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Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss – Recognize The Differences

Weight loss and fat loss are not the same. It is often not sufficient to only consider the number on the scale, as fat loss and weight loss are significantly more complex. Various factors play a role in the number on the scale. For example, it may happen that more water is stored in the muscles because more carbohydrates or salt have been consumed.

Of course, the time of day of the measurement also plays an important role. In the evening, due to gastrointestinal contents, the scale can show 2-3 kilograms more than in the morning.

Factors Influencing Weight Loss

Weight loss is by no means equivalent to the breakdown of fat.

This has various reasons. It can occur that the weight on the scale changes significantly without any fat loss.


The following factors influence body weight:

1. Water Retention

Since our body consists of approximately 70% water, fluctuations in fluid balance can have enormous effects on our weight. Fluid balance, in turn, is strongly influenced by various factors, such as salt consumption the day before.

The amount of carbohydrates consumed also affects weight, as each gram of carbohydrate binds about 2.7g of water in the body. The phase of the menstrual cycle also plays an important role for women, as the female body retains significantly more water in the days before menstruation for hormonal reasons.

Alcohol, on the other hand, has a dehydrating effect, which is why one can quickly weigh a few kilograms less on the scale the next day after alcohol consumption.

muscle building

2. Muscle Breakdown or Muscle Building

Muscle tissue is significantly heavier than fat. While fat weighs only 0.94 grams, muscles weigh 1.05 grams per cubic centimeter. This is because muscles have a denser structure, and the water content in muscle tissue is significantly higher than in fat tissue.

Therefore, muscles are approximately 12.5% heavier than fat for the same volume.

It is very common for muscle to be broken down during a diet. This can be avoided by consuming enough protein and engaging in regular strength training (3-5 times per week).

Depending on the muscle and fat composition of a person, the weight of two people on the scale can be exactly the same, but their outward appearance can be fundamentally different if their muscle and fat composition differs significantly.

3. Stomach and Intestinal Content

The type and quantity of food, as well as the composition of meals, influence the weight on the scale. If less food and fluid is consumed, the contents of the stomach and intestines decrease.

Conversely, voluminous food or more fluid can quickly add a few kilograms to the scale. The fiber content in the diet also plays an important role, as fiber absorbs water in the stomach and is digested more slowly.

Factors That Influence Fat Loss

calorie deficit

1. Caloric Deficit

In fat loss, nutrition is the most significant influencing factor. Fat loss can be quickly sabotaged by overeating. On the other hand, it is much more difficult to compensate for poor nutrition through more intense training at the gym.

Regardless of which dietary approach one chooses, the most important thing is to be in a caloric deficit when aiming to burn fat.

This means that the balance between expenditure and intake must be negative. It is best to aim for a combination of reduced calorie intake and increased expenditure through more exercise or daily activity.

2. Training and Exercise

Every individual burns a different number of calories at rest, depending on body size, weight, age, and body composition (fat and muscle). Having more muscle mass means the body burns more energy even at rest.

Sufficient strength training and muscle building thus favor fat loss. Another factor for fat burning is aerobic exercise. This can be any activity that raises the heart rate, such as power walking, hiking, using an elliptical machine, playing tennis, or skiing. Ultimately, it depends on the overall balance, considered on a weekly or monthly average.

How To Recognize Fat Loss

waist measure

1. Reduced Body Measurements

By measuring precise body measurements at the same locations approximately every 2-3 weeks, one can determine if the body composition has changed.

However, measurements should always be taken at the exact same location to avoid distortions. Always look for trends in a positive direction. It requires a lot of accuracy and precision, so measurements should always be taken by the same person, under the same conditions (time of day, empty stomach, etc.).

Here is an example of how you can take your measurements:

how to measure circumferences

2. Mirror Image Changes


Our appearance is the best indicator of whether our body composition has changed for the better. However, physical changes often take longer and do not occur after just a few weeks of dieting. As a beginner, you may see rapid changes after a few weeks, but the more advanced you become, the slower the physical changes occur.

It is advisable, for example, to take a photo every 2-3 months and compare them over time.

Again, always ensure consistent conditions (angle, lighting, perspective, time of day, camera, etc.). Clothing size is also a clear indicator of whether fat loss has occurred.

weight loss

Key Take-Aways For Measuring Fat Loss

Losing weight does not automatically mean losing fat. Effective reduction of body fat requires a longer period in a caloric deficit. A combination of calorie reduction with proper strength training and sufficient daily activity has proven to be the best strategy.

Regarding measurability, subjective methods (mirror image, appearance, feeling of well-being, etc.) should always be combined with objective measurement methods (scale, measurements, body fat measurement, clothing sizes, etc.).

It's important not to give up after just 2-3 weeks of dieting.

Give a new approach at least 2 months to evaluate whether it works for you.

Achieve your fitness goals now through personalized guidance from your online nutritional and fitness coach. Book a call now! 

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Sources Of Information

  • Aragon, Alan A., et al. "International society of sports nutrition position stand: diets and body composition." Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 14.1 (2017): 1-19.

  • Wang, Zimian, et al. "Resting energy expenditure-fat-free mass relationship: new insights provided by body composition modeling." American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology And Metabolism 279.3 (2000): E539-E545.

  • Ryan, Alice S., and Aruna Selina Harduarsingh-Permaul. "Effects of weight loss and exercise on trunk muscle composition in older women." Clinical interventions in aging 9 (2014): 395.

  • Villareal, Dennis T., et al. "Weight loss, exercise, or both and physical function in obese older adults." New England Journal of Medicine 364.13 (2011): 1218-1229

  • Sardeli, Amanda V., et al. "Resistance training prevents muscle loss induced by caloric restriction in obese elderly individuals: a systematic review and meta-analysis." Nutrients 10.4 (2018): 423.


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