There’s a new diet trending and you decide to take part in it: eating the limited foods, drinking lots of water, and working out consistently. You are aiming for fat loss vs weight loss. A week goes by and you have lost a few pounds. The second week, you notice the same results, but by week 3, the scale still hasn’t budged. By week 4, you still haven’t lost any more! At that point you may be frustrated and wondering, “did you follow the diet correctly”, “is this diet the right way to lose weight”, and “are you eating the right foods this diet says to?”.
While these are all valid questions, the bigger picture we should consider is fat loss vs weight loss.
What does “Weight Loss” even mean?
The fact that you found this page shows you are looking beyond just “weight” loss, and you are on the right track wanting to lose the right kind of body weight.
Weight loss can mean losing excess water, muscle, and fat. It can even mean you lost a limb or another body part, technically speaking! For purposes of this article, we will be focusing not on losing limbs, but the other ways we lose weight, promise.
So, when starting your “weight loss journey,” water weight is lost first.
Weight loss from Water Weight:
Losing excess water weight can be temporary because of how much it can fluctuate. Water weight is dependent on how much we exercise, how much water we are drinking, and the foods we eat.
Consuming foods high in sodium content can cause our body to retain water. An example of these high sodium foods include:
- processed meats (such as ham)
- salad dressings
- pre-packaged seasonings
- frozen meals
- canned vegetables
Weight loss from Hormonal Fluctuations:
Women’s weight fluctuations differ from men’s weight fluctuations. Women have their monthly menstrual cycle that plays a big role in their weight fluctuations. During their monthly cycle, women tend to retain water causing slight weight gain. After the cycle ends, the weight typically goes back to normal.
Other hormonal shifts of insulin, estrogen, leptin, and cortisol are contributing factors to weight fluctuation as well. A shift plus or minus five pounds of water weight is possible in these scenarios.
Weight loss from muscle loss:
After initial water weight is lost, muscle loss can occur and be detrimental to our health. Loss of muscle can result in muscle atrophy, which means our muscles are wasting away and becoming weaker. This happens when proper nutrition is not maintained in those efforts to lose weight.
All these factors can contribute to “weight” loss, but does not always mean fat loss is occurring. Fat loss should be more of our priority when it comes to health. “Weight” loss does not necessarily mean improved health.
What is Weight loss from Fat Loss?
Now that we know that weight loss doesn’t always mean improved health, we will now turn to fat loss. Excess fat is stored in our adipose tissue throughout our body. When we lose fat, our body undergoes a metabolic process where fat ultimately is exhaled as carbon dioxide. When people claim to want to lose weight, fat loss is usually the goal they are actually trying to achieve.
Why measuring fat loss matters:
- Fat loss is a much more reliable way to lose weight because it does not continually fluctuate like water.
- Fat is also the only contributing factor to fat loss unlike weight loss that has several contributing factors (remember, losing a limb is “technically” weight loss).
- Excess fat can result in major health problems such as diabetes, hypertension, artheroscoloris, and sleep apnea to name a few.
How to measure Fat:
By now you might be wondering, “That’s nice, but how do I know how much fat I have?” There are several ways to measure how much excess fat could be on your body, but here are a few of the more simple ways to do so:
- Skinfold Measurements: This method uses a caliper to lightly pinch the skin and get the measurement of body fat. It requires a bit of practice and sometimes outside assistance.
- Body Circumference: Body Circumference is another way to measure body fat and all you need is a flexible tape measure. This will also give you an idea of where your body stores fat, which can be important as a health indicator.
- Bioimpedance (or Body Fat Scale): Bioimpedance analysis measures fat weight vs water weight. This body fat scale comes in handy for home use.
How can we achieve fat loss vs just weight loss?
1. Choose Nutrient Dense Foods
Nutrient dense foods are whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and plenty of protein. When choosing foods, focus on whole foods rather than processed ones. For example: choose a whole apple over a jar of applesauce or whole sweet potatoes over sweet potato chips. Maybe you want a burger? Consider making your own burger (hyperlink to a recipe) rather than from a fast food restaurant.
If you are struggling with how to plan your meals for the week, check this post out for inspiration and get a free meal planner.
2. Eat enough calories, but not too many
For fat loss, ensure you are not consuming more calories than your body is able to burn. This is called a calorie deficit. This can be calculated by counting how many calories that your body needs for energy, minus the calories consumed from diet. For example, your body could need 2200 calories to maintain your current weight, however you are only eating 1800 calories. This means you are in a 400 calorie deficit, which could lead to fat loss.
Here is a simple calorie calculator to assess what your body needs.
3. Drink plenty of water
To assure you are losing actual fat and not just water weight, make sure to drink enough water. The general guideline is about half your weight in ounces daily. For example, if you weighed 200 pounds, you could aim for 100oz of water.
Another indicator of proper hydration is to take a look at your pee. If it is nearly clear, you are hydrated. If it looks more like apple juice, keep drinking.
Need a way to help you reach those fluid goals? Many find carrying a water bottle around helps keep them accountable. This water bottle is handy!
4. Exercise, not just cardio though!
Weight lifting and cardio are two keys in your fat loss journey. Alternating between cardio, even if this means going for a long walk, and weight lifting (either with body weight or pumping iron) will help our body burn the appropriate fat. Ladies, don’t worry about “bulking up” either, you don’t have enough testosterone to accomplish that!
Lean muscle requires our bodies to “burn” more calories when at rest. Therefore, the more lean muscle you have the more fat you can potentially “burn” even while sitting at your desk. No gym membership? That’s ok, YouTube is a great free resource that has millions of exercise videos available for inspiration!
We are sucked in to believing that the only indicator of progress is the scale. The reality is, though, we should be basing our progress on how we feel, how our clothes are fitting, and possibly what our lab work reflects. Weight loss can result from pretty much anything, however fat loss results from true fat loss.
This article was Written by nutrition student Taylor Haddock. Edited and reviewed by Liz Stankis, RD CSR and owner of Liz Stankis Nutrition.