Many people are still unaware of the difference between weight loss and fat loss. They are not the same thing and understanding the difference is key in achieving and maintaining optimal body composition. Our culture is obsessed with weight loss but this obsession may actually be making us fatter. This is because the traditional weight loss approach of low calorie diets combined with hours of cardiovascular exercise burns fat, but also dramatically lowers muscle mass.
Muscle is the bodies number one metabolic organ. The muscle mass of an individual determines 40% of his or her insulin sensitivity and 70-90% of a persons ability to remove glucose (sugar) from the blood. Low calorie diets deplete muscle tissue, significantly reduce metabolic rate (the rate that you burn calories) and makes it more and more difficult to lose weight after each month (6).
Adding exercise can help this decline. But, not all exercise is equal. resistance training, NOT aerobic exercise, helps maintain muscle mass and maintain a normal metabolic rate (BMR) BMR can be decreased by 10-20% during traditional weight loss diets this means that, a slower BMR is a predictor of future fat gain. .
So, the lesson is to seek fat loss NOT weight loss. The more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn and the more likely those calories will come from fat. Muscle loss means less fat burned during exercise and less fat burned after.
It is time we stop thinking about metabolism as something you “speed up” or “slow down”. It is about efficiency. Adding extra muscle is more beneficial because it helps you burn a higher proportion of calories form fat. Whether you are burning 2,000 calories a day or 2,030 per day does not mattter as much as the percent of fat you are burning. Burning 60 percent glucose (sugar) and 40% fat vs 50% glucose (sugar) and 50% fat makes a huge difference whether your metabolism speeds up or not.
By playing the weight loss game and not trying to maintain muscle, the metabolism is less efficient when the diet ends. Post-diet, the body is more likely to store fat compared to building muscle and will pack on the fat pounds quicker then before because less muscle is present to stop this effect. Many people who subscribe to this back and forth “dieting” end up with more fat and less muscle in the long run. This is the chief reason it gets harder and harder to achieve the body of our younger days as we reach our thirties and beyond. One study showed one more scary side effect of the “eat less, exercise more approach”. Testosterone levels dropped by a whopping 63%.
Whether you are male or female a drop in testosterone is the last thing on earth you want if you hope to maintain a lean physique. Testosterone is a chief fat burning and muscle building hormone in both men and women and is a primary factor in decreasing belly fat and keeping the body firm. A lack of testosterone is easy to detect whether someone is skinny or overweight because the body takes on a “mushy feeling” which is the key sign muscle is lacking. To lose fat takes a different approach. Here are 3 quick steps to burning fat NOT muscle, turning weight loss into fat loss and regaining a tight body and healthy metabolism. There are more, but get these three things right and you will restore metabolic function within a 3 to 6 month period.
1. Eat more not less. Eat more of the right foods more often. Eat foods that are more filling and change the hormones towards fat burning and muscle building (which means they control hunger, cravings and energy and result in hormonal balance and less calories eaten without trying). This means 80-90% of your food should be protein and vegetables with the remaining 10-20% being fruits, dairy, and grain in that order.
2. Skip the treadmill and hit the weights. Heavy weight training elevates testosterone levels and helps regain the muscle mass that many people have lost over the years. This is the quickest way to tighten the body.
3. Address your estrogen to progesterone ratio. If you are someone who stores fat in your lower body and/or breasts, your estrogen to progesterone ratio may be elevated, effecting your ability to burn fat. In order to lower estrogen relative to progesterone, increase foods that help detox estrogen like cruciferous veggies and green tea. Limit non-organic coffee (or cut coffee out altogether!), limit your exposure to pesticides by incorporating more organic foods and avoid drinking out of plastic bottles if possible. Also, high cortisol levels from stress may impact this ratio also, so try to lower cortisol by walking, doing restorative activities like yoga and Tai Chi, and having quiet time to destress. Implementing high intensity exercise like weight-training and HIIT can help lower cortisol over time, as well as increasing testosterone, a fat-burning/muscle-building hormone that women need to help burn fat.