The terms weight loss and fat loss have been used interchangeably to refer to one concept for the longest time. But many do not know these two terms do not necessarily refer to the same thing. Understanding the difference between these two terms is paramount to helping you realign your fitness goals. Join us as we look at this comparison and contrast of weight loss vs fat loss. Please keep reading to discover which of the two is the ideal way to help you drop a dress size.
Is Weight Loss The Same As Fat Loss?
Although these two terms are commonly used interchangeably, they are two different concepts. That means the answer is no. Weight loss is not always the same as fat loss. Most studies define weight loss as a drop in your overall poundage, which could come from muscle, water, and fat (2).
On the other hand, fat loss is a more specific fitness goal that is defined as a drop in fat.
Which Is Better Fat Loss Or Weight Loss?
When people try to lose weight, they typically aim for weight loss instead of fat loss. The problem is that evidence suggests an aim of losing fat is better than losing weight. Losing fat is considered more beneficial than losing muscle or water, because the results are more long-term and beneficial.
If you want to shed some pounds, it would be best to focus on fat loss instead of weight loss. However, there are several things you need to know when you take this approach. They include:
Paying Attention To Your Body Composition And How It Affects Health
Remember that some factors such as your body type also impact when and how you keep the weight at bay. For example, individuals with a certain body type or genetic tendencies may lose weight quickly but gain fat easily.
Ditching Old Habits
It is worth noting that many tactics weight watchers use for weight loss may backfire when you are trying to lose fat. For example, the idea of measuring yourself on the scale to see how much weight you have lost.
Remember that the figure you get on the sale might show how much total weight including water or muscle you have lost instead of how much fat. If you want long-term results, you may want to ditch the scale. Instead, you are advised to use any of the following to track your fat loss progress (2):
- A Tape Measure. Yes, you heard it right. This easy homemade tool can help you track if you are losing fat or not. Although it does not show whether the specific drop in inches is lost fat, it does indeed showcase progress.
- Waist-to-Hip Ratio/Waist Circumference. As the name implies, these are measurements taken around your waistline. It is used as a proxy measurement for the amount of visceral fat you have, which is the metabolically active fat around your abdominal organs and poses a greater health risk than subcutaneous (under the skin) fat. It is easy to acquire these readings using a tape measure as it only requires you to constantly monitor fat around the waistline by measuring your midsection. The CDC has stated that a healthy waist circumference for non-pregnant women should not exceed 35 inches while that of men should not exceed 40 inches (5). A moderate waist to hip ratio (waist circumference divided by hip circumference) is 0.9 or lower for men and 0.85 or lower for non-pregnant women. According to the WHO, values above that are considered abdominal obesity.
- Body Fat Scales. These scales use bio-impedance to indicate your body fat percentage. This means they are very telling and beneficial to use to track fat loss. They aren’t as accurate as some other clinical and research methods of assessing body fat percentage, but they are an inexpensive way to at least see trends over time.
Read More: What Is The Ideal Ketosis Level For Weight Loss? How To Monitor Ketones
Can You Lose Fat And Not Lose Weight?
When you start dieting or exercising for fat loss, you may tend to lose muscle, especially if you are not performing weight lifting exercises or eating enough protein. This brings us to another of the commonly asked questions, the contrast of weight lifting vs cardio for fat loss.
Both exercise programs are essential for fat loss. Of course, cardiovascular activities increase your heart rate and allow you to torch more calories. That is to say, these activities emphasize fat burning. Fitness experts recommend mixing your workouts by introducing some weight lifting or strength training sessions.
Although weight lifting does not torch as many calories, it is more effective in muscle building and can help prevent muscle loss while you are losing weight. Also remember that muscles help in calorie burning even while at rest (4). In light of this, most fitness gurus recommend combining exercise programs for weight management.
How To Lose Fat But Build Muscle?
By now, you know that fat loss has more long-term results than weight loss because you are getting rid of fat instead of water and muscle. Luckily, there are some evidence-based ways for losing fat while still building or maintaining muscle.
But before we continue, let us state plainly that you cannot lose fat at only one specific part of your body. Instead, when you implement these fat loss strategies, you shed fat evenly (with the possible exception of visceral fat, which may be reduced by exercise alone). That said, here are some effective ways you can lose fat while building or maintaining muscle.
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Eating A High Protein Diet
Protein is one of the essential nutrients that your body needs to perform roles such as muscle growth and repair and blood clotting. It is a favorite amongst dieters because protein increases satiety and prevents overeating.
Medicine Net suggests that consuming high-quality protein foods can help you build and maintain muscle mass while reducing body fat (1). This may be in part because protein contains leucine, an amino acid that spares muscle proteins during fat loss (1). Protein in general helps build and repair muscle tissue after exercise, which is an important part of the equation for building or maintaining muscle mass. Additionally, it is also essential in fat loss because maintaining that muscle helps your body burn more calories (1).
So, talk with your dietitian and craft a high-protein meal plan. In it, include high-protein foods like eggs, beans, lean beef, nuts, seeds, chicken breasts, fish, lentils, whey and/or plant-based protein shakes (9). Here is an example of a high protein recipe that you can consider making:
Recipe: Mexican Chicken Stew With Quinoa & Beans (6)
This spicy chicken recipe is prepared with healthy high-protein foods such as beans and quinoa. It is as follows:
- 4 skinless chicken breasts
- 2 chicken stock cubes
- 140 g quinoa
- 1 x 400 g can pinto beans, drained
- 2 x 400 g cans of chopped tomatoes
- 1 onion, sliced
- 2 red peppers, deseeded and chopped into large chunks
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- 3 tbsp. chipotle paste
- Juice 1 lime
- Small bunch coriander, most chopped, a few leaves left whole
- Natural yogurt, to serve
- Heat the oil in a deep pan and fry the onions and peppers for a few minutes until they soften. Stir in the chipotle paste for a minute, then add the tomatoes. Add until a tomato can-full of water to cover the chicken then bring to a gentle simmer. Add the chicken breasts and gently simmer. Remember to turn the chicken occasionally, then let it simmer for 20 minutes until it is cooked through.
- Bring a large saucepan of water with the stock cubes to a boil. Add the quinoa and cook for 15 minutes until tender. Add the beans in the final minute. Drain well and stir in the coriander and lime juice, then season before covering to keep warm.
- Place the chicken onto a board and shred each breast using two forks. Stir back into the tomato sauce and sugar and season. Serve with the quinoa, and scatter the stew with some coriander leaves before dishing up and eating with a dollop of yogurt on the side.
This recipe can make 4 to 5 servings. However, the nutrient content for one serving is as follows:
- Calories- 336
- Total fat- 6 g
- Total carbs- 34.7 g
- Fiber- 4.1 g
- Protein- 33.4 g
Read More: Dairy Free Protein Powder Options For Muscle Mass Development And Weight Loss
Take The Slow Approach
If you look at most weight loss articles and ads, you may realize that most if not all promise rapid results. But remember we noted that you lose water and muscle during weight loss, which is to say you may gain all of it back later.
It is natural to want to shed pounds quickly, which might explain why most people give in to these desperate weight loss scams. But if you want to lose fat long-term, you are advised to take the slow and steady but successful approach.
This approach aims at losing 1 to 2 pounds per week (1). One pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories. It is not easy to torch these calories but with determination, it is possible. Shedding pounds at this rate maximizes fat loss. It is also seen as a more effective way of keeping the weight at bay for the long haul (1).
Exercise is paramount as it is ranked one of the best ways to lose fat fast. Besides torching calories, exercising also helps you build the muscle that is linked to a higher metabolism. However, remember to mix up your cardio activities with weightlifting programs for added benefits.
The good news is you do not have to work out for hours for fat loss or muscle gains. Instead, you can start by aiming for 150 minutes of physical activity every week (7). It sounds like a lot but it is only exercising thirty minutes only for five days.
Consume More Foods Rich In Calcium
Some research suggests that consuming three servings of calcium-rich dairy foods per day can speed up weight loss by 50% to 70% (1). At the same time, these foods may help strengthen your bones and teeth and prevent osteoporosis (1).
Of course, dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt have more calcium content. However, other calcium-rich foods you can consider include (8):
- Tofu. A 120 g serving of steamed or fried tofu provides 200 mg of calcium.
- Canned Sardines. A 50 g serving of canned sardines also provides 200 mg of calcium.
- Dried Figs. 2 dried figs provide 100 mg of calcium.
- Sesame Seeds. One tablespoon of these seeds also provide 100 mg of calcium.
- Pitta Bread. A 5 g serving of pitta bread also provides 100 mg of calcium.
Be sure to go through such a list with your dietitian for more guidance and insight on the best pick.
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Eat More Fruits, Vegetables, And Whole Grains
You need to consume more fruits, veggies, and whole grains for fat loss. Whole grains have low calories and fat and are packed with fiber and phytonutrients that may reduce disease risk. Research shows that phytonutrients may help fight cancer, prevent diabetes, and reduce heart disease risk (1).
Fruits and veggies, on the other hand, contain fiber that keeps you full longer and consequently prevent overeating. They are also loaded with vitamins like vitamin A, C, and K, and minerals like potassium and folate (1).
The good news is that there are many ways you can add these foods to your diet. For example, you could use them to make salads, smoothies, soups, risotto, casseroles, or consume them as snacks.
The Bottom Line
Although most people use the terms weight loss and fat loss interchangeably, the two do not necessarily refer to the same thing. It might explain the many searches of weight loss vs fat loss. In a nutshell, weight loss refers to a drop in total weight which includes muscle and/or water while fat loss accounts for a drop in fat.
Dieters and weight watchers are urged to aim for fat loss because of its long-term benefits. Knowing this, it would be best to also go through your fitness goals and talk to your doctor and trainer before moving forward with this approach.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 10 Medically Proven Ways to Lose Weight (2005, medicinenet.com)
- Effects of gradual weight loss v. rapid weight loss on body composition and RMR: a systematic review and meta-analysis (2020, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Everything you need to know about the mesomorph body type (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Exercise and Weight Loss (2020, webmd.com)
- Healthy Weight (2021, cdc.gov)
- Mexican chicken stew with quinoa & beans (2022, bbcgoodfood.com)
- Physical Activity (2022, cdc.gov)
- The best calcium-rich foods (2018, bbcgoodfood.com)
- What to eat on a high-protein diet (2021, medicalnewstoday.com)