Do you want to lose weight? If you answered yes, you’re only half right. Technically, what you really want to do is lose fat.
Anyone can lose weight. All you have to do is stop eating (please don’t do that). The point is that yes, you will lose weight, but the weight you lose will be muscle, fat, bone, water, and every other part of your body.
The real goal for your weight loss journey should be to preserve as much muscle as possible, or possibly even gain some, all while losing as much fat as possible. Maybe that leads to weight loss on the scale, but it might not. Either way, you’re going to have a much improved body composition.
Don’t Be Weight Focused
Telling people to not obsess over their weight is a very common theme for me, and for good reason. Too many times successful habit change is sabotaged because of a deceiving number on the scale.
A scale can’t tell you if your clothes fit better, it can’t tell you if your body fat percentage has changed, and it definitely won’t tell you if you’re looking any better. So many people are making great progress, but their scale tunnel vision blinds them from seeing it.
Two people could both weigh 150lbs, but one might have 40% body fat, while the other might have 10% body fat. To the scale they are both the same. A scale can’t tell the difference between a 150lb person or a 150lb sack of potatoes even though I personally think they look a little different.
Your weight is important, but it’s only one spoke in the progress picture wheel. Body fat percentage, tape measurements, progress pictures, how your clothes fit, blood work, strength, endurance, and confidence are equally important measures of progress.
If these progress markers are improving over time and you’re feeling better about yourself, then that’s all that matters. Progress is not just measured in pounds lost.
Losing Muscle Makes Your Weight Loss Harder
I view muscle as the #1 fat loss aid on the market. It boosts your metabolism and it burns fat at all hours of the day – even when you’re sleeping, and that’s not an exaggeration.
Unfortunately, most people are so focused on weight that they don’t prioritize muscle maintenance. So they over restrict calories, go through the motions with their strength training, and then proceed to lose a good portion of their lean body mass.
Once that happens you have to cut more calories in order to maintain an energy deficit. And that further results in more muscle loss. And the cycle continues until you’re eating so few calories and nutrients that you feel weak in both body and mind.
If you lose 20 pounds but 10 pounds of that was muscle, that’s not a very successful weight loss attempt. Yes, you’ll be smaller, but you’ll also have a slower metabolism, will be weaker, and might even have a worse body composition than when you started.
How to Prioritize Fat Loss
OK, so you no longer want to just lose weight. You want to lose fat, and you want to maintain as much lean body mass as possible so as to keep your metabolism running optimally.
What does that look like? Here’s what you should be focused on…
- Eat as many calories as possible that still enables you to lose weight. Under eating is a sure way to lose muscle and stall out. Here’s how many calories you should eat.
- At least 80% of those calories should come from whole foods that are nutrient dense. Your body needs more than calories. It needs nutrients to run optimally.
- Don’t try to lose weight too fast. The faster you lose weight the higher the percentage of that weight loss will be muscle. How long it will take to lose weight will be dependent on your starting point.
- Try to keep your protein in the 20-30% of total calories range. This usually comes out to between .6-.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Fat and carb grams will be dependent on food preferences and your ability to remain consistent with your eating.
- Prioritize strength training. Compound exercises like the bench press, squat, deadlift, and rows will most efficiently build muscle. The key though is to make sure you aren’t losing strength during the weight loss process.
- Minimize the amount of cardio you do. Use the least amount as possible that still enables you to hit your performance, enjoyment, and weight loss goals.
That’s it! If you go into your weight loss journey with the right perspective and you optimize for fat loss and muscle preservation, you’re going to make your goal a whole lot easier to accomplish.
In the end, your weight might not be anywhere near where you thought it would be. But you’ll be leaner, happier, stronger, eating more, and in a much better mental space.