You may have noticed that I talk about fat loss instead of weight loss. We also include tons of pictures of fat vs. muscle on this site. There’s an important reason for that – your body is made up of two things: fat (essential fat + excess fat), and non-fat (muscle, bone, etc). Those two things combined are the number you know as weight.
When you lose weight, we want all of it to be weight loss from fat while keeping the lean muscle. This is how you get a nice lean look instead of a soft-mushy “skinny fat” body.
What is Body Fat and Essential Body Fat?
Simply put, the main purpose body fat is to store energy for when your body doesn’t have another energy source (food) available. One pound of fat consists of 3,500 calories of stored energy, therefore you need to burn 3,500 calories to get rid of one pound of body fat. While we want to get rid of excess body fat, it is important to know that there is such a thing as essential body fat – which is necessary for things such as maintaining your body (processing the nutrients you consume), child bearing, and protecting vital organs. Essential body fat is calculated as a percentage of your overall weight using calipers.
Essential Body Fat for Men and Women
Essential body fat is approximately 2-5% for men and 10-13% for women. In fact, body fat percentages for men and women vary at all physiques and it is very important to keep in mind when coming up with your goals.
Getting your body fat percentage lower than essential fat can have severe harmful effects on your body and longevity. The following body composition image shows the differences in body composition for men and women.
Example: I weigh 130 lb and calipers tell me my body fat is approximately 9% so I can calculate that to be almost 12 lb of fat. Out of that 12 lb, however, 6.5 lb (5% of 130 lb) is essential fat.
Note: Using body fat percentage as a guideline is a much better way of calculating healthy weight or your ideal weight than BMI (not to be confused with BMR that we calculated earlier) or other measurements.
Picture: Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss
The picture below does a fantastic job of showing you the difference in your body if you lose weight (which can be from water retention and muscle) vs. if you lose fat while maintaining your muscle. This should be reason enough for you to focus on fat loss instead of weight loss.
It is easy to lose weight fast (by burning muscle) but that will result in the small mushy pear shape below. Yes, the number on the scale will be lower, but you will not be healthier for it, and you will not look as great as you can if you lose fat instead of muscle.
To see why this happens take a look at the difference in volume and composition of 1 lb of fat vs. 1 lb of muscle. 1 lb of muscle is much more dense and compact and losing it wont show much of a difference in your body. 1 lb of fat, however, can appear like a much bigger weight loss.