Losing Weight Versus Losing Fat – What’s the Real Difference?

For every five adults on our planet, two of them are actively trying to lose weight. In America, that number is even higher – half the population in the U.S. is trying to lose weight. It’s slightly lower in the U.K., but not by much – 48%. In fact, one personal trainer (PT) with a fitness studio in Canary Wharf (London) said the most common goal that he hears from new clients now that COVID restrictions have been lifted is simply a desire to lose some weight.

With half of modern society so focused on losing weight, let’s stop to consider the differences between losing weight and losing fat. In most cases, bathroom scales are playing the largest role in helping people track their fitness progress. While scales can serve a useful purpose, the problem is that it can’t make any distinction between weight loss and fat loss.

Frankly, people have the same difficulty. Our society often uses the terms “weight loss” and “fat loss” interchangeably when talking fitness, yet the two concepts are most decidedly different. Once we take a bit of time to understand those differences, we’ll have greater success fine tuning our eating habits and tailoring our fitness routines to target fat exclusively.

Fat Loss, Weight Loss…What’s the Difference???

For starters, losing fat is always more beneficial than losing weight. Weight loss refers to a decrease in your overall body weight which consists primarily of fat, muscle, and water. Fat loss refers specifically to a reduction in the masses of fat that are located below our skin layer (subcutaneous) and the fat in our abdomens (visceral).

Consider the composition of fat compared to muscle. Muscle is much harder and more condensed than fat. While a pound of fat may weigh the same as a pound of muscle, the size of the two are remarkably different if you put them side by side.

Let’s go back to those bathroom scales: Imagine working with a fitness professional who puts you on the perfect workout regimen. After 3 weeks you’ve gained five pounds of pure muscle and shed five pounds of fat at the same time. According to your scale, you haven’t made any progress. However, what you see in the mirror and the way your clothes fit will be noticeably different.

How to Lose Fat

Most fitness professionals maintain that a healthy rate of weight loss is one to two pounds per week, but before we share techniques for shifting from a weight loss mentality to one that is exclusively focused on fat loss, it’s important to understand that each of our genetics are unique. There is no substitute for the expertise that a fitness professional or PT can provide. These are the professionals that can accelerate your results exponentially by preparing a tailored fitness routine matched to your goals, body dynamics, and lifestyle.

Lastly, try to overcome the urge to try and control where you lose weight. This is a concept widely recognized as targeted weight loss and it’s rarely successful over the long term.

Include Strength Training

Cardio-intensive exercises like cycling and running have benefits, but if fat loss is your goal, you need a plan that focuses on strengthening your muscles. Dumbbells, resistance bands, and weightlifting may not momentarily burn calories at the same rate as cardio, but the more muscle mass you have the more calories you steadily burn over time. That’s because muscle mass has a direct link to your metabolism - the thing that determines the rate at which our bodies burn calories both while exercising and while we’re rest. The more muscle mass we build, the more calories we are burning during our day.

Focus on Eating Protein

One of the major obstacles to losing weight is hunger. We just won’t have any long-term success losing weight if we’re constantly fighting a mental battle to stop ourselves from eating. Fortunately, protein is one of the most fulfilling, hunger-suppressing nutrients that we consume, and it also plays a useful role in maintaining our lean muscle mass while we’re restricting our calories.

Another benefit to eating more protein is how it is handled by our digestive processes. There is something called the thermic effect of the food we eat. That’s the “fuel” it takes to break down our food and convert it into energy. Protein has the highest thermic effect of all the foods we could eat.

These factors make eating high-protein foods a prudent strategy if your focus is exclusively on fat loss.

Reduce Carb-Intake

The Atkins Diet may have been introduced in the sixties, but it seemed that everyone was on this low-carb diet by the mid-nineties. There is a reason for this – low-carb diets have been remarkably effective for some people. There is research to support that low-carb diets, like Atkins, can result in twice or even three times more weight loss success than other common low-fat diets that people try.

One reason for the success of low carb diets is because carbohydrates can cause us to retain much more water than other types of nutrients we consume. Fewer carbs mean less water retention.


It’s summertime and that means the outdoors. There are studies to show that a 30 minute walk every day can get rid of that stubborn belly fat. Walking doesn’t require any equipment and offers mental advantages as well.

How to Measure Fat Loss

One of the most accurate ways to be sure you’re burning fat is to take body measurements that allow you to determine how your body composition is changing.

We’ve already discussed how scales can be misleading because they only measure our total body weight, but there are “body fat scales” on the market now that can quite capably estimate your fat percentage via bioelectrical impedance analysis. Another method is to use a simple tape measure to check the size of your waistline once a week. You can also purchase skinfold calipers which are inexpensive devices that “pinch” the fat around those areas like your waistline to measure how much fat you’re losing over time. In fact, a skinfold caliper is one of the devices that fitness professionals and PTs often use to track your progress because they’re very accurate.


Despite the Omicron and Delta variants extending the COVID situation, we seem to finally be moving on to a post-pandemic society. People are taking their health and fitness more seriously and that means a greater interest in professional fitness services and personal training across the globe. While most people can be wary of the associated costs of working with a PT and might think the experience would be intimidating, PTs and fitness exports are trained to work with people from all different backgrounds and fitness levels, and they can be surprisingly affordable. A simple online search of “PT near me” can be your first step in finally finding a resource to work with in building a long-term solution to achieving your fitness goals.

Finally, anytime we lose more than two pounds over the course of a week, we’re likely losing more than just fat. Water weight is often rapidly reacquired, and the loss of muscle can be dangerous. The smartest approach is to target two pounds per week which is the metric for burning fat exclusively.

Consider what Peter Drucker said: “You can't improve what you don't measure.” The same concept applies to weight loss and dieting.

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