Weight Loss and Fat Loss: Big Differences

woman runner training for marathonYou can lose weight. Anyone can. Often times, the number on the scale is the only thing we pay attention to when we try to drop a size. We eat less and exercise more, and eventually - the weight comes off. Great, right? Yes...well, sometimes.

Weight loss can happen rapidly by crash dieting, or by doing some crazy amount of cardiovascular exercise for periods of time that is probably difficult to maintain for more than a couple weeks. Maybe its a combination of both. Regardless, if you're losing more than two pounds a week, it's highly likely that you'll gain some of that weight back. More importantly, there is a good chance than you also lost some muscle in the process of losing weight, but I'll get to that in a minute.

I don't believe all calories are created equal, but for now consider that one pound equals 3500 calories. If you lose two pounds a week, that's the equivalent of 7000 calories. In order to lose one pound, we need to either cut back on 3500 in food, or exercise those 3500 calories off. If you opt to exercise those calories off, you'll need to have some time on your hands. It would take someone 150 pounds five solid hours of running to burn off just shy of 3500 calories (just ONE pound), but I'm going to explain why all that running could actually end up slowing your metabolism down even more. If you decide to cut back on 3500 calories in food by dieting, it can be done! But there is a healthy way to do it, and an unhealthy way that could backfire terribly, and actually trigger your body to gain more weight.

Fat Loss or Muscle Loss: Which would you prefer?

Excessive cardiovascular exercise, and even excessive weight training (usually anything more than about 60 minutes), forces our body's cortisol levels to rise. Cortisol is the body's stress hormone released by our adrenal glands. Small, regular amounts of cortisol released into the body is good - even helpful. But bursts of cortisol released when the body is "stressed" isn't good. Too much cortisol blocks protein from coming together and doing its thing, and also slows the growth of muscle.

Doing cardio, cardio, cardio with no real purpose in mind, other than burning calories, could be counterproductive to your efforts for the very same reasons. Sure, you'll burn the calories, but you'll also lose muscle in the process. Losing muscle means a slower metabolism.

Exercises That Burn Fat and Build Muscle

Interval-based training, whether cardio-based or strength-based is the jackpot for anyone that needs to shed fat. Coming from someone who is not particularly big, and wants to stay lean, let me assure you that interval-style strength training will not make you big an bulky. Body builders do a lot of work, both in the gym and through their diet, that allows their body to build muscle the way they do. The average person, mainly people who are more concerned about losing unwanted body fat, will only benefit by committing to shorter, but harder workouts, eating fewer refined carbohydrate, and maintaining a diet that is built around small, frequent meals.

Different bodies need different types of food, eating right for their body type. But all bodies, regardless of their shape and size, should eat healthy, clean foods. And everyone should stay active, and move more. Here is a sample day of healthy eating and exercise.

Pre-Workout Meal/Snack

(Eat smaller the closer to your workout time)
*1/2 Banana w/ 1 tbsp almond nut butter

45-Minute Workout

  • 20 minutes of cardio intervals; 2 minutes hard work/1 minute easy work, repeated 7 times
  • 20 minutes of strength intervals such as body weight squats, lunges, burpees, push ups
  • 5 minutes of abdominal work such as planks, crunches, side planks, etc.

7:45 - 8:00am
Post-Workout Meal

2 Hard-boiled eggs, 1/2 whole grain or sprouted English muffin

Veggies & Hummus + a handful of almonds

Grilled Chicken, Salmon or Tuna Salad with vegetables, olive oil and vinegar

Protein Bar (not soy based)

Turkey Burger, Brown Rice, Broccoli

**Drink water before every meal or snack**
***Get in a walk, or some other leisurely activity that relaxes you, but gets you moving a little more***

Traci D Mitchell is a fitness and nutrition expert featured on Dr. Oz and The TODAY Show. Follow Traci on Facebook. She’d love to see you there! Interested in working with Traci? She works privately with clients specializes in nutrition coaching and weight loss as well as functional fitness and personal training. All sessions are done via Skype or telephone if outside of Chicago. For more information, contact Traci here.

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