One of the most frustrating things that you can face on your journey to becoming fit and healthy is trying to reduce your weight. You’re training hard, you’re feeling better than ever and are positive that you’ve shed at least a few kilos. But then you step on to the scale and… your weight is still the same.
Our obsession with the scale
The world is full of crash diets and fad diets asking us to restrict our calorie intake to the extreme. There are also countless exercise regimes involving endless hours of cardio, all of which promise to help us move the number on the scale. Some eating disorders can even be traced directly to our desire to step on the scale and see that we’ve lost weight.
The irony in all of this is that the number that you see on the scale each morning is a terrible indicator of your health as weight alone cannot tell you anything about how your weight is distributed. In particular, it does not take into account the ratio of fat to lean tissue which can cause very lean people to think they are fatter than they really are, and fat people to think that they are leaner.
In other words, losing weight can actually be a bad thing, especially if you are doing it at the expense of lean tissue like muscle. If all you are using to gauge your fitness progress is the weight that you can see on the scales alone, then you are only getting half the picture.
Fat vs muscle
Body fat (adipose tissue) is metabolically inactive. What this means is that its primary function is to store calories (energy) to be used later. At rest, a pound of fat will burn around two to four calories per day just to maintain itself.
It was vital for us to store fat in the past when food was scarce, however people generally consume enough calories nowadays to maintain their basic functions.
In addition to the fact that food is now more readily accessible, our diet has also in recent times shifted from whole grain complex carbohydrates to highly processed foods. Eating these kinds of foods encourage our bodies to store even more calories as fat – although it’s unlikely we’ll need to use them.
In contrast to fat, one pound of muscle burns around six to ten calories per day at rest. Although this doesn’t sound like a huge difference, it is still around three times more effective at burning calories than fat. But what makes muscle much more useful than fat is when you move it. Depending on your existing levels of lean body mass, you can burn upwards of 250 calories just by exercising your muscles.
Consequently, if you want to lose fat and build a healthy body, eating well and doing cardio is not enough. You need to do strength training to build and get your muscles moving too.
The goal is to lose fat
Rather than simply weighing yourself on the scales, a much more effective approach is to look at your percentage of body fat then compare that against your total body weight.
Once you start thinking this way, that daily weigh-in becomes much less important.
Your goal should never be to just lose weight. It should be to lose fat.
In the process of losing fat, you will typically lose some weight on the scales, which may include some muscle. In this case, your objective should always be to maximise fat loss and minimise muscle loss. If you lose too much muscle along with the fat, your body fat percentage could actually remain the same or even increase slightly. And that isn’t progress, even if the scale is telling you that you are lighter!
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