Glossary of key weight/fat loss and fitness terms

Beginners Guide

New to the weight loss world? Confused by all the acronyms and terminology, and annoyed by the assumptions made about your base level of knowledge? Here’s a simple glossary of some of the key weight/fat loss and fitness terms you’re likely to encounter.

Glossary of key weight/fat loss and fitness terms

Glossary of key weight/fat loss and fitness terms

Body fat percentage:

Your body fat percentage is, unsurprisingly, the percentage of your body mass that is fat, as opposed to muscle, bone, water or other tissue. There are various means of testing body fat and it’s become increasingly popular as a more accurate measure of obesity or health risk than BMI.

BMI – Body Mass Index:

The BMI is a measure that has been in use now for a number of years, but is slowly (and thankfully) going out of fashion. Some would even say it’s been discredited. Some well-reputed sites such as this one are thankfully starting to add notes of caution about relying too heavily (excuse the pun) on BMI to assess health risks. This is because it does precisely what the name says – it measures your mass against and your height and your age to come up with a number for your BMI which puts you in the underweight, ideal weight, overweight or obese categories.  Because it doesn’t distinguish between fat and muscle, athletes and even just people who are quite fit might be in the ‘overweight’ category unfairly. Similarly elderly people or anyone with muscle degeneration will get a result telling them their BMI is ideal, when in fact they could benefit from more muscle. Waist circumference, as explained at that above link, is a much better indicator of your risk of chronic disease, and ultimately that’s why being overweight or obese matters in the first place. My waist measurement is now significantly under the ‘risky’ category, yet my BMI is still 26 – technically overweight.

BMR – Basal Metabolic Rate:

Your BMR basically means the base number of calories that your body would burn if you were in a coma – the bare minimum required to keep you alive. Online BMR calculators will give you an estimated BMR, which is a useful guide for trying to lose weight/fat. It’s important to ensure that you don’t eat less than your BMR – this would be too few calories to sustain your usual daily incidental exercise, like walking around the house or the office, let alone any additional exercise you do.


A unit of energy. More precisely, the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree celsius.

Calorie efficient:

Getting the most ‘bang for your buck’ in terms of the overall nutritional benefit of food compared to the level of calories. Almonds for example are the most calorie efficient nuts because you get the highest amount of protein and omega 3 fatty acid and the lowest number of calories per serve.


Carbohydrates are a macronutrient, found in most foods, which convert into glucose and therefore energy, more quickly than proteins or fats. There are two basic types of carbohydrates: Complex carbohydrates, found in ‘starchy’ foods like rice and potatoes, and simple carbohydrates, which are essentially sugars. Both complex and simple carbohydrates are a necessary part of your diet, but should be eaten in moderation due to the higher conversion rate. Glucose (the principle form of energy) that isn’t burned through activity will get stored as fat.

‘Good fat’:

‘Good fats’ are omega 3 fatty acids, found in nuts, olive oil, salmon and avocado, among other foods. Good fats help to regulate cholesterol and weight and should be eaten in generous proportions.


Macronutrients are nutrients the body needs large quantities of to maintain good health. Examples are carbohydrates, protein, fats, calcium, potassium, magnesium and fibre.


Metabolism is the process of the body converting food into energy, then using that energy to sustain itself. A slow or fast metabolism can cause equally serious health problems.

NEAT – Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis:

Similar to TDEE, this is all the energy we burn from daily activity excluding hard exercise, eating or sleeping. The number should therefore be lower than your TDEE which is all-inclusive. Weight loss experts advocate increasing your NEAT as much as possible to aid your weight loss efforts.

Paleo diet:

A style of eating based on assumptions about how our paleolithic ancestors used to eat. Diet is high in protein and fat and low in grains and sugar.


Protein is another macronutrient, consisting of large molecules that contain the amino acids our bodies require to function. Protein is often described as the body’s ‘building blocks’, which are particularly important to muscle growth.

Skinny fat:

The idea that although someone may be slim, they lack muscle tone and therefore don’t ‘look’ fit or healthy.

TDEE: Total Daily Energy Expenditure.

This is the total average number of calories you burn through the combination of your BMR, the incidental exercise you do, any ‘hard’ (intense) physical exercise, and the thermic effect of your food (meaning how many calories the body uses to turn your food into energy). TDEE calculators found online, such as this one can be a useful way to determine your estimated daily calorie burn and therefore set an appropriate daily calorie goal for weight loss.

Thermic effect of food:

The calories burned in eating and then digesting food.



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