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Is losing weight the same as losing fat?

losing weight vs losing fat

This is one of those questions that I get asked a lot! Weight loss versus fat loss can be a confusing or even taboo subject in the fitness community.

The short answer to this question? No, losing weight is not the same as losing fat.

SHOULD I AIM TO LOSE WEIGHT OR FAT?

Most personal trainers tell their clients that they should never aim to lose weight. Losing weight means that you’ll also lose muscle and that your metabolism will slow down. And personal trainers often assume that no client would want that.

But I know that some women (including myself at one point!) don’t like having too much muscle. And what’s too much for one woman it may be just fine for another. Some women want to lose muscle, and others want to lose fat. Many girls want both.

Your body and fitness goals are up to you. There’s no right or wrong here, but I want to give you the right information to help you be successful and healthy! :)

fitness goals - weight loss vs fat loss

FAT LOSS VS WEIGHT LOSS: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?

There is a big difference between losing weight and losing fat.

When you lose body fat, you are basically burning through your fat storage, reducing your overall body fat percentage. When you lose weight, you lose a little bit of everything, including fat, muscle, and body fluids.

But what should you do?

Like I mentioned earlier, there is no right or wrong here. Everything is going to depend on your personal preferences.

However, in my time training girls, I’ve seen some general trends about different types of women and what they’re wanting out of fitness. Here are some categories that I’ve seen:

  • Girls who are insecure about being “bulky” typically are more muscular than they would like and often carry a little extra body fat. Often, these women want to lose weight in general.
  • Girls who have extra body fat that they want to lose but don’t care about getting muscular. These girls typically want to focus on fat loss, not weight loss.
  • Girls who are slim and like being slim but aren’t particularly toned. They might consider themselves “skinny fat.” These women want to lose extra body fat without getting bulky.

You might not fit in any of these categories, and that’s ok. It’s just a general guideline. Many women will find themselves wanting to lose weight, lose fat, or just maintain their current body at different points in their life!

different goals - fat loss or weight loss

BE CAREFUL ABOUT DEHYDRATION

Water loss is one of the quickest weight loss hacks out there. But long-term dehydration can cause serious health problems. Drinking water is key to staying healthy and maintaining a good weight!

If you lose weight just because you’ve lost water, the number on the scale will tick back up in just a few days. You’ll still have just as much fat as before!

KEEPING TRACK OF YOUR FAT AND WEIGHT LOSS

Now you know that there’s a difference between body weight and body fat. So how do you keep track of your progress?

Weighing yourself can be helpful, but scales can also be deceiving. You can lose body fat without it impacting the scale much at all, and you can see the kilos slip away without a change in your body fat percentage.

AM I LOSING WEIGHT OR FAT?

It is important to make sure that you’re losing weight or fat in the way that you want!

To test this out, you can perform a body fat test. There are different tests you can do.

Some tests require help from a medical professional and others you can do from home. There are even some at-home scales that calculate body fat for you. At-home tests aren’t as reliable as professional tests though. :)

Once you know your body fat percentage, keep track of it over time. If you’re losing weight, but your body fat percentage is staying roughly the same, you know you are losing mostly muscle and fluid.

In general, women should have about a body fat percentage of about 25%, but age and body type will impact this too. As always, listen to your body and talk to a doctor if you’re worried about your body weight or fat percentage.

body fat percentage

WHAT IS MY DESIRED BODY WEIGHT?

Your desired body weight is your weight when you achieve your ideal body fat percentage. Here’s how you calculate it:

Desired body weight = Lean body weight / (1 – desired body fat percentage)

Your lean body weight is how many pounds you weigh without your body fat.

AN EXAMPLE

Imagine a woman who weighs 140 pounds and has 25% body fat. This means that she has 35 pounds of fat and 105 pounds of lean body weight.

Say she wanted to decrease her body fat from 25% to 20% percent. What would her desired body weight be?

Desired body weight = 105 (lean body weight) / 1 – .20 (desired body weight) = 105/.8 = 131.25 pounds.

She would want to weigh about 131 pounds, which is 9 pounds less than her current weight!

calculate your ideal weight

HOW DO I LOSE BODY FAT?

Dropping your body fat requires dedication! You need to eat well (as clean as possible!), do the right type of cardio, and do resistance training to make sure you aren’t losing too much muscle.

If you are dedicated to losing fat, not muscle, you can use the handy formula I just mentioned. It will help you estimate approximately how much weight you need to lose in order to achieve your ideal body fat percentage. :)

Here’s how to stay on track to losing body fat:

CLEAN EATING WITHOUT OVEREATING

I suggest keeping track of your calories for one week to make sure that you’re eating the right amount of food.

Tracking calories longterm requires a lot of time, and it can be emotionally draining. But I’ve found it is helpful to have a good idea of what I’m eating, so I’ll check every so often for about a week.

Here’s how to calculate your ideal caloric intake.

DO LOW-INTENSITY CARDIO

Walking is a wonderful form of cardio for fat loss (it’s really helped me slim down my thighs!).

Low-intensity cardio, like walking, burns fat specifically. You can learn more about how this works in this blog about running and walking for fat loss.

WEIGHT TRAINING IS ESSENTIAL

Maintaining or gaining lean muscle mass is key if you want to lose mostly fat, not muscle. If you don’t do some form of resistance training, 25% of every pound you lose will come from your muscles.

Resistance training helps you tone your muscles and speed up your resting metabolic rate. The faster your metabolism is, the less likely you’ll be to store fat in the long run.

Using heavy weights can be a good way to boost your metabolism relatively quickly. However, many women don’t like how big they can get with lots and lots of heavy strength training. If that’s you, I suggest using low weights, body weights, or resistance bands. These keep your muscles active and toned without making you bulky.

BUT WHAT IF I WANT TO LOSE BODY WEIGHT, NOT JUST FAT?

Follow similar guidelines: eat well, do plenty of low-intensity cardio and do bodyweight training.

If you want to lose weight because you feel like you’re too bulky, you still shouldn’t skip resistance training. If you never use your muscles and they atrophy, you won’t be able to lose body fat and you’ll end up looking skinny fat.

You don’t need to lift heavy weights for this! I actually prefer bodyweight workouts because they help me stay toned while keeping me lean.

healthy weight loss

BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER 

Do what’s best for YOU! It’s ok if you want to reduce your body fat and highlight your muscles, and it’s also okay if you want to reduce your body weight to look slimmer all over.

In general, I suggest you focus on eating well, doing some form of cardio, and staying committed to some type of resistance training.

If you want to lose just body fat and don’t mind having more muscle, you can use weights. And if you want to lose weight, do plenty of cardio and do bodyweight training.

Keep track of your progress (I love a good progress pic!), and be proud of the results you will see!

Let me know if you have any more questions!xx

Love,

Rachael

Picture of Rachael

Rachael is an Australian born certified personal trainer and nutritionist who holds a Bachelor degree in Science.

After struggling for years to find an exercise and diet program that is tailored to women striving for lean and toned body with no bulk she designed her Lean Legs Program. This program is tailored to each body type and focused on helping women get toned but feminine bodies, without getting bulky.

Her mission is to empower women and help them stay in shape in a healthy and balanced way.

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