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Weight Loss vs Fat Loss: What is the Difference

Have you found yourself looking at Adele and thinking, how did she do it? How did she lose all that weight or fat? But, is there a difference between weight loss and fat loss?

Fat loss and weight loss are common words used to search for when someone is looking to shed pounds or looking for treatment. More often than not, they are used to mean the same thing. Any time someone notices the number reduced on the scale or their pants become a bit looser, they are bound to think that they have lost some fat. But is that what really happens?

What does it mean to lose weight and lose fat? Is there a difference between losing weight and losing fat? Contrary to popular belief, weight loss and fat loss are two different concepts and have completely different meanings.

What is Weight Loss?

Weight loss is a bit more complex as it refers to either a collective loss or loss of one of the following:

Muscle Content Fat Content Water Content

Weight loss refers to the overall reduction in body weight which is visible by the scale. What many do not know is that by focusing on weight loss treatment, it could mean only muscle is being lost and not fat, which not only has an aesthetic side effect but also has a detrimental effect on overall health.

What is Fat Loss?

Fat loss is quite straightforward in the sense that it means that there is a net decrease in the fat content of the body. What this actually means is that fat tissue that was stored in the fat cells has been converted into energy and therefore ‘drained’ from the fat cells. This causes a net decrease in the fat content of the body.

However, your fat cells are not eliminated from the body. When the fat tissue is converted into energy, the fat cell simply shrinks. Thereafter, when the diet or treatment begins to increase fat, the excess fat will continue to be stored in the fat cells that remain in the body. This explains why people suffer from rebound weight gain when they stop the specific fad diets or workouts that was helping them keep those extra pounds off.

What happens when you lose fat vs when you lose weight?

Fat loss is not as clear-cut as many fitness gurus will have us believe. Fat is stored in the fat cells or adipocytes in the form of triglycerides. When trying to lose fat, these triglycerides are released from the cell and are now found in the bloodstream as free fatty acids (FFA). Exercising, caloric deficit and other forms of weight and fat loss plans increase the energy demand of the body and that is when these free fatty acids are transported to the area in need of energy1.

Fat Loss or Weight Loss Treatment?

It is at this point that the fatty acids are used up by the body as a source of energy, and hence, ‘burned off’. The initial fat cell that they were stored in become smaller and shrink as more triglycerides are released into the bloodstream. This shrinkage is what is seen when someone loses fat as the underlying muscles will appear more defined and well-toned.

Weight loss includes fat loss as explained above, but it could also include loss of water weight and muscle loss.

Muscle Loss

It is especially common to notice a decrease in muscle content and water content in the body if weight was lost rapidly. According to a recent piece of research presented at the European Congress on Obesity, following a severe caloric deficit diet of around 1250cal can result in significant weight loss in five weeks.

The severe caloric reduction could trigger a cycle of lower muscle mass – lower metabolism – lower BMR (basal metabolic rate) – easier to put on weight as the body needs fewer calories – lower muscle mass. This means to say that the weight that has been lost is more likely to be due to muscle loss than fat loss2.

Why are some spots so stubborn?

More often than not, the first bit of weight loss seen with any type of weight-loss treatment is the result of loss of water weight and not actually fat or muscle.

Our body is designed to retain fat as a means of survival. Should you ever get into a situation where food is scarce, the body ensures that bodily functions are still able to take place by using the stored energy supplies, a.k.a the fat that has been stored away.

While fat retention is something that the body has been tuned to do, men and women retain fat in different ways. Some of this could be relative to more than just survival, for example for women, the body tends to store more fat around the abdomen as a reflection of fertility.

Non-Invasive Fat Reduction Solutions, Not Weight Loss Treatment

As science has helped us understand how fat retention still persists in even the slimmest and fittest of both men and women, it has also allowed for options to target problem areas of the body with excess stubborn fat. With non-invasive fat reduction treatments, fat cells can effectively be targeted and eliminated from the body.

CoolSculpting, an FDA-approved non-invasive fat reduction treatment, uses cryolipolysis to target fat cells with sub-zero temperatures. Under these temperatures, the fat cells are frozen and go through what is known as apoptosis (cell death). Over the course of 90 days, the broken-down fat cells are then eliminated from the body.

a lady going through a coolsculpting on a bed


SculpSure, another FDA-approved non-invasive fat reduction treatment, is quite the opposite of CoolSculpting. It targets fat cells with laser technology that generates heat in the targeted region, hence, melting the fat away. The body recognizes the cells’ pending death and begins the process of eliminating them via the body’s lymphatic system.

Due to this specific targeting of fat cells, it is easy to determine that fat loss, instead of weight loss, is the purpose of these non-invasive body treatments, and not weight loss. Muscles are not targeted by these paddles, and neither is the water weight of the body.

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While there are many ways that one could go about on their journey towards fat loss, committing to changes that are sustainable and ensuring that you make more informed decisions will help you get one step closer to your desired physique.

References: 1.  Carmen GY, Víctor SM. Signaling mechanisms regulating lipolysis. Cell Signal. 2006;18(4):401–8. 2. Abstracts of the 21st European Congress on Obesity (ECO2014), May 28-31, 2014, Sofia, Bulgaria. (2014). Obesity Facts, 7 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), 1–188. 3. Beam, J. R., & Szymanski, D. J. (2010). Validity of 2 skinfold calipers in estimating percent body fat of college-aged men and women. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 24(12), 3448–3456.