Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss

Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss

Bar none, the most common question I get asked as a personal trainer is, “What’s the best way to lose weight?”  I hate this question with a passion.

While I love how TV shows like The Biggest Loser have highlighted our obesity epidemic and inspired people to start exercising to become healthier, I dislike how these shows have also created a psychological paradigm shift away from fitness towards an ironically unhealthy emphasis on “weight loss”, with the most important measure of success being numbers decreasing on a scale week after week.  The term “weight loss” has been engrained into our vernacular so much that most people have lost sight of their intention when they say they want to lose weight. What’s frustrating is that I’ll hear comments like, “I’ve lost several inches off my body and my clothes are feeling looser, but the weight just isn’t coming off.  What am I doing wrong?”  It’s comments like this that make me feel like I’ve failed as health professional in educating clients about the important markers of health.

I work in the health and fitness industry, not the make-people-skinny industry.  I try my best to explain like I’ve done hundreds of times that fitness is not about numbers on a scale, or how you look.  We can worry about that stuff later.  First, let’s work on regaining functional movement, because if you’re focusing on weight loss when you’re having trouble getting up and down off the floor, you need to re-think your priorities.  Besides, we need to get you to a baseline of adequate movement if you want us to give you the most effective exercises possible to achieve your goals.  Next, let’s strengthen your cardiovascular system, because what’s the use of “looking good” if you’re out of breath from walking up the stairs and prone to having a heart attack?  Finally,  once you’ve earned the right to start thinking about how to improve the way you look,  instead of thinking about vaguely “losing weight”, tell me you want to improve your body composition (BF%) instead, which will change the shape of your body like you want. Otherwise, you’ll be the unfit “skinny-fat” person at the beach, which is not a good look.

The typical response I get to all this is, “Well, it’s different for females; seeing the numbers go down is important for us.  I know weight isn’t important but…”  No, stop right there.  That “but” indicates that you really don’t understand.  Please, please, PLEASE stop focusing on weight, and start focusing on the aforementioned health markers.

  • Paula
    Posted at 19:59h, 25 May Reply

    Read your article Anthony – had to ‘weigh’ in on this one. Firstly, well written. You make a fantastic argument. However, and of course there is always a however with me, sometimes the scale does matter. For many overweight people, the first sign that they are getting fitter is a drop on the scale. For people who aren’t motivated to get fit, the scale gives them hope and pushes them to continue on with a plan for better health. A 4 lb drop on the scale means more to an overweight person than 1/4 inch cinch of the waistline. I almost gave up on my ‘get this damn baby weight off me’ plan because I hadn’t seen results after 2 weeks. Maybe there was a tad more room in my jeans but I didn’t feel it because I am not programmed that way. I can absolutely appreciate how frustrating this probably is for trainers.

    But, trainers can’t just tell an overweight, scale obsessed clients to stop worrying about the scale. The scale means success or failure. Sad reality. I gave this ‘plan’ of mine a second wind when in week 3 I saw a 10 lb drop on the scale. Now I have the confidence to put the dedication into this plan of mine.

    • Anthony Agtarap
      Anthony Agtarap
      Posted at 21:42h, 25 May Reply

      Thanks for reading Paula and we appreciate the comment. Also congratulations on giving your plan a chance so you could drop those 10lbs. There’s nothing more gratifying to us than when a client starts to feel confident in themselves. Unfortunately for some of them, that doesn’t happen until the number on the scale go down. People have definitely been programmed to think in this way thanks to shows like The Biggest Loser or The Last Ten Pounds. Recently, however, I’ve noticed a shift in the message from reputable fitness magazines, fitness blogs, and various facebook posts all suggesting that “strong is the new sexy”. The message is clearly not focussed on weight loss but on performance. I’m sure you’ve seen these pictures or articles floating around lately. It’s a great message. I’m hoping as more fitness sources promote this message on social media, it will eventually make its way to primetime television and replace those ridiculous weight loss reality shows. People would then think differently about health and fitness and that success is not measured by the drop in number on the scale.

      Keep focused on your plan and enjoy the process! Would love to hear an update of your progress in 3-months or so.

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