Ditch the Scale for Healthy Weight Loss: Part 1

*This article was recently published in Scottsdale Health Magazine: View it HERE

How Your Scale is Holding You Back: Part 1

Weight loss and fat loss are often two very different things. While we speak in terms of weight, scales, diets and calories, what we really should be discussing is food quality, hormones, strength training and stress.

In this 2 part series, we’ll discuss why fat loss doesn’t necessarily revolve around weight loss, cardio and calories. Instead, healthy fat loss involves regulating fat burning hormones through good nutrition and increased muscle mass. By focusing more on the types of food, exercise and stressors that affect our hormones, we can create permanent change in our body shapes, which ultimately matters far more than what the scale says.

Consider the fact that 95% of diet’s fail and 66% of those that do lose weight on a diet end up gaining more weight back. When we diet (restrict calories), we lose fat, but also lose muscle, water, and organ and bone tissue as the product of restricting calories. I’d say that in our pursuit of weight loss, we seem to be missing one very important fact:

The Key to losing fat is to focus on muscle muscle.

Why is having more muscle mass so important?
Muscle is more dense tissue than fat, therefore 1-lb of muscle will take up less space than 1-lb of fat. That means better fitting clothes and improved body definition. Also, having more muscle mass has some significant hormonal and lifestyle advantages that contribute to increased fat loss that aren’t optimized when typical dieting is in effect:

Improved insulin sensitivity: Being insulin sensitive means you handle sugar (glucose) well, which means that less sugar is being stored as fat, and less insulin (fat storing hormone) is needed to modulate this process.

Age related muscle decline: After the age of 20, you lose approximately one-half pound of muscle per year. That means for the average American, each pound gained thereafter is fat. Simply maintaining muscle mass each year would offset fat gains and improve health outcomes later in life.

Hormone enhancement: While having more muscle mass will increase the number of calories burned at rest (only slightly), the process of strength training more importantly helps increase fat burning hormones like growth hormone and testosterone, which ultimately contribute to increased fat loss around the clock.

This is a perfect example of why tracking scale weight is simply inefficient for tracking fat loss. Instead, assessing body fat and muscle mass are a more reliable indicator of progress made.

How do we accurately track fat loss?
Since we know that strength training will increase muscle mass, which is valuable in any fat loss program, we may not necessarily see a scale weight change. Often this depends on the client and amount of body fat as well as previous training status. Employing these assessment techniques can be a more valuable way to track change.

1) Take pictures: Visually seeing physical change is one of the best ways to track progress. Compare pictures taken every couple weeks. You want to be able to see your mid-section, arms and legs, so spandex shorts for men and a swimsuit or spandex shorts and a sports bra for women is ideal.

2) Circumference Measurements: Using a tape measure to track around the neck, shoulders, waist, hips, arms and thighs can be a great way to tell if you’re losing inches.

3) Calipers: Pinching fat from specific “sites” on the body can be a reliable indicator of total body fat percentage as well as gain insight into some possible hormone imbalances based on where and how body fat is dispersed. Typically this gives insight as to what we’re consuming on a daily basis and how it affects our blood sugar.

Once body fat is known, then fairly simple calculations can estimate fat mass and lean mass. You know you’re on the right track when you see fat mass going down and lean mass staying the same, or increasing.

The first step should be to understand that scale weight is an ineffective tool for tracking fat loss or muscle gain. By shifting our focus to body composition as opposed to scale weight, we can get a much broader understanding of true fat loss and body transformation. In order to do that, having a deeper understanding of how to build muscle mass and improve hormonal status through smart training and individualized nutrition should be at the forefront of any well-structured fat loss program.

In part 2 –> HERE <--, we’ll discuss nutritional guidelines for fat loss and why strength training may be the most important element in any fat loss program.

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