Struggling with weight loss? Change your focus to fat loss.
Updated: Sep 18
The focus of this article is weight loss and busting a few misconceptions on this topic, a mindset change regarding terminology (fat loss not weight loss) and some methods for assessing your body fat and limitations/usefulness of BMI.
Weight loss is a hot health and fitness topic. Fixation on a scale reading generally occurs when we think of weight loss. As a result, we can become extremely demotivated when the reading remains the same following a period of healthy eating and regular exercise. Many turn to ‘quick fixes’ (i.e. pills, fad diets) only to find out that it does not work or leaves the person in a worse place than before. Social media constantly bombards us with images of the “ideal body'. In addition, there is a mountain of information on the web about exercises, eating plans, diets, and weight loss. All in all, it can be totally overwhelming!
Search the web and you will very quickly be presented with exercise programmes promising dramatic changes in your body in an impossibly short period of time, which often sound like this: “Tone or firm up, your butt/booty or Abs in just two weeks, lose stubborn fat on your thighs or belly”. This is not the whole truth. It is impossible to have spot fat reduction. Simply put, one cannot use specific exercises to target fat in localized areas, such as the stomach or arms.
Mind set change: Weight loss vs Fat loss
It is vital to recognise that weight loss can be measured in several ways. Body weight can reduce because of water weight, muscle mass (atrophy), fat loss or a combination of these factors. We need a changed mindset to FAT LOSS, not weight loss. Losing weight may mean losing muscle which is crazy because muscles are essential to perform daily tasks and in sporting activities etc. We also need muscle to reduce our risk of injury. Lastly, more not less muscle is an advantage when trying to reduce body fat and/or maintain a healthy weight.
Fat type and location is important
There is more to losing weight, or more specifically reducing body fat than many people know. Body fat is divided into subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat is that fat that we find immediately under our skin. This is the fat that we can usually pinch around the arms or belly. Visceral fat refers to the fat that surrounds our internal organs.
The real enemy is Visceral fat. It is associated with a variety of health issues such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and various cancers. Too often, we mistakenly believe that a skinny person is healthy. This is far from true as there are many skinny people who have excess visceral fat internally. We refer to these people as T.O.F.I (''thin on the outside, fat on the inside").
Location, Location, Location
An important factor to consider when looking at body fat is its location in the body. Rather than merely looking at total body fat it is vital to determine regional distribution of body fat. The location of body fat is an important indicator of health. We build a clearer picture of body fat distribution when measuring circumference / girth measurements.
A larger waist circumference (i.e. around the belly) is also closely related to visceral fat. A greater waist circumference is an indication of higher health risk. Easily measure circumference using a relatively inexpensive piece of equipment. All you need is a tape measure and instructions on how to measure your waist circumference (see below).
How to measure your waist circumference
It may be best to have a friend, family member or Biokineticist take the measure to increase accuracy.
Let the person stand with the arms at the side, feet together and stomach relaxed.
Take the tape measure and wrap it around the waist.
The tape measure should be placed at the midpoint between the under most or lowest part of the ribs and the top of the two hip bones.
Ensure that the tape measure is horizontally placed and not skew.
How much body fat do I have?
A circumference measure is only one guide in determining health risk and is not a complete picture of body fat. Many want to know how much body fat they have. A Biokineticist uses the skinfold technique to determine body fat percentage. The main principle behind this technique is that the amount of subcutaneous fat is proportional or related to the total amount of body fat.
The biokineticist will make use of a caliper device for the skin-fold measurement and gently compresses the skin at different regions of the body. Subsequently a scientifically developed algorithm is used to calculate the total body fat percentage. The skinfolds technique provides a good estimate of body fat and is relatively inexpensive. In addition, skinfolds are useful to track changes in body fat at different regions of the body. This is important to determine the effectiveness of a nutritional and exercise plan if the goal is to reduce body fat.
Another relatively inexpensive tool to measure body fat is BIA (bioelectrical impedance analysis). A variety of BIA analysers are built into weight scales that you can easily find at retail outlets. These scales can easily be identified as they have metal plates on the platform of the scale. Other more expensive devices usually have a handheld component. This tool provides a good estimate of your body fat, but many factors can negatively influence the accuracy of this measure. Factors such as fluid intake, environment (i.e. temperature) and exercise prior to the measure. It is probably most accurate in the morning when you have just woken up and after you have gone to the bathroom so that you have an empty bladder.
The death of BMI
BMI stands for body mass index. Classification of people as being underweight, normal, overweight or obese occurs with this measure. Based on your height and weight, this measurement can be made. The problem with BMI is that it is not specific enough to describe leanness or fatness. Subsequently individuals with a large amount of muscle mass may be classified as being overweight or obese.
For example, a sumo wrestler usually has a lot of fat but may weigh the same as a bodybuilder who has lean muscle mass. These two individuals would both (incorrectly) be classified as obese in terms of BMI. Obesity refers to condition of having too much body fat which can increase your risk of health problems. Its best to stick to other measures when trying to classify your health risk based on your body composition.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not all about the number on the scale. We should look beyond our weight and rather focus on fat loss. Reducing body fat (subcutaneous and visceral) carries health benefits such a reduction in risk of diabetes, heart diseases, cancers. It is also good for joints and muscles as there is no excess weight. Excess fat increases the weight carried by joints and muscles. Body composition analysis is a very useful component in guiding your health and fitness journey.
Stay tuned for our next article to learn more about the role of exercise in weight / fat loss.