Weight Loss vs Fat Loss: The True Difference

"To lose FAT, rather than weight, the key is to focus on muscle growth/retention whilst using a moderate calorie deficit."

Weight Loss vs Fat Loss: The True Difference

Image: @elliotbfit

“I’ve simply got to lose weight”, “I don’t like what I’m seeing on the scales”, “Starting tomorrow, my weight loss diet begins”. These are phrases we’ve probably all muttered at some point. But there’s a good chance we’re a little oblivious to the fact that it’s not weight we want to lose, but fat.

It’s logical to assume the two come hand in hand, and in a sense they do, but there’s a crucial difference that fitness coach James Kew has addressed in his latest Instagram post. It’s certainly opened up the eyes of this writer.


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James says a typical diet you put yourself through to help aid weight loss is all well and good, “but a lot of the weight you lose will be muscle, and the end result will be that you look ‘skinny fat’.”

What does a typical weight loss program look like? James’ Instagram post says that if we only have a low intake of protein, engage solely in cardio training (running, cycling, rowing) and don’t include any weight training and put ourselves through the aforementioned crash diet, then it’s realistic to lose weight.

But as he points out, you’ll end up dropping muscle mass at the same time, not ideal if it’s shredded abs you’re after.

“To lose FAT, rather than weight, the key is to focus on muscle growth/retention whilst using a moderate calorie deficit.”

But what can you do to help lose fat, rather than weight? “Weight training and sufficient protein are key”, according to James. However, in conjunction with having a high intake of protein, you also need to put your body through a calorie deficit, whereby you consume fewer calories than the amount your burn through physical activity.

A calorie deficit is different from a crash diet, as you need to calculate the optimum number of calories you need to consume, relative to the number of calories you burn on average each through a combination of physical exercise and rest. Most health and fitness professionals will recommend a maximum calorie deficit of 500, but anywhere between 300 – 500 is seen as an optimum amount to aid with fat loss.

As fitness coach Graeme Tomlinson has previously said,  “When an individual embarks on fat loss, one must enjoy their energy consumption, be aware of energy intake in relation to their energy output, and consistently ensure that they are in a state of caloric deficit,”

“To ensure progress, one may have to change and adjust their dietary habits. But instead of completely radicalising the diet, adherence to change may be more likely if one makes subtle changes over time. For example: consuming the same volume of lower calorie foods and drinks that replicate higher the calorie versions in my experience.”

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