Fat loss vs weight loss: why your weight scale is misleading?

fat loss vs weight loss

One of, if not the most common goal trend we see within the fitness industry is “weight loss”. Weight loss is associated with a slimmer physique, a loss of fat, and an increase in muscle tone.

Wondering whether you should focus on losing fat or losing weight? What’s the exact difference between fat loss and weight loss and what is the actual weight loss vs fat loss truth?

Don’t worry, just read below this post and you would find all your questions satisfactorily answered. Just hold on for a few minutes and keep reading below.

This article should help you to understand how to most accurately monitor your progress towards achieving your goal body composition while knowing that your weight loss measurement is not the best measure of tracking your fitness improvement.

A): Understand your misleading weight scale

Understanding your misleading weight scale

If you are following your weight scale for your fat loss and fitness improvement, then keep it in mind that it is bound to disappoint you because of the following reasons.

1. Your weight scale measures everything in your body as a weight

Your body composition depending on your fitness level, your total body weight consists of the following components

  • Muscle: 30-55% of body weight
  • Fat: 10-30% of body weight
  • water: 10-25% of body weight
  • Bone: 15% of body weight
  • Organs and other tissues: 10-15% of body weight

The digit of weight you see on your weight scale is a deceptive number i.e it does not measure your body weight only rather it adds many other things of your body to add to your weight tally. 

2. Your weight does not account for muscular changes in your body.

Your weight scale does not express the changes which are occurring in your body like increasing body fat levels or increasing muscle mass levels. For instance, the muscle mass you have built by doing strength training and heavy lifting does not show up in your weight scale.

Also, the fat you have lost simultaneously does not represent in your weight digit while you are getting leaner and slimmer during fat loss.

3. Your weight doesn’t reflect your fat loss/weight levels and health

Since your weight scale can’t differentiate between your muscle mass and body fat, so your weight might not be an appropriate indicator of your bodily health and fitness levels. Similarly, it will not be able to tell if a person is unhealthy as he might have high levels of body fat but a low level of weight overall.

 In short, the scale can’t tell the difference between fat and muscle. That means a person can have a low body weight but still have high unhealthy levels of body fat.

4. Your weight can be a source of demotivation.

Since your weight scale can’t express your actual health statuses like less body fat or more muscles,  you might get disappointed by finding out that weight scale is not up ticking.

It could make you question your training, diet, even your commitment and overshadow the positive results you’re getting such as fat loss, more endurance, and higher energy levels.

5. Your weight number is not a reliable number even for a day

It varies through the twenty-four hours. Why? Because it counts everything in your body as weight which can vary its needle. For example, depending upon what are you eating and how many times you are eating, it can change its weight scale.

It can also change given the amount of water your body has which normally varies throughout the day e.g when you go to the bathroom, it could be different then you come out of it.

However, the weight scale is not entirely useless, it can benefit in some ways as well. 

Regularly weighing yourself can give you body weight changes

For people who have lost weight, studies have shown that regularly weighing themselves helps them maintain that weight loss. It’s very common for weight to slowly build up and your scale can reflect this.

Now when you have understood what does your weight actually means on the scale, now it’s time to understand the difference between fat loss and weight loss which is the second important step for achieving your goal of losing fat without muscle.

B) Understanding the difference between weight loss vs fat loss

To estimate your fitness progress correctly, you need to fully understand what are the exact differences between fat loss and weight loss.

Diff 1. Chemistry of fat loss and weight loss is different

When you lose fat, you make permanent body composition changes in your body i.e your body loses fat but gains (or not, but no loses) muscle. On the other hand, when you lose weight, it could be just lost of water or a hormonal change effect on your body or even loss of muscles sometimes.


Diff 2. Fat loss and weight loss are different in size

A pound of muscle is very compact and consumes less space as compared to a pound of fat( a pound of fat is bigger but less dense). Also, the weight loss can be due to loss of water, whose weight is itself different than fat.


Diff 3: Muscle weight vs fat weight

You may have heard this before: Muscle weighs more than fat. More precisely, one pound of muscle is four times smaller than one pound of fat because the muscle is denser than fat, it weighs more than fat. Here is an example to illustrate this point.

Suppose, Person A and Person B have the same belly circumference.

Person A’s body fat is 20% fat while Person B is 30% fat. Apparently both will look similar in size but their weight will differ because Person A likely has more muscle. Similarly, a lean person with more muscle might weigh more than somebody who is thin but not so lean.

That’s why you when you lose inches on the scale but not weight, it is because of the melting of fat stored in your belly while, on the other hand,  when you lose weight it could possibly be either loss in water content or other bodyweight changes happening in your body.


Diff 4. Fat loss is visible but weight loss might not be.

When you lose fat, it is clearly visible in your body in the form of a reduced waistline, reduced-fat on hips, thighs, belly, etc. and more lose/bigger clothes. But when you lose weight, it does not show up on your body. It is only adequately visible on the weight scale.

That’s why you might be losing muscles while you are thinking it is fat loss or weight loss. So, it is incredibly important for you to differentiate between the two and focus on losing fat without losing your muscular physique.


Diff 5. Fat loss is a sign of good fitness and health while weight loss may not be.

As explained above, losing fat means you are on the right track of fitness but when you lose weight, it does not necessarily mean something good may be happening in your body i.e your body might be suffering from a fresh physiological problem that needs attention.


Diff 6. Fat loss can be due to healthy aging but weight loss might not be.

Since the loss of fat is a sign of good fitness and overall health, it means you will lose fat and build muscle. And an increase in muscle mass has been associated with healthy and prolonged aging. On the other hand, sudden loss of weight is usually indicative of serious health concerns needing your immediate attention.

Additionally, the more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate will be, which slightly increases caloric expenditure throughout the day and that means further fat loss.


Diff 7. Fat loss requires proper training & dieting as compared to weight loss.

You lose fat only when you put extra effort in the gym and in the kitchen too. While weight loss can occur without all sorts of these efforts. For example, when you get sick, your weight scale automatically goes down but you haven’t lost fat necessarily.


Diff 8. Fat loss requires weight loss but weight loss does not require fat loss.

This fact can be understood as the following breakdown of our body composition. Depending on your fitness level, your total body weight consists of:

  • Muscle: 30-55% of body weight
  • Fat: 10-30% of body weight
  • Water*: 10-25%
  • Bone: 15% of body weight
  • Organs and other tissues: 10-15%

Since your body weight includes the weight of bones, water, and other organ’s weight and your fat content in your fat muscles, so when weight loss happens, it could be loss of any of the following above mentioned things.

While on the other hand, when you lose fat, you only lose fat, not anything like water content of your body or loss of the weight of your organs. Hence, fat loss can happen with weight loss but weight loss may not imply fat loss. 


Diff 9. Fat loss and weight loss are measured with different instruments

Fat loss is only measured by a specially built purpose fat calculator either in your home or gym or even your doctor but weight loss can simply be measured at your home weight scale without much struggle.

The Bottom line
Instead of just tracking how much weight you have lost, you should also track fat loss and muscle gain, because this gives you a better indication of how your body is changing.

How to make better fat loss judgments?

How to make better fat loss judgements?

Just because you aren’t losing weight in your hips doesn’t mean you’re not losing weight somewhere. It may just be from a place you don’t much care about and to find out that place you need to adopt other means of measuring your fitness success which are:

1. Look out for your clothes fitness

Look out for your clothes fitness to measure your fat loss efforts

Clothes don’t lie. This is very simple: pick up one of the pairs of your tight pants and keep checking it by wearing it weekly. If you feel they are loose, you are losing your fat and if tight, you need to make some changes to your diet or training.

2. Make regular measurements of your body

Make regular measurement of your body to check your fat loss progress

Keep measuring your body at different intervals of the month which will more accurately tell you if you are losing fat or not more aesthetically. Here are the principal measurements that you could use to track your progress.

  • Bust: Measure all the way around your bust and back on the line of your nipples
  • Waist: Measure its narrowest point, usually just above the navel
  • Hips: Measure all the way around the widest part of the hip bones and glutes
  • Upper arm: Measure above your elbows, around the fullest part
  • Thighs: While standing, measure around the fullest part of thighs
  • Calves: While sitting, measure around the fullest part

Also, if a measurement tells you are on the right track, it can be a source of motivation for next week to put more effort and energy in the way you have put the previous week.

3. Use a body fat-measuring scale instead of weight

Use a body fat measuring tool to measure fat loss progress

Use a body fat measurement scale that measures body fat through bioelectrical impedance. These are often easily available at your local fitness club or if possible, buy one for your permanent satisfaction and ease. 

Or if that is not possible, you can use an online calculator. These are in fact rough estimates but if you are regularly visiting them online, these can give you accurate assessments given that you save the records of measurement.

4. Use fitness improvement standards for real performance goals. 

Fitness improvement standards

A fat loss measuring instrument is not always the best way to keep yourself on the right fitness track and you need to change your mindset.

For instance, Instead of worrying about weight loss or fat loss, focus on how many more pushups you can add to your previous tally or how much your stamina has improved for exercise.

These are clearly visible and valid achievement assessments that can give you an instant idea of where your fitness is headed.

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