What’s the difference between losing a love handle and losing some water?

The difference between fat loss and weight loss

Losing fat, losing weight…what’s the difference as long as the number on the scale is moving in the right direction! Right?! Well, no…that’s not right. There is a big difference between losing fat and losing weight.

Losing fat involves losing one thing – fat (a.k.a. those unwanted love handles). This creates a healthier body composition. Losing weight can involve losing fat. But among other things it involves a loss of water, bone mass, and even lean muscle tissue. If done improperly, weight loss can result in undesirable outcomes.

fat loss

What is a healthy body fat percentage?

Before we talk any further about weight loss and shedding those unwanted love handles, let’s talk about what a healthy body fat percentage is. Your body fat percentage is an indicator of your body composition whether good or bad. According to Livestrong.com, "Women ages 19 to 29 whose body fat is between 19 to 22 percent are included in the healthy range. Also included are women ages 30 to 39 with body fat between 20 to 24 percent. Women in their 40s with body fat between 23 percent and 27 percent, and women 50 and older with body fat from 27 to 31 percent are well within the healthy range of body fat."

What are you losing?

According to Louis J. Aronne, an internal medicine and obesity specialist at New York-Presbyterian University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell, 75 percent of pounds lost are from fat, and 25 percent are from a combination of water and muscle. If you take a more aggressive approach by cutting calories below about 1,000 and 1,200 your body will begin to break down your muscle proteins for energy.  When you lose weight fast, you lose about three times more muscle than you would if you took things slowly according to research presented at the 2014 European Congress on Obesity.

Fat loss…not necessarily weight loss

Technically speaking, weight loss involves a loss of your body’s "quantity of matter." And if that’s your only goal, you and I could go get a hair cut and make progress towards that goal.  But fat involves losing something completely different. When you lose fat, you won’t regain it as soon as you drink another glass of water. You will also SEE THE RESULTS when you look at yourself in the mirror. When you experience fat loss you will look and feel better.

Friend, when it comes to losing fat, this is my challenge to you: avoid using the scale as your only measure of success. If you are participating in some sort of fitness, your body should be transforming fat into muscle rather than just simply burning it off. As you and I have been told, muscle tissue is more dense, and therefore heavier, than fat. In her article titled A Pound of Fat Vs. a Pound of Muscle, Linda Tarr Kent of livestrong.com states, "Since it is denser, muscle does weigh more than fat if you compare same-size portions. On average, the density of fat is 0.9 g/mL. The density of muscle is 1.1 g/mL. Using the averages, 1 liter of muscle weighs 1.06 kg, or 2.3 lbs., while 1 liter of fat weighs .9 kg, or 1.98 lbs.”

If weight loss is your goal I want to encourage you to modify that goal. Instead of being so concerned about the number on the scale consider the way you look in the mirror and the way your favorite pair of jeans fit. I would encourage you to take measurements and use before and after pictures. It’s incredibly rewarding to see yourself transform! With before and after pictures you can actually watch your body transform. 

If you’re participating in effective, physical exercise, there’s a possibility that you begin to look and feel better in spite of what the number says on the scale. Chances are that your waistline may decrease without much movement on the scale.

Let me ask you:

What’s your goal? Rather than a smaller number on the scale, maybe you should work towards a smaller number around your waist, or being able to comfortably wear that favorite pair of jeans again, or maybe just maybe you should aim at being happier with the person you see starring back at you in the mirror.