Fat Loss VS. Weight Loss: How to Lose Fat Sustainably
Weight Loss

Fat Loss VS. Weight Loss: How to Lose Fat Sustainably

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Fat Loss VS. Weight Loss: How to Lose Fat Sustainably

Posted 2 years ago

Brian Stanton

Brian Stanton


Fat loss isn’t the same as weight loss. Fat loss is a type of weight loss, but it’s not the only option on the weight loss menu

The other areas of weight loss are water and muscle, but most people don’t want to lose water and muscle. They want to lose fat. 

Losing body fat is generally a positive move, but not always. Some amount of body fat is essential for human flourishing.  

In this guide to fat loss vs. weight loss, you’ll learn the difference between fat loss and weight loss, what a healthy body fat percentage looks like, and how to lose fat sustainably. Keep reading. 

Understanding Weight Loss

Weight loss is a simple concept. If a person loses five pounds—if they go from 200 pounds to 195 pounds—they’ve officially lost weight. 

The problem is, we don’t know where those five pounds came from. For instance, those five pounds could be water pounds from glycogen loss. Some explanation will help. 

During fasting, carb restriction, and exercise, your body taps into stored glucose (glycogen) in muscle and liver tissue. Relevant here: glycogen is mostly water weight—so when it’s broken down, the water is released and excreted through urine.[*]  

That’s why initial weight loss from Keto or intermittent fasting protocols is often gained back. When carbs are reintroduced, the glycogen reforms and adds back the water weight. 

Weight will also fluctuate along with hydration status. If you weigh yourself in a dehydrated state—say, after a long sauna—you’re going to weigh less than if you’re properly hydrated with fluids and electrolytes

Dehydration can occur from inadequate fluid intake, sweat loss, diarrhea, alcohol abuse, and various medications.[*] You can’t control all these factors, but weighing yourself at the same time each day—ideally, first thing in the morning—helps normalize the data for hydration status. 

Then there’s muscle loss, which is almost always undesirable. A lower ratio of muscle to body fat has been linked to higher rates of kidney disease, heart disease, and diabetes.[*][*][*] And in older folks, age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia) is a major cause of functional decline.[*

 In general, muscle loss occurs due to:

For instance, if you fast for long enough, you’re guaranteed to lose muscle. Your body needs protein to survive, and it will scavenge muscle for those needs in the absence of dietary protein. 

You’ll also likely lose water and fat. Let’s talk more about fat loss now. 

Fat Loss vs. Weight Loss

All sustainable weight loss programs focus on fat loss. Fat loss is the goal, not water or muscle loss. 

Fat is how your body stores excess energy. If you exceed your daily metabolic needs, the extra calories tend to get stored as triglycerides (bundles of fatty acids) in adipose tissue (body fat). 

This adaptation came in handy back in prehistoric times. The apes that stored the most fat were more likely to survive periods of deprivation.[*

It’s less handy today. Being obese—a condition of excess body fat suffered by 42.4% of Americans[*]—increases one’s risk for most chronic diseases.[*

Some quick terminology now. Body fat can refer to either subcutaneous fat or visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat is fat underneath the skin, while visceral fat is fat around the organs. 

Too much of either can be problematic, but visceral fat is the more insidious of the two. It’s possible to have high levels of visceral fat (which correlates with various chronic diseases) and still appear skinny.[*

What’s a Healthy Body Fat Percentage?

Some amount of body fat is essential. Body fat:

  • Contains the raw materials (fatty acids) to synthesize hormones and structure cell membranes
  • Provides energy if you skip breakfast
  • Cushions your falls
  • Helps you absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, and K
  • Can be converted to ketones that fuel your brain
  • And much more

According to most sources, a healthy body fat percentage is between 20 and 32 percent for women and 10 to 22 percent for men.[*] These ranges, however, are based on population averages. Your mileage may vary. 

And within these ranges, lower isn’t necessarily healthier. It’s also not necessarily more attractive, depending on the observer. 

With these caveats in mind, let’s review how to lose excess body fat healthily. 

How to Lose Fat Sustainably

The goal of sustainable fat loss is to lose fat while maintaining muscle. This is called improving your body composition. 

To improve your body composition, it’s crucial to consume adequate protein. Most people should shoot for 100 grams of protein per day, and active folks will likely need more. (See this article for more detail on protein needs by weight, sex, and activity level.) 

It’s also crucial to strength train. If you don’t use your muscles, you will lose your muscles. 

Okay, so that’s how you maintain muscle. But how do you lose fat sustainably?

By eating slightly less than your metabolism requires. If you consume slightly less energy (5 to 10 percent) than you expend, you’ll gradually lose fat without suffering the downsides—metabolic slowdown, sluggishness, etc.—of severe calorie restriction.[*

One way to make this work? Try the Keto diet.

For starters, Keto has been shown to suppress hunger hormones.[*] Less hunger, less overeating, less weight gain. Low-carb diets like Keto also keep the hormone insulin low, which in turn facilitates fat burning. 

Tracking Fat Loss

If you want to assess your body fat percentage accurately, consider springing for a DEXA (DXA) scan. DEXA is considered the gold standard for assessing body composition.[*

A DEXA scan will detect visceral fat and give you the percentage of body fat vs. muscle mass. An at-home scale will not. 

That doesn’t mean, however, that other measures are useless. It still makes sense to monitor body weight, waist circumference, and physical appearance in the mirror. 

Thinking Long-term

Sustainable fat loss isn’t about shedding a quick 10 pounds. It’s about designing your lifestyle to maintain muscle while slowly losing unhealthy, excess fat. 

As you calibrate your routine, consider using the Carb Manager app to track your protein, exercise, and calorie goals. When you track your progress, you increase your personal accountability. 

Comments 2

  • nitagomez335317

    nitagomez335317 7 months ago

    Good to know this

    • Janegj

      Janegj a year ago

      Enjoyed reading. Helping me see my obesity can be around organs or subcutaneous. A lot I thought I knew I did Not. With new knowledge persevering on keto journey, wt loss.