Weight Loss

Fat loss vs weight loss

Fat loss vs weight loss: Learn the difference between fat loss and weight loss & which is more important to achieve a healthy and fit body.

Fat loss vs weight loss

Over the years, there has been a vast increase in the rate of obesity and associated metabolic disorders like hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. 

Although people have started to understand the importance of eating a healthy diet, there are still many factors that prevent them from reaching their goal of losing weight and getting into decent shape and health. There could be either a problem with the plan/diet/activity they follow or they are not understanding the basic science of weight loss. Losing bodyweight literally doesn’t mean you are actually losing that ‘unwanted fat’ hanging around in the body.

Let’s learn and understand more terms in the process of ‘weight loss’.


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Difference between fat loss and weight loss

The terms ‘fat loss’ and ‘weight loss’ are used interchangeably and are both often misused. There is really a difference between the two and one is surely a ‘winner’ in the real game. Since the word ‘weight loss’ is actually easy to understand, it’s most commonly used. Let’s learn the difference between these two terms.

Weight is the measurement often seen on the scale. Weight includes body water content, bone mass, fat mass and the food you just consumed. In the process of losing weight by following random diet techniques, the body loses a combination of fat, muscle, and a lot of water content. Sadly, this water weight can be easily regained. On the other hand, fat loss is losing body fat. It is usually advised to reduce weight which means that the body fat should be reduced – “The lesser the body fat, the healthier the body”. Excessive body fat is extremely dangerous to your health as it can lead to lifestyle diseases.

Muscle loss

Calorie deficit leads to muscle loss. Though there is a decrease in body fat, loss of muscle comes with strength loss and an increased risk of injury. To avoid this, a good exercise regime (specifically resistance or strength training) is to be tagged along with the calorie intake. 

A pound of muscle almost weighs exactly like one pound of fat. But the muscle is denser than body fat. So, if someone gains muscle and drops the same amount of fat, the weighing scale shows the same number. But the differences in your body will be more encouraging and motivating. Since we restrict the macronutrient calories majorly, one tends to lose muscle tissue. Hence, one should include enough protein in the calorie-restricted diet so that the body can remake the muscle tissue.

Also, the amount of muscles directly impacts metabolism. Muscle tissue also regulates your insulin sensitivity which determines how well the nutrients are absorbed. If you lose muscle tissue due to incorrect dieting, the nutrients you eat are less likely to be partitioned to your muscle cells and more likely to be turned into fat cells.

Water Loss

One of the fastest ways to lose weight is by cutting the carbohydrates i.e., a low carb diet. Since carbohydrates retain three times as much water, cutting carbs will not retain the water in your body. However, in a few weeks, your muscles will adapt to dehydration, and start shrinking. The issue arises when one drops the carbohydrates below 50 grams, by losing water in the muscle cells too. You still need to eat some carbs (at least 5 grams per pound of your body weight or up to 1.5 grams per pound for a more balanced calorie-restricted diet). The fat loss will happen without loss of the intramuscular water. 

Fat loss

During the weight loss process, the main goal is fat loss. The body will break down the fats that either come from food or the one that is already stored in the body. This happens mostly in the muscle cells and that’s why the more muscle you have, the more fat you will burn. Exercise is considered to be able to regulate and improve various cellular functions, that’s why a workout helps you shed fat.

Which is better – fat loss or weight loss?

Fat loss vs weight loss the difference

The weighing scale cannot show the appropriate amount of body fat loss but it shows loss of water, muscle mass and fat mass together. The weighing scales also mislead by not showing if we have gained healthy lean muscle mass or fat mass.

Body mass index (BMI), a factor of height and weight, is used to predict the overall health status. Those BMI that fall in the overweight and obese category would have more body fat stored in the form of visceral fat. More visceral fat leads to a higher risk of diseases.

Studies show that people who are normal in weight but have more fat are at risk of developing diseases and also those who are overweight with decent fat might be healthy. There is no way to translate BMI values into body fat percent. Hence, instead of relying on weight, aiming to reduce the fat mass is an accurate way to get healthy.

But a decent amount of essential fat should be present in the body to support the metabolic functions, particularly in women compared to men. Fat is also a valuable source of energy and a decent amount of fat protects bones, organs, and physical temperature regulators. It is necessary for the reproductive system. Women with an adequate amount of it tend to be more fertile than those who lack it.

How to lose fat without losing muscle?

To lose body fat, one must first be on a negative energy balance, i.e., in a calorie deficit which should include an adequate recommended amount of protein, fats and carbohydrates with a good exercise regime (ideally resistance training). Muscle mass includes smooth muscles, skeletal muscles and water contained in the muscles. The skeletal muscles are the most visible when there is no fat layer. Muscles consist of water and protein. That’s why, it’s important to include protein in your eating schedule.

When your body builds muscles, it burns energy and fat all the time. As your muscle mass increases, the faster your body is able to burn calories/energy. This leads to an increase in your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which also helps lose weight. 

According to a study, people with obesity have more muscle mass than those with normal weight but poor muscle quality. Weight loss reduces muscle mass without adversely affecting muscle strength and improves overall physical function and that might be because of reduced fat mass. Hence, adding exercise (resistance) to a hypocaloric diet helps preserve muscle mass during weight loss, and resistance-type exercise also improves strength.

Resistance exercises and high-intensity cardio are amazing for building muscle and cutting fat. You can opt for multi-joint compound exercises, such as squats, deadlift, bench press, pull-ups, and any high-intensity cardio.

Other important factors to gain or preserve muscles are:

  • Drink more water
  • Adequate rest after lifting loads
  • Adequate sleep for 7-8 hours
  • Avoid or restrict alcohol
  • Reduce or mostly avoid stress that will negatively affect your weight loss journey.

How to measure fat loss?

Fat loss vs weight loss the difference

How much body fat is good for better health status? 

It is often frustrating to see no change when you step on the scale. Instead of the obsession with the number on the weighing scale, measuring body fat percent tells you the total body weight. The healthy body fat percent is 10-15% for men and 20-25% for women. To function optimally, the body needs essential fat for various metabolic functions. There are various methods to check the percent of body fat. Let’s check the most common ways to check the percentage of fat.

  • Using measuring tape 

The easiest way to measure the circumference of the waist and other body parts is to use a measuring tape. Note: This method might not be very accurate as the measurements are taken at different points each time.

  • Skinfold calipers

This is the oldest method to measure the body fat percent. A device called ‘caliper’ is used to pinch and measure the thickness of fat folds at different body regions. These regions of measurements vary for men and women due to their different anatomical features and fat storage dominant regions. This is usually done by three or seven-site tests. For men, the basic three regions are chest, upper abdomen and thigh and that for women are hip circumference, lower abdomen and thigh. This method is affordable and quick but one should have practical knowledge of basic anatomy.

  • Bioelectric Impedance Analysis (BIA)

This method is done by sending electrical signals that are harmless through the body. Since the fat blocks more electrical charge than the lean tissue, less charge in the body detects less body fat.

  • Dual-Energy (or Emission) X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) 

This is the most accurate method of assessing body fat percent. This scan shows the amount of lean mass, body fat at various regions, and also bone density. It is not accessible to everyone; being the most expensive diagnosis tool.

  • Hydrostatic Testing 

In this method, a person goes under the water and then weighs himself/herself. The weight predicts the density under the water and gives an estimate of the lean tissue to fat ratio. It is less accurate and not everyone can swim or hold their breath to assess the weight with this method.

The easiest way is to use a measuring tape. Make sure you stick precisely to the same region while measuring.

Other simple ways to know if the person has lost the fat at the specified regions are: Taking weight (in the early morning) at the same time after bowel clearance and on empty stomach, trying on those favorite old clothes that couldn’t fit for a long time, and progress photos where one can compare the photos over time (non-scale victories).

Diet Planning Workshop

If you want to learn more about proper eating habits, you should check out our diet planning workshop.

Whether you are a coach, an individual looking to take charge of your health or a learner keen to demystify how diet planning works, this workshop is just what you are looking for.

Right from understanding the basics of nutrition vis-a-vis energy balance, calories and macronutrients to learning how to navigate through plateaus, this workshop is a well thought out session that will enrich your learning. All the knowledge given can be easily applied in real life and the workshop will also empower you with how to do so. Various dieting strategies will also be discussed during the session in a simple yet comprehensive manner. With the batch size being limited, you can expect to get an immersive and highly interactive experience. Click here to know more.

Author: Praveena Kuchipudi (INFS Faculty)


  1. Buehring, B., Krueger, D., Libber, J., Heiderscheit, B., Sanfilippo, J., Johnson, B., … Binkley, N. (2014). Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry Measured Regional Body Composition Least Significant Change: Effect of Region of Interest and Gender in Athletes. Journal of Clinical Densitometry, 17(1), 121–128. doi:10.1016/j.jocd.2013.02.012 
  2. Cava, E., Yeat, N. C. and Mittendorfer, B. (2017) ‘Preserving Healthy Muscle during Weight Loss’, Advances in Nutrition, 8(3), p. 511. doi: 10.3945/AN.116.014506.
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  5. Leidy, H. J., Clifton, P. M., Astrup, A., Wycherley, T. P., Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S., Luscombe-Marsh, N. D., … Mattes, R. D. (2015). The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 101(6), 1320S–1329S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.084038 

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