What Kind of Weight do You Want to Lose?

I’m not asking how much you want to lose, because that number can be somewhat irrelevant (which I’ll explain below). I’m asking what kind of weight: fat weight, water weight, lean body tissue weight, weight that only stays off for two months and then comes right back...?

There’s more than one way to lose weight, and there’s more than one kind of weight to lose. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

What kind of weight are you losing? Here’s a quick summary of ways the body sheds pounds:

Water and glycogen weight. I once read a post in a forum where a woman said, "I don’t care if it’s water weight. I just want to lose something!" I understand where she was coming from, and maybe many of you can relate, too. And if you’re overweight and just starting a diet, you might see a substantial weight loss during the first couple of weeks because of lost water. But you can’t lose water weight forever--if you did, you’d die pretty quickly! So while that extra loss of pounds in the beginning can be encouraging, it’s not a permanent weight loss solution.

Lean body mass. The term "lean body mass" is too just vague for me. The idea of losing "lean body mass" may not seem bad if you aren’t clear on what that means:

  • Lean body mass is bone mass, organ mass and muscle mass.

Picture yourself standing on the scale and seeing a 5-lb loss. Hooray! Right? Not if it’s lean body mass loss.

Now picture thin, empty, brittle bones; weak muscles with no definition; feeble organs starving for the nutrients they need to function properly. This is what can happen if you’re losing weight the wrong way. Suddenly that 5-lb loss doesn’t feel like a victory, does it?

Fat. Now this is what we’re really trying to lose, right? We want to lose fat, the stuff that clings to our hips and hides our outstanding six-pack from the world. I don’t think anyone aiming to lose weight would deny the goal of losing fat.

So the question becomes, how do we lose fat without sacrificing our lean body mass? Can it even be done?

There is a class of folks out there who think you have to lose muscle to lose fat. If you’ve ever been to the gym, you’ve seen them peddling away on a stationary bike for hours and counting every precious calorie that passes through their lips. They believe muscle loss is a sacrifice that must be made in order to lose weight. And from my point of view they’re just plain wrong.

How to Keep Your Lean Body Mass from Slipping Away

#1 Eat the right stuff.

I’m talking about natural fats, protein and carohydrates. Notice how I mentioned all three macronutrients? Yes, they are all important. Protein usually gets the most attention in regards to retaining muscle mass, but the truth is that fat and carbohydrates also play a role in shuttling proteins into our cells. So while it's important to get enough protein, it's also important to eat a balanced diet to make use of that protein.

How much protein should you eat? Roughly one gram per pound of lean body mass is a good place to start. Some people need more, some need less, depending on your individual body and lifestyle.

You'll also want to focus on nourishing, natural foods--the kind I talk a lot about on this blog. This kind of food provides building material for the body to repair and maintain lean body mass. Processed foods, refined sugar, chemical sweeteners, additives and trans fat are foods you’re body can’t use to rebuild. In fact, these foods can actually make your body break down. Emphasize whole foods like fruits, veggies, naturally-raised meats, soaked and sprouted nuts, root vegetables, raw dairy, and natural fats like butter and coconut oil.

#2 Eat enough.

Please don’t starve yourself. And I mean that. Don’t try to trim down quickly by slashing calories. Overeating isn’t good for you, but under-eating is just as bad. The amount of calories you need will vary based on your size, your activity level, your metabolism, and many other factors. But whatever you do, don’t short yourself on food. A healthy body burns fat, and you need to eat to be healthy. If you're tempted to cut calories to lose weight, consider taking periodic days (or even weeks) off to eat normally to make sure your body is still getting the energy and nutrition it needs.

#3 Lift some weights.

Seriously, this is a great way to maintain your muscle mass. It’s also a good way to gauge whether or not you’re losing lean body mass: if it seems like your strength is dropping, or if you’re suddenly not making any progress, it’s a good sign you’re losing some muscle. And since muscle burns fat, that can be really counterproductive to weight loss (or should I say fat loss?). So lift some weight 2-3 times a week for 30-45 minutes and you’ll find those old jeans feeling more comfortable in no time.

A note for the girls: I used to be of the mind set that women shouldn’t lift heavy--but not anymore. Throw out the 3-lb dumbbells and give your body a little more credit. There’s nothing wrong with being strong, and you’re body wasn’t made to bulk up. Period.

Take it from my husband, who has to work his tail off to build muscle. If it’s that much work for a man to build muscle--and men have far more testosterone than we’ll ever have--then why do we girls think we’re suddenly going to bulk up overnight? It’s not gonna happen, I promise. What will happen is your back end will get a pleasant lift, you’ll see some ab definition in the mirror and you’ll suddenly find it much easier to pick up your crying toddler (if you have one).

#4 Cut back on cardio.

Spending hours on the treadmill will do nothing for you except make you feel like hamster on a wheel. It can also cause you to burn up lean body mass. That’s because excess cardio triggers the body to break down, not build up.

Unless you’re an training as an athlete, most people don’t need much cardio to get the benefits--more like 20-30 minutes three times a week. Still, a more productive workout would be HIIT training. If fact, if you think you’re suffering from adrenal burnout, you might want to lay off cardio altogether for while and just focus on quality resistance training while your body heals. I recommend doing some yoga instead.

#5 Gauge your weight loss without a scale.

The scale can be your best friend or your worst enemy depending on the number it reveals. It's easy to rationalize that the number on the scale doesn't affect your mood or self-worth, but in most cases it does. Try not to give the scale too much importance. Cut back on your weigh-ins or consider throwing the scale out altogether!

How can you gauge progress without a scale? Here’s some ideas:
- Use a measuring tape to keep track of what you’re really losing. My waist and hip measurements reveal without a doubt whether I'm burning fat or storing it.

- Take weekly or monthly pictures (these can really help because it’s easy to forget how far you’ve come).

- Keep your ears open and listen for compliments about your figure or weight--when your co-workers are noticing, you’re doing something right!

- Your jeans don’t lie. It’s a good sign when you have to go shopping for smaller pants!

If you keep your body healthy while you’re losing weight, you’re much more likely to keep the weight off and you’ll benefit from a healthier body composition as well. And remember:

You don’t have to sacrifice your health for a number on a scale.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday hosted at Cheeseslave this week.

Follow Me on Pinterest