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Weight Loss vs Fat Loss: What’s the Difference?

by Katie Verburg - April 08, 2019

Katie Verburg is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer who is currently studying to become a Holistic Health Coach. She has been in the health and fitness industry for a decade. Here, she writes about weight loss vs fat loss.

With the nutrition and fitness industries pumping out new information left and right, it’s no wonder why the majority of people struggle with losing weight. There will always be those who step on the scale every single morning and base their overall health on the three digits that appear on the screen. Likewise, there will always be those “weekend warriors” or people who step on the scale post-exercise. Along with these habits come frustration, discouragement, body dysmorphia, and negative body image.

Due to the high volume of material that praises cardiovascular exercise as the solution for weight loss, some individuals turn to walking, jogging, riding the elliptical, or biking 60 minutes each day, miraculously losing 10 lbs. in one month as a result. The moment this information (or trend) becomes public, it seems like every corner is filled with runners and joggers with the same goal in mind. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, it unfortunately isn’t the miracle solution for most to lose weight.

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To go a little deeper, water weight might initially be lost (a.k.a. those 10 lbs.), but actual body fat may be the exact same as it was prior to starting exercise. Why? While cardiovascular exercise is great for heart health, it isn’t the solution to decrease body fat. Instead, if too much cardiovascular exercise is performed, it can diminish the muscle that already exists.

Does Cardio Help with Weight Loss?

Having been a certified personal trainer for several years, I’ve noticed this conversation come up almost daily. Cardio, cardio, cardio – it’s what the general population believes is the solution. Properly educated fitness professionals are here to inform people that it’s actually strength training that will assist in fat loss, and with fat loss comes weight loss – not vice versa. Majority of people assume that losing weight means losing fat, and while this seems like it should be the case, it sadly isn’t.

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Your Fitness Schedule

An effective solution does exist. Mix up your gym routine with three to four days of strength training instead of sole cardiovascular exercise five or more days a week. To get even more specific, lift heavier weights on those strength training days. Women tend to stay near the lighter dumbbell exercises, too afraid that heavier weights will result in a masculine build. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

The heavier the weights one can lift, the more muscle mass will be developed, and the less fat mass will be accumulated. It’s best to incorporate a mixture of cardiovascular exercise and strength training exercises into the average person’s weekly routine. Both help with weight loss and fat loss. However, primarily sticking to cardiovascular exercise to meet your needs won’t get you to your goal.

In addition, I wouldn’t recommend getting on the scale every morning; this daily habit is damaging. There are plenty of other ways to measure progress! Keep in mind that exercise isn’t the only component of a healthy lifestyle either. People often forget that losing weight isn’t just based on diet and exercise alone. Stress management, hormones, sleep, recovery, relationships, as well as work-life balance are all equally as important to nurturing a healthy lifestyle.

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