Losing weight seems to be a common goal nationwide, but what are people really trying to accomplish? For some, weight loss is their primary purpose; for others, they really want to fit into their current clothes better, wear a smaller clothing size or maybe be healthier by becoming leaner. No matter their reason, the truth is that the latter weight loss goals are really more about losing inches, not pounds! When you lose body fat, you lose inches but not necessarily pounds. Pounds continually get a bad rap, but it’s inches that are the real culprit since they’re closely related to body fat. So let’s take a look at this issue of pounds versus inches.
To illustrate what I mean about reduced inches or body fat being the real issue, let’s use two fictitious people: Maria and Karen. Maria weighs 120 pounds and has 40 percent body fat, while Karen weighs 140 pounds and has 20 percent body fat. Looking at just these numbers, you might assume that Maria is most likely the healthier person, because she weighs less. But let’s look behind these numbers. Maria has 48 pounds of body fat, while Karen, although weighing more, has only 28 pounds of body fat. In terms of their body composition, Karen is actually healthier.
Karen’s lower percentage of body fat also probably translates into smaller sized clothing, which is the real goal of many people seeking weight loss. Muscle, or lean tissue, takes up less space than fat, and thus, means fitting into smaller sizes or having your current size fit more comfortably. Assuming Karen’s body fat measurement is within established norms, her body composition also is healthier.
In one of my other articles, I identified body composition as one of the elements of overall fitness. It is the ratio of body fat to lean tissue, and the normal healthy ranges for this ratio are published by such sources as the American College of Sports Medicine. In addition, a certified trainer can help you identify your healthy ratio.
Generally, the lower this ratio is within your range, the better. Often people will lose weight, but do nothing to change their body composition. Although the scale indicates that they’ve made progress according to their measure of success (pounds), they’ve actually not made as much progress as they could have if they had also increased their lean tissue, and reduced body fat to help change this ratio. Losing weight by itself does not automatically mean that you’ve changed this ratio. You can improve your body fat ratio with an exercise regimen that includes both aerobic and weight training workouts. As you begin to lose excess body fat and gain muscle, you will notice how much better your clothes fit.
Since a pound of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat – but takes up less space, your increased muscle, reduced body fat and healthier body composition could mean little change in the number of the scale, but a great difference in how your clothes fit! So here’s what I suggest for those of you hooked on numbers. Focus on a different number. A friend of mine has clothes in her closet ranging from size 4 to 10, each size representing different fitness phases in her life. To gauge her progress in becoming leaner, I recommended that she look at what clothing size she’s wearing as she continues her exercise regimen. When this number gets smaller, she knows she’s making progress in reducing body fat.
As I constantly remind my clients, if your goal is to develop a leaner healthier body composition, forget the scale. Instead, as you keep up your exercise routine, periodically have your body fat measured, and check out how your clothes fit.
Remember, losing inches by reducing body fat and building muscle does not necessarily translate into lost pounds. It does however achieve the goal of fitting better into your current clothes, and improving your overall body composition. So in the battle of the bulge: Pay more attention to your inches instead of focusing on those pounds!
Always check with your healthcare provider before embarking on any exercise program.
LaRue is a Certified Personal Trainer and fitness author. He has helped clients reach their personal health and fitness goals for more 15 years. Through his company, LEC Fitness, LLC, LaRue offers personal training services to individuals, pairs, and small groups – In-Person, or through our convenient Online Service. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit us at: www.lecfitness.com.
LaRue is a Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Consultant, and Author who specializes in working with Women and Girls on improving their health and fitness for general health, and sports.