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Donna Mincieli, PTI, RD Headshot

So You Think You Want to Lose Weight? Trust Me: You Don't!

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Whenever a client expresses to me that they want to lose weight, I always say to them, "No, you don't -- what you really want is to thin out the layer of fat that is sitting on top of your muscle, and add more muscle to your body."

Yes, all that. Let me explain.

2012-02-14-muscle_mass.jpg

Photo: WikiMedia Commons

Remember the muscular anatomy chart that you had to study back in biology class? Well, this is what you, and everyone else, looks like underneath it all (meaning your skin and fat layer). Some of us have larger and more well-rounded muscles (due to genetics and strength training), but for the most part this is every single one of us. If I were to put a tape measure around the waist of this muscular figure, for a man I would get about 28-30 inches, for a woman I would get about 24-26 inches. My point? Of course there is a layer of fat on top of a real body, but what I should be measuring with the fat layer is about 30-32 inches for a man and 26-28 inches on a woman. What do I typically see? For a man 36-50 inches and a woman 33-45 inches.

Body fat is yellow in color, soft, flabby, jiggly and voluminous. It sits on top of our muscle as a layer, and this layer is as thick or thin as we allow it to be. Having a thick layer of fat is what makes our bodies bigger, softer and heavier than we would like. And, unfortunately there is limitless potential for how thick this layer can get. The majority of Americans today have a fat layer as thick as several inches off the muscle to a foot or more. Far from that one-inch ideal.
What determines the thickness of our fat layer is how much we eat, our activity level and exercise.

So again, when we say that we want to lose weight, what we are really saying is, "I want to thin out my layer of fat." And when we say that we want to tone or define, what we are really saying is "I want to thin out my layer of fat so much so that I can see and feel the hard muscle underneath."

Look again at the muscular image above. Notice how "lean and defined" it is. It is also hard, firm, and, here's the best part, highly metabolic! This means that people who have more muscle on their bodies, whether it be a result of strength training (weightlifting) or genetics, have a faster metabolism. Taller people have a faster metabolism as well, simply because they have more muscle surface area.

So by now you are probably saying to yourself, "Well doesn't the fat weigh something... if I 'thin it out' won't the scale go down?" My answer is yes it will, but also keep in mind that scale number reflects everything else in your body as well -- muscle, bone, water, skin, organs, etc. And I point this out because during the "dieting" process, especially "fad or extreme diets," not only do we lose fat we also lose muscle, water and even bone. Examples of fad or extreme diets are: very low calorie diets and diets that cut out or cut severely back on carbohydrates.

So if the average person with 20 pounds to lose sees an average weight loss greater than two pounds per week, there's a problem. Any weight loss above an average of two pounds per week means that you are losing more than fat. You are also losing water, muscle and bone. And keep in mind, it's only the fat that you want to lose because this is the stuff that is keeping you larger and softer than you want to be. You certainly don't want to lose your muscle, water and bone! Not only is this unhealthy and unproductive, but losing muscle will slow down your metabolism! And people who lose muscle can look drawn and unhealthy with sagging skin.

How to Lose Fat and Only the Fat

There are two things that absolutely have to happen to lose body fat only and spare your valuable muscle.

1. Smart Nutrition
2. Strength Training

Every time we eat more calories than what our body needs for general energy, the excess calories go into our body fat, therefore making that layer of fat thicker. It only takes an accumulation of an extra 3,500 calories (over-consuming 3,500 calories can be in a day, a week, a month, etc.) to add one pound of extra fat to your body.

Losing body fat, or thinning out the layer, requires that you eat a healthful and balanced diet while creating a calorie deficit. You must consume fewer calories than what your body needs to maintain its current level of body fat.

Sugary snacks and junk carbs should be minimal and occasional.

The average woman requires about 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day to maintain a healthful body fat level, and the average man requires 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day. Athletes, strenuous exercisers and very active adults may require more. That's not a lot of calories and as you can see there's not much room in there for the junk -- especially when something like a slice of cheesecake can cost you 800 or more calories, or some Starbucks drinks 500 calories!

Also, take your calories and spread them out during the day something like this:

Example:

Breakfast: 300 calories
Snack: 100 calories
Lunch: 300 calories
Snack: 200 calories
Dinner: 400 calories
Snack: 100 calories

Spreading your calories out throughout the day like this keeps your metabolism working efficiently all day.

While sticking with smart nutrition you want to strength train. Strength training will not only spare your muscle but add additional muscle, thus increasing your metabolism. Your muscles will be firmer and more shapely with increased strength. Your energy will be higher and you can even improve several aspects of your health -- better glucose tolerance, lowered cholesterol and blood pressure, etc.

If you are clueless on how to begin, speak to one of the personal trainers at your gym and ask for help setting yourself up on a program. If you can afford it take at least several sessions with them. Tell them that your goal is to add muscle all over. If they have you working with light weights and high repetitions, find another trainer. You don't add muscle that way. You want to work with a trainer that will set you up with heavier weights where you are able to complete 10-12 repetitions, all the while maintaining perfect and safe form. Your last three reps should feel like you are achieving what I call muscular failure; your muscle can do no more! Don't worry ladies, you won't get big and bulky. We just don't produce enough of the hormone testosterone. The testosterone is what enables men to build muscle the way they do. Female bodybuilders achieve their look by spending endless hours in the gym.

This combination of smart nutrition and strength training will finally give you the body you've always wanted. Lean muscle with a thin layer of fat on top!

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