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Fat Loss vs Weight Loss (4 Vital Differences Explained)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: August 2, 2022

In my experience as a fitness trainer over the last decade, I’ve often heard clients use the terms “fat loss” and “weight loss” interchangeably. While they’re not wrong, those terms technically don’t mean the same thing.

Colloquially, they both refer to losing body fat. But technically speaking, losing fat and losing weight are two different things, and some of the differences are vital.

I explored the subject in some more detail to give you the best and simplest explanation so let’s get into it.

Quick Summary

  • Contrary to the everyday usage of the terms, there are differences between fat loss and weight loss.
  • The best way to measure fat loss and body composition is using a skinfold test.
  • Both excessive weight loss and fat loss can be unhealthy.

Weight Loss vs Fat Loss: Key Differences

Weight loss refers to the total drop in your overall body weight. It could be a result of

  • Losing water weight
  • Losing fat
  • Reduction in muscle
  • Loss of bone mass
Holding a weighing scale

On the other hand, fat loss refers to a drop in your fat levels only. It’s usually measured as a percentile called body fat percentage.

Both fat loss and weight loss can be achieved through diet and exercise.

Although, most times, people lose (and prefer to lose) body fat over body weight.

Another significant difference between weight loss and fat loss has to do with fitness goals. For example, if you want to drop body fat and reveal muscular definition, then you want to achieve fat loss.

How Is Fat Loss Measured?

Fat loss can be measured using a skinfold test, body fat scale, tape measure, and by calculating body mass index. You can check here about the ideal body fat percentage.

  • Skin Fold Test: This is one of the most accurate ways to measure your body composition. This test employs the use of skinfold calipers to help you get an estimate of your fat percentage. However, it takes a bit of practice before getting accurate results [1].
  • Body Fat Scale: Body fat scales measure your fat levels by running a very small amount of electric current through your body. However, they’re not known for being the most accurate.
  • Tape Measure: This is a more straightforward form of measuring how much fat you’ve lost. All you need to do is measure different parts of your body with a tape measure. The measurements are calculated in different ways to measure body fat.
  • BMI (Body Mass Index): This is a measure of body fat based on your height and weight. It's calculated as your body mass divided by the square of your height (kg/m2).

Related articleHow Much Body Fat Can You Lose in a Week?

3 Tip How to Lose Fat and Maintain Muscle

A healthy raw diet meal and exercising outdoorrs

When losing weight, you want to ideally lower your body fat percentage and maintain muscle. Here are some effective ways of doing it based on what’s worked best for my clients.

1. Eat a High Protein Diet

Eating a high protein is especially important for helping you achieve a better body composition by building lean body mass.

Your body uses protein to build and repair body tissue, maintain fluid balance, create hormones and enzymes, boost immunity, and produce energy [2].

“Diets with increased protein can have a positive effect on the treatment and prevention of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, and possibly even heart disease.”

- Dr. Bret Scher, MD, Board-Certified Cardiologist and Lipidologist

Whether or not you’re on a weight training program, consuming protein will help you build and maintain muscle mass.

Protein consumption might differ depending upon your size, age, health, sex, and level of physical activity.

A review of 20 studies on men and women above the age of 50 found that a high-protein diet (0.68 grams per kilo of lean body weight) led to greater muscle mass retention and fat loss than a low-protein diet [3].

Young and more physically active people need to consume 0.7 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight to maintain their muscle mass [4].

So, if you weigh 180 pounds and want to keep your muscle, you’ll have to consume 126 to 180 grams of protein a day. If you can't take this amount with a regular diet, you can also try protein shakes which are great for weight loss.

Another plus point about protein is that it’s very satiating compared to other kinds of foods [5]. So, eating a high-protein meal will not only keep you satiated for longer but also keep you from consuming unnecessary calories.

2. Exercise Regularly

Performing a push up in the gym

When it comes to exercise, strength training and resistance training are some of the best ways to gain muscle and lose excess fat mass [6].

However, stick to basic exercises if you're looking to significantly build muscle and only want to maintain what you currently have.

In my experience, exercises like push-ups, dips, pull-ups, squats, lunges, split squats, leg raises, and other bodyweight exercises are an excellent way to maintain your current muscle.

Basically, anything strengthening exercise where you don't have to use progressive overload will be a good option.

The main idea is that you need to stay physically active to avoid muscle atrophy, which can decrease your overall lean weight [7].

3. Get Enough Sleep and Recovery

Even though exercising is the best way to burn extra fat, pushing yourself too much can lead to exhaustion and even breakdown of lean muscle tissue.

A 2017 study found that poor sleep quality and shorter sleep duration were associated with an increased risk of muscle reduction and strength [8].

Recovery also plays a crucial role in maintaining muscle and strength. I’ve seen clients go against my workout plans and push themselves on rest days.

While this may work for more athletic folks, it’s counterintuitive for the average person looking to lose weight. The result is that many of them end up losing lean body mass [9].

There are also supplements called nighttime fat burners which boost fat burn during your sleep even more.

“Recovery days are important for rehydration, nutrient replenishment, sleep, and muscle repair and growth.”

- Dr. John McDonald, MD, Sports Medicine Specialist

Dangers of Losing Too Much Fat and Weight

A person with excessive weight loss

Losing both fat or weight past a certain point (or at an excessive rate) can be harmful.

A healthy rate of fat loss is around 1 to 3 pounds per week.

Anything more could potentially lead to health problems like lowered metabolism, nutritional deficiency, gallstones, and muscle loss [10] [11].

To avoid this, track your meals while you do cardio and weight training.

You need to ensure that you consume fewer calories than you expend and manage your calorie intake so as to give your body the fuel it needs to recover.

Losing body weight too quickly is even worse. It could either mean you’re suffering from dehydration, muscle loss, or even bone loss. If you think you’re losing body weight at an uncontrolled rate, seek medical attention.

Related articles:

FAQs

Where Does the Body Lose Fat First?

The body first loses fat around the organs. This fat is called visceral fat (or hard fat) and surrounds your kidney, liver, and other organs.

What Part of the Body Loses Fat the Fastest?

The belly and lower body tend to lose fat the fastest. In men, it’s the former, whereas, in women, it’s the latter.

Why Do I Look Thinner But Weigh More?

You look thinner but weigh more because you possibly have more muscle than fat. A pound of muscle occupies 22% less space than a pound of fat but weighs more.

How Do I Know If I’ve Gained Water Weight?

You know you’ve gained water weight when you weigh more, but your fat percentage is the same, all within a short span of time.

Is Losing Fat Better Than Weight Loss?

More often than not, losing fat is far better because you’re decreasing your body fat percentage while maintaining fat-free mass.

Trying to lose weight and minimize muscle loss can be a grueling task for some people. In such cases, the next fat burners can give you that extra boost you need to burn away any stubborn fat.

These products are designed to help you maintain lean body mass, reduce fat accumulation, and boost your overall physical and mental energy.

Check out the list of products we tested ourselves to find the one that best fits your fitness goals.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20040894/
  2. https://www.lsuagcenter.com/topics/food_health/education_resources/eatsmart/lessons/protein-lesson-4
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4892287/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29497353
  5. https://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20160303/protein-heavy-meals-make-you-feel-fuller-sooner-study
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6950543/
  7. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325316
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5749041/
  9. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/rest-day
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4989512/
  11. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/oby.21346

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