The Differences Between Weight Loss and Fat Loss


I recently went through an interesting discussion with a client the other day, and to sum it up the question was about the differences between weight loss and fat loss. After over 8 years of being a personal trainer, believe it or not, but I’ve never been asked this question nor have I given it much thought.

I naturally distinguish the two terms apart, and think it’s time to throw a little light on the topic from my perspective and experience. So let’s start with what you see on a daily basis:

“Lose 10 pounds in just a week!”

“Lose weight through our low carb diet plan!”

“Hate what you see on the scale? Weight loss is possible with our natural supplement!”


Society and Dieting

The above slogans, statements, etc. are just made up, but basically show what often appears in website advertisements. Society seems to want the easy way out of an issue in the quickest means possible, and these types of advertisements for products misguide the individual into making unhealthy choices.

Weight loss is a term that gets used interchangeably with fat loss when it definitely shouldn’t be.

  • Weight Loss – The lowering of your overall bodyweight, which is the total weight amount of your body’s fat, muscles, bones, organs, water, etc.
  • Fat Loss – The lowering of the fat that is on your body, which is determined by body fat percentages (BF%) and not weight in lbs./kgs.


fat loss not weight lossYou may think this doesn’t really affect one’s lifestyle choice when it comes to dieting, but I argue that it does and it has to deal with psychological habits. Both men and women hop on the weight scale everyday to see how their progress has been going, and eventually it turns into a depressive addiction.

You wanting that scale to say you lost weight suddenly turns into you NEED it to show weight loss. Eventually drastic measures are taken, such as ridiculously low calorie consumption (starvation), dehydration, overtraining, and supplementation usage that all have the possibility of leading to medical issues.

The weight scale doesn’t even need to be used for the purpose of living healthy. This equipment is irrelevant and unreliable because of several reasons, and shows some of the differences between weight loss and fat loss.

  • Body weight fluctuates on a daily basis – You can lose or gain water weight, muscle weight, and bone density, or you could have more content within your bladder, bowels, and/or stomach. There’s a lot of possibilities making the weight shown on your scale unreliable.
  • Body weight can be unequally the same for two people – One person can be 5’10” and weigh 200lbs. with only 10% BF, while the other person is similarly 5’10” weighing 200lbs., but has 45% BF. Needless to say that the first person has a large amount of lean muscle while the later has an excessive amount of body fat. The weight scale just showed the results to be irrelevant with comparison.

Example of Using Body Weight Improperly

However, we see this irrelevant use of weight quite often, and I can share one with you from personal experience. While serving in the Marine Corps a fellow Marine was quite big and trained often. I remember he was 6’1” weighing 210lbs. with 13% BF, but new USMC regulations at the time stated that he was “overweight” regardless of the measurements because they went off his overall weight to height scaling.

Neither his BF% nor his ability to outperform most the company in physical testing was taken into account. Luckily they waived this after months of trying to discharge him, but it shows improper use of overall body weight is not unheard of.


Forget the Scale and Use Other Methods

Okay, so you should have a better idea on why the weight scale is basically garbage. You should use other means of determining your diet progress such as looking in the mirror or noticing changes such as clothing size. These physical means of knowing if body fat has been lost don’t lie. If your pants are two sizes too big after properly dieting, then I would venture to guess that fat loss has taken place.

However, what if it was “weight loss”? Then the most definite way of knowing is using fat calipers, which measure the current body fat, which you take note of, and then you use them again in a month to check for progress. Not every day, not in a week, but a month.

This psychologically helps you keep from dragging your self-esteem down since it may take several weeks to notice significant results during dieting.

How Would You Know Fat Loss is Occurring, and Not Weight Loss? Following a proper nutrition program and fitness regimen is your best way of knowing while also making good use of fat calipers. Let’s take a look at these factors.

AZMED Skinfold Body Fat Caliper Set, Measure Tape Included, Black


Proper Fat Loss Nutrition

fat loss diet foodThe low carb diet is the best choice, right? Well…not really. Carbohydrates are macronutrients that bind to water, so results are generally short lived.

When you consume less carbs you are in fact losing weight – water weight. Following a low carb diet is going to show great results in the beginning since water is mostly being lost.

The reverse effects happen when you consume too many carbs whether they are complex or simple – water retention occurs. So to sum this up, when you follow a low carb diet, lose the weight, and then eat carbs again, the end result is more weight gains than before.

What should you eat then? I’m not your trainer so I cannot give exact specifications, but I can give general advice. You should consider the following guidelines for proper dieting:

fat loss tips

A great saying to consider if you wish to follow the whole three meals a day plan is this:

“Breakfast eat like a king. Lunch eat like a noble. Dinner eat like a peasant.”

online personal training
Another interesting thing to consider has to do with dehydration. Studies show that sometimes the body doesn’t know how to communicate that it needs more water, so it transmits a signal making you feel hungry instead. This then makes you eat more to satisfy the signal. How would you know? If you haven’t drank that much water recently.

What about fat burner supplements? You should definitely have your diet program on point first, but if you wish to learn about this type of supplement then follow this link to my guide on fat burner supplements.


Proper Training

A mixture of strength training and cardiovascular training is the safest and most efficient way to successfully lose body fat. Cardio training only is not recommended and even doctors are starting to recommend strength training being performed on a weekly basis with cardio.

Strength training encourages the strengthening of your body’s skeletal muscles, thus improving bone strength and increased calorie burning.

strength trainingMuscle requires calories to sustain itself, so your muscles are constantly using calories to maintain their existence. This is not stating you need to be a bodybuilder, but rather letting you know that gaining lean muscle is very beneficial and doesn’t make you appear bulky.

Both men and women even in their senior ages are recommended to perform strength training weekly to keep their muscles and bones from degenerating, but a medical physician should give the okay to proceed firstly.

Cardio increases your heart rate, which increases blood flow to bring oxygen to your muscles causing your metabolism to increase. Your metabolism uses calories from energy nutrients, such as carbs, and turns them into the energy you use to run that extra mile.

After carbs are depleted the energy source becomes fats, which leads to fat loss. This transfer of energy will be covered more in-depth later, but just be aware that this is fundamentally the way you lose fat from proper cardio training.
Time to Apply Your New Found Knowledge

The differences between weight loss and fat loss have been given to you, and it is your choice to use the information how you see fit. People are always going to be using the two terms interchangeably, and will state what you learned is wrong.

However, you should just focus on what you feel is right for your body, and strive to do everything possible to lose fat naturally and properly. All I ask is that you don’t focus on using the weight scale.

As always, remember to seek medical advice before embarking on new fitness and diet programs if you have had any past medical conditions. Stay strong and fit everybody.

Brian Pankau

Brian Pankau

Experienced personal trainer and strength coach

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