Losing Weight vs. Losing Fat: The Fundamental Difference

Kris 8
Losing Weight vs. Losing Fat: The Fundamental Difference


When most people refer to losing weight, they want the scale to drop. Consequently, as the scale drops, they figure they’ll also see positive results in the mirror. We don’t need to doubt the fact that if this didn’t hold true, people wouldn’t be so concerned about their weight. However, what most people also want is to look better after dropping that weight. Putting aside the technical argument that you automatically look better if you drop some needed weight, what I’m referring to when using that phrase is the desire to look fit (less fat, and hopefully, the same muscle mass). Sure, you can say that your goal is simply to drop some overall weight for a cleaner look and a tighter waist, but if I could tell you that it doesn’t require all that much extra effort to look fit, would you still stick with wanting to simply lose weight?

Many people don’t realize that with some small fine-tuning, they can accomplish looking fit in the process of losing weight, in the form of losing fat. Although going to the gym and working out is a huge plus, it’s not necessary to see some noticeable benefits when it’s all set and done. In order to understand how this process works, we need to first understand the key difference between the definitions of losing weight and losing fat. The former includes muscle mass, while the latter excludes it. Looking skinnier, yet bland, is the work of the former, while looking more fit is the work of the latter. The sole contributor to this difference is the concept of sparing muscle mass.

Now, before I continue I don’t want to get too scientific and tricky with you, so it’s best you take a look at our articles on: Calories Needed For Maintenance, and How Much Protein per Day for a better understanding and best results. However, to continue, let’s do a little background. There’s 3 major macro-nutrients that calories are made of, and they are: Fats, Protein, and Carbohydrates. In order to build muscle, or sustain it, protein intake must be high. Unfortunately, most people don’t know this, and when they drop the amount of food they eat they drop the protein as much, if not more, than the other two. Since their body does not receive enough to maintain their muscle mass, it withers away along with the fat (if they are successful in eating less calories total than they burn through activity per day). The end result is simple weight loss. (Illustrated below:)

lose weight 300x232 Losing Weight vs. Losing Fat: The Fundamental Difference

As you can see, the individual technically looks better because he’s leaner overall, but there’s no major changes outside of that visible fact. This is where the stark contrast between fat loss and weight loss is visible. With fat loss, you not only look leaner but more defined, because whatever muscle mass you’ve preserved is more visible (whereas with weight loss, this doesn’t change). With that being said, this can easily be obtained by keeping protein intake high, and eating less carbohydrates and fats to make up for the difference. Therefore, instead of having meatballs and potatoes, a wiser choice would be having grilled chicken and broccoli. Not only will that meal have less calories, but the protein ratio in regards to the big 3 will be much higher, allowing for the sparing of muscle mass (if this is continued properly over time, yet overall calories continue being less than what you burn per day through activity – learn more in the linked articles). The end result will be fat loss, and a more fit look. (Illustrated below:)

losefat 300x266 Losing Weight vs. Losing Fat: The Fundamental Difference

Just a small note about the picture above: This individual clearly hit the gym hard in order to achieve his results. Do not mistake his hard work for a simple diet with a higher protein intake. However, the premise is the same. Assuming the transformation follows a direct change from left to right, he already had that muscle mass under all that fat. By stripping away the fat (and the fat only), while retaining that muscle mass, this was his result. If you’ve never hit the gym, and you don’t while you attempt to lose fat, much of your natural muscle mass can be preserved while the fat strips away, for a similar transformation on a much smaller scale.

Like I’ve stated, you don’t even need to go to the gym to see noticeable improvement in body composition when you’re trying to lose weight (hopefully after reading this, fat!), as long as you keep the protein intake high. Although it is ideal to hit the gym to keep those muscles working so that your body knows they are useful and shouldn’t be broken down, you’ll save a good portion of your muscle mass simply by keeping that protein ratio higher, since the protein will help sustain that muscle mass as its the central building block of it in the first place. Although without gym the results won’t be amazing (nowhere near those in the picture shown above, I stress this once again), they will result in a much more fit look than if you were to continue with the regular trend of losing overall weight and winding up like the first of the two pictures. If that’s all you’re looking to do, go for it. However, for such a small difference in lifestyle, simple cost/benefit shows you that losing fat trumps losing weight when you factor in the end result. So be smart about it, and start losing fat, not weight. Good luck!


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