One of the first things people tell me, when I ask them what their fitness goals are, is that they want to "lose weight". What the majority of these people mean is that they want to lose FAT!
People have become so fixated on what the little number on the scale tells them each day, that some may actually cease their exercise program because the little number says that they have gained a pound.
A pound of what? Remember, the simple scale is measuring your total body weight. This includes muscle, fat, bones, organs, undigested food, water, clothing, small children, anything that is in or on your body! Weighing yourself at a different time each day can give you a different result.
But you all knew this. So you weigh yourself every morning, before breakfast, with no clothes on. No food in you, no excessive amount of water, and the kids are still in bed. Good! This is a bit more accurate. The bones and organs aren't going to change, so you're concerned with muscle and fat fluctuations.
What we now want to do is lose the fat! Fat is not only unsightly, but in excess, it poses major health risks such as: arteriosclerosis, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, increased risk of heart attack, low back pain, (I could go on-and-on).
Many fitness professionals have gotten away from the phrase "weight loss" and changed it to "fat loss". Most of the fad diets out there promote weight loss, and that's exactly what they do. They make you lose weight.
This, often quick, reduction in weight (YAY! The number on the scale has gone down!), usually comes from a decrease in body water. Some of the most popular diets these days ("low-carb"), can actually make your body start to eat it's own muscle tissue! How pleasant! These diets are also very restrictive on the foods that you can eat. So much so, that the diets become boring, inconvenient, and even unpalatable. So people get off their diets, and the weight quickly comes back on, sometimes more than before the diet started. If all of these fad diets claim to work, why are there so many of them?
So we want to lose fat. There are three ways to do that:
1. Reduce the amount of calories you consume each day
2. Expend more calories a day than you consume
3. A combination of the two
Your body uses calories to produce the energy it needs to go about its daily activities. Your body requires a certain amount of calories to sustain its essential functions (breathing, heart rate, circulation, digestion). This is called your Basal Metabolic Rate and can use from about 800-2200+ calories a day. Your body then needs calories to create energy for all of the activities you perform throughout the day (walking, working, driving, exercising). Calories consumed above what is expended throughout your day will be stored for later use, usually in the form of fat cells. Reducing the excess number of calories can help with fat loss.
If you are taking in more calories than your body is using, then you can increase your activity level. Exercise, walk the dog, garden, take the stairs, park far away. This will burn more calories, which will leave fewer calories to be stored as fat.
The best way to lose fat is to use a combination of the last two methods. By decreasing consumption of calories, and increasing calorie expenditure, you are doubling your "Battle Against the Bulge".
Many people think that aerobic or cardiovascular exercise is the only way to "burn fat". WRONG! A combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training has been shown to be the most effective method for fat loss. A pound of fat in your body burns 1-2 calories a day to sustain itself. A pound of muscle burns 35-50 calories a day to sustain itself. So by adding 10 pound of muscle to your frame, your body will burn 350-500 additional calories at rest! Having more muscle will help you burn fat! This can be achieved through resistance training.
But don't forget: this increase in muscle (and decrease in fat) is going to show up on your scale as an increase in weight. But you are now healthier, stronger, and more fit. Plus your pants now fit better. So my advice to you is "throw away your scale!"
Wes Norris, CSCS