Weight loss vs fat loss: What’s the difference?

a woman measuring her belly fat
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Stepping on the scales but the digits aren’t budging? Don’t worry, if you’re exercising regularly and eating right, you are probably making significant changes despite what the scales show. You see, fat loss and weight loss are two completely different things. You can lose fat and maintain your current weight, and you can also lose weight but maintain a high fat percentage. Some people may even find that they are losing weight but their body fat % is increasing. This can also happen too. 

Fat loss and weight loss are often used interchangeably, but there is quite a difference between the two. 

In this post, we will take a look at 

  • The main difference between fat loss and weight loss
  • Why you may be losing weight but not fat 
  • How to start losing fat instead of weight. 
  • How to monitor fat loss changes

We’re going to show you techniques for losing fat that have worked for hundreds of people around the world. If you want ot start making sustainable changes, stay till the end!

Let’s get started. 

What is body composition?

A body’s composition refers to all of the elements that make up the body, not just fat. This includes elements like;

The size of some of these elements, their weight and how they affect the body differ from others, while others can weigh the same but have a completely different size. 

Some people believe that 1lb of fat and muscle weigh differently, but they both weigh exactly the same – 1 pound. The major difference is in their size. Muscles are much smaller in size compared to fat. 

Now, consider you’ve gained 1lb of muscle and lost 1lb of fat. Though your scales would stay the same, your overall body composition would significantly change. 

The scales are just a tool for analysing your weight. They do not take into account your bowel movements, your water retention, bloating, fat percentage or BMI. They do not take into account all the other factors that contribute to your weight. So, scales aren’t always a great representation of whether you’re losing weight or fat.

What is weight loss?

Weight loss refers to the overall reduction in weight, and this can be a combination of fat loss, muscle loss and water loss. 

For instance, many people believe that reducing carbohydrates makes them shed fat like nothing else when in reality it’s just water loss. You see, each grab of carbohydrates are attached to three molecules of water. When you reduce carbohydrates, you also reduce water retention within the body. As a result, you’ll find the scales significantly drop. 

On the other hand, some people jump on scales every single day to watch their weight fluctuate. These fluctuations, again, aren’t weight loss or fat loss per se. They are caused by a number of variables like your bowel movements, hormones, dietary intake of salt and fibre, and stress. You can see dramatic changes to your weight every day but these can just be temporary fluctuations due to the things you’ve done over the last couple of days. 

Since the ordinary scales no longer cut it, there is a new scale on the market that analyses fat percentage and many other variables discussed earlier – it’s called the Fittrack Scale.

What is fat loss?

Fat loss refers to the reduction of the overall fat percentage (%). Normally, whenever fat percentage is measured, it is done as a percentage in comparison to the body weight. Then, you can distinguish between lean mass (organs, bones, muscle) and fat mass. 

Generally, women carry more fat mass than men as they need at least 14% fat to avoid any fertility problems. It is in female genetics to maintain more fat than men (bummer..) but it’s to protect the reproductive system and the overall health of the baby. 

There are two most common types of fat, and their called subcutaneous and visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat is the fat that is found directly under the skin and visceral fat is found around the organs. There are other types of fat but these two are mostly responsible for your health, wellbeing, and overall appearance. 

Why you are losing body fat and not weight or vice versa

The biggest question and the biggest problem. Why does this happen? 

So, the answer is actually very simple. You cannot spot reduce fat. This means that if you want a flat stomach, crunches or sit-ups won’t make the cut. In order to achieve a flat stomach, you need to lose weight overall. 

Do you know what’s worse? 

Your lower abdomen is usually the first place you gain fat and the last to lose it. Unfortunately, when you start exercising and eating right, your body will simply start shedding weight and fat in random places. 

However, you can tone up. For instance, if you want a flat stomach, you could do crunches to tone it up and make it look leaner. Although you’ll still need to wait for the overall weight drop, once achieved, you’ll be left with a lovely lean physique. 

How to monitor if you’re losing fat?

There are a variety of ways to monitor whether or not you are losing fat instead of just weight. Below are three methods that are most accurate:

Skin callipers

Skin callipers are probably one of the most accurate methods of measuring body fat percentage (%). They measure the thickness of the skin, and normally, the fat is located just under the skin meaning the callipers directly measure the fat. There are key areas to measure, and these are areas where most people store fat. You need to measure at least three of these areas and take an average reading. You will find clear instructional images below showing which areas to measure.

Waist measurements with skin callipers
Waist: Take the skinfold in the middle between your belly button and your hip bone. This skinfold is taken almost horizontally.
Triceps measurements with skin callipers
Triceps: You want to measure roughly halfway between the shoulder and elbow joints, and in a vertical direction.
Skin callipers measurements for shoulder blades
Shoulder blade: Take the skinfold just below the shoulder blade and at 45-degree angle as on the diagram.
Thigh measurements using skin callipers
Thighs: Measure at the front of the thigh or inner thigh. Make sure to measure midway of the thigh.

Once you’ve taken the measurements, you will need to place the average reading on a fat percentage chart These charts commonly come with your skin callipers. To interpret the chart, you need to firstly find your age on the left hand-side of the chart and follow along the top of the chart until your age intercepts with your average measurement in millimetres. Where your measurement and your age intercept, you’ll find your body fat percentage. 

Bioelectrical impedance 

The last method of measuring body fat is called bioelectrical impedance. It involves a handheld device that sends imperceptible electric currents through the body to measure the fat percentage. The current will simply travel through the body and, after circulating around it, will return back to the device with a reading. The fat is identified as it creates resistance to the currents compared to the body mass. The more resistance the body creates to the currents, the more body fat will be identified. If the electrical pulses travel fast through the body without any or with limited resistance, the readings will come back low.

These devices are mostly accessible through personal trainers and gyms, but you can also now purchase a scale or a device that includes this feature online. 

Tips on losing weight and fat 

Calorie deficit

Make sure to calculate your calories and deduct no more than 500 calories from your maintenance. This will enable you to start losing 1lb of weight per week. By losing just 1lb per week and not more, you are likely to lose more fat rather than muscle. 

Perform Low-Impact Interval Training (LIIT)

LIIT exercise is a type of exercise that burns fat stores for energy rather than sugars. LIIT type of exercise is low in intensity but long in duration. 

Examples include:

  • 30-minute jog or longer
  • Swimming
  • Hiking
  • Walking

Perform High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT workouts are very high in intensity and also very short in duration. The purpose of HIIT workouts is to raise your heart rate really high and improve your endurance. What many people don’t know is that HIIT workouts are also incredible for boosting your immune system and speeding up your metabolism. 

This means that although these workouts use sugars for energy, they help you burn more calories at rest. As a result, you’ll be able to create a bigger calories deficit. If you’re in a bigger caloric deficit, you’ll lose more weight. 

So, although this type of exercise doesn’t have a direct effect on fat loss, it helps you lose weight overall which can help you lose fat too. 

Perform weight training

Many people stay clear of weight training, especially women, as they are under the impression that they will gain weight or become muscular. The truth is that unless you are eating excessive amounts of calories, it doesn’t matter how heavy you are lifting. If there is not enough energy for the muscle to get bigger, you are just going to create a nice lean physique. 

What’s better about building lean muscle is that they help you burn more calories at rest too since they are thermogenic

Summary

Weight loss and fat loss are two different things. Weight loss is the overall reduction of weight which includes fat loss, muscle loss, and water loss. While fat loss specifically refers to losing fat percentage. 

You can’t spot reduce fat in different areas of the body, you can only reduce your overall weight which is a mixture of elements from your body composition. 

Make sure to monitor your weight loss using a variety of techniques like scales, skin callipers, and biometric impedance devices. This will give you an insight into whether you are losing weight, fat or both. If you’re losing weight and your fat mass is remaining the same or getting higher then you need to make alterations to your exercise and nutrition. Be sure to check out how Nutrition2change can help you achieve your goals. Alternatively, learn for yourself using our internationally certified online course

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