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Weight Loss vs Fat Loss

Why It Matters For Long Term Success

By: Zack Mathews

Most people will celebrate a drop in the scale without ever knowing the difference between fat loss and weight loss, and that’s a problem that needs to be addressed. 

Did you know it’s possible for your weight to drop but your body fat percentage to increase? It’s scary to think about, but it’s true.

Luckily for you, you don’t need to worry about that.  Today you will learn to distinguish between weight loss vs fat loss and be able to implement the right choices and actions for long term success.

Here's a breakdown of what will be discussed:

The Difference Between Losing Weight vs Losing Fat

Simply put, losing weight is when you have a decrease in your body weight that can come from fat, muscle, and/or water.  When you are losing fat, a decrease in your weight is from excess fat on your body.

Ever had a friend that told you they lost 7 pounds in a week?  I know you do because we all that friend.

Well, it’s nearly impossible to lose 7 pounds of fat in a week, meaning most of that weight is water.  Tell your friend that and burst their bubble or just smile and nod the next time they tell you that, the choice is yours.

When it comes to the debate of weight loss vs fat loss, the goal should always be to lose fat.  There is the rare instance when weight loss is ok, such as someone who needs that initial drop in their weight to build motivation and momentum, or for the physique athlete getting ready to go on stage and wants to flush out water weight.

But for the majority of the population, fat loss will always be your goal.

Let’s continue on and learn how to make fat loss the priority.

5 Ways To Prioritize Fat Loss

1. Don’t drastically reduce calories

In order to lose fat, you need less calories in than calories out.  When you drastically reduce calories, your body will need to find extra resources for energy and will often burn off muscle instead of fat.  Stick to reducing your calories by 300 - 500 below your maintenance calories.

How to achieve weight loss vs fat loss: Don't drastically reduce calories

2.   Eat adequate protein

Protein is the building block for muscle growth, but it’s also vital in muscle retention.  Eating a diet high in protein will make your body respond by losing fat when you are in a calorie deficit.  Consume at least 0.7 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight each day.

How to achieve weight loss vs fat loss: Eat adequate protein

3. Lift weights

When you compare weight loss vs fat loss success stories, lifting weights is often the difference between two people.  Lifting weights will help you get stronger and build/preserve muscle.

It’s entirely possible to gain muscle while losing fat, but the main goal of lifting weights while in a calorie deficit will be to preserve your muscle and to get stronger.  Following a well structured resistance training program is one of the best things you can do for yourself!

How to achieve weight loss vs fat loss: Lift weights

4. Don’t overdo the cardio

Similar to eating too little calories, burning too many calories through cardio can lead to muscle loss.  Do a moderate amount of cardio with the goal of improving your health, mood, and mental state, not because you think you need to burn calories.

How to achieve weight loss vs fat loss: Don't overdo the cardio

5. Get good sleep

Making sure to get 7 - 9 hours of good sleep each night will help regulate your hormones, allow your body to recover and repair your muscles, and help give you the energy to keep motivated on your fat loss journey.

How to achieve weight loss vs fat loss: get good sleep

How To Tell If You Are Burning Fat

Using multiple forms of progress trackers should always be used to determine if you are losing fat vs losing weight.

This will allow you to look at your data to give you a good estimate if you are in the right direction.  Calculating your true body fat can be expensive and is not always accurate, so use these 4 progress trackers to determine how you are doing.

Weigh Yourself Daily

Stepping on the scale each day and taking a weekly average is a great way to combat weight fluctuations to see true progress. Keeping around 0.5 - 2 pounds a week is a good range to be in for fat loss.

Take Measurements

Take measurements once a month of your chest, stomach, hips, quads, arms, and neck.  Compare them month to month to see progress.

Progress Pictures

My personal favorite.  Each month, take a picture of yourself in minimal clothing from the side angle, back, and front.  If you can see muscle as your scale weight is going down, you are in a good spot.

Keep Track Of Weight In The Gym


Your goal from lifting weights should be to get a little better each time.  Jot down how many reps, sets, and the amount of weight used for each exercise and try to beat it by a little bit each week.

This is called progressive overload and is the main driver for muscle gain.  Since your goal is fat loss, continuing to implement progressive overload in your training will help your body hold on to muscle, letting your body eliminate the fat you are trying to get rid of.

Can You Lose Body Fat Without Losing Weight?

You sure can!  When you lose body fat but the scale stays the same, it’s called a body recomposition.  You have achieved the holy grail of losing body fat while building muscle.

It’s very hard to do this, but if you focus on a slight calorie deficit, lift weights, and eat enough protein, you’ll be on the right track.

How Does Fat Leave Your Body When Losing Weight?

I've heard it all.  From pooping the fat out to spitting, there's lots of ways people think you lose the fat on your body.  The truth is, around 80+% of your fat loss, is actually from carbon dioxide.  That means most of your fat is exhaled from your mouth.  The rest is from water.

Where Do I Start?

Now that you know the difference between fat loss vs weight loss, it’s time to develop your plan to optimize your fat loss.

Let me give you some resources to get you going on the right path.

To start, you are going to want to find how many calories you should be eating for fat loss and how much protein you should eat each day.

Check out the blog Macros For Weight Loss.  If you are interested in learning to calorie count, that will give you everything you need to know and give you your starting calories and protein.

If you prefer to see my beautiful face explaining it, here’s a video made from that blog.

Next up, you’ll want to develop a workout schedule that is realistic to follow.  If you currently don’t work out and want to start exercising 6 times a week, that might not be realistic. Construct a plan that you’ll be able to be consistent with for years to come.

I wrote a free 4 week workout program for people that want to lose some excess body fat, but also want a muscle building focus.  If you think that would work for you, check out this blog.

It’s a 3 times a week weight lifting program, and you can pair that with 1 - 2 days of moderate cardio.

Focus on getting good sleep and you’ll have all your bases covered!

I hope this guide helped you!  If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or shoot me a private message

-Zack Mathews

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