100Kgs (220Lbs) and have lots of muscle. I have been specially examined and it’s determined that I have 10Kgs of fat on my body, therefore 90Kgs of FFM. This would give me a relative body fat (RBF) percentage of 10%
10Kgs of fat / 100Kgs (total weight) x 100 (to express as a percentage) = 10%
(Somone with this type of body composition would be in very good condition with visible abdominal muscles)
Let’s say I’m an overweight lady, around 5″6, weighing 75Kgs and have never really exercised. My fat has been weighed at 25Kgs and my FFM at 50Kgs. This would give me a relative body fat percentage of 33%.
25Kgs of fat / 75Kgs (total weight) X 100 (to express as a percentage) = 33%
(Someone with this type of body composition would be significantly overweight)
To give an idea of leanness, an extremely lean man would be around 8% Relative Body Fat and an extremely lean woman around 12% RBF.
* It is worth noting that this is to demonstrate how various people are composed in terms of body fat and that to accurately separate a person’s fat from their FFM in terms of weight is complicated and the sophisticated devices that do so would give you the body fat calculation automatically anyway.
Sometimes Even Body Fat % Can Mislead…
It is also worth mentioning here that in some instances even “relative body fat” calculations can be misleading in terms of actual fat loss. Sometimes, RBF% can decrease, yet the amount of fat stay the same (remain constant). Let me explain, without getting bamboozling and getting into a deeper sub topic:
Let’s take the previous example of the 100Kg man with 10Kg of fat, therefore an RBF of 10%.
That man then works their ass off in the gym building muscle.
After 3 months he has managed to put on 10Kgs of FFM in the form of muscle, his fat weight is still the same at 10Kgs and everything else is the same, so he now weighs a total of 110Kg (with the extra muscle).
Let’s put that in to the calculation:-
10Kg of fat/110Kg (total weight) X 100 (to express as a percentage) = 9.09% relative body fat
So, as we can see, although the amount of fat (under the skin and around the waist etc.) is the same, the relative body fat has decreased. If you like, the “leanness” remains the same as the thickness of fat under the skin (subcutaneous) remains the same. However, it is worth noting that in this extreme example (putting on 10Kgs of muscle without increasing fat would be very hard), the said person would have the perception of being leaner without actually being more lean due to adding significantly more muscle.
Targeting Fat Loss
How do we specifically target fat loss?
Now that we understand the difference between fat loss and weight loss we will now look at how to target fat loss, whilst maintaining FFM in the form of muscle.
In order to lose fat we have to create a “calorie deficit”, which means burn more calories than we consume in food. A calorie is basically a unit of energy which we get from food and is used by the body as fuel to exercise, power organs, such as the heart, and digest food. Excess calories are stored by the body, mainly in the form of fat, to be used later, if and when required.
By creating a calorie deficit we produce an environment whereby the body will have to burn the stored calories of fat as fuel. Without a calorie deficit the body will simply take its energy from the food consumed and therefore won’t burn the stored fat.
So, in order to target the fat we need to create a calorie deficit. However, we also need to ensure that the body maintains its FFM, namely muscle.
When the body is in a calorie deficit it will also try and burn calories in the form of muscle tissue in order to get the energy it needs, which we don’t want, so it is important that the muscles are exercised and ample protein consumed to preserve as much as possible. Muscle itself also burns calories to function so the more muscle you have the more calories you will burn, therefore, maintaining as much as possible is imperative for fat loss.
So, To Wrap Things Up…
When we talk of weight loss we actually should be focussing on fat loss. In most instances, you actually want to be increasing the muscle in your FFM, therefore your FFM weight should actually increase whilst your fat weight goes down. Increasing muscle mass will help burn the fat, as well as have a host of other benefits, which will be covered in other topics.
In a nutshell, in order to target fat loss you need to;
A) Create a “calorie deficit” through diet and exercise
B) Exercise the muscles focussing more on resistance exercises (weights)
C) Increase quality protein intake to build and protect the muscles
To learn more about diet and exercise, please feel free to continue reading any of the other content that takes your fancy.
If you would like to ask any questions or add any comments then please post below, I look forward to hearing from you.
Peace out! 🙂