Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss (Why To Focus on the Latter)

People often use “weight loss” and “fat loss” interchangeably, because they correlate these terms towards the same type of goal – to look skinnier, be leaner, feel better, all of that. I like to distinguish between the two, and let me explain why.

Weight loss means just that – to lose weight without caring about what part of your body composition is being lost and the focus is solely on the number on the scale decreasing. There’s no distinguishing between what is lost (fat, muscle, water weight) – just simply weight itself. Fat loss, on the hand, is losing fat without decreasing muscle mass and there is less emphasis on a person’s weight.

Calculating weight is easy. You just step on a scale and you get a number. Fat, specifically one’s body fat percentage, is calculated in 2 popular ways:

  1. Caliper: This tool pinches the fat in 3 areas on your body (abdominals, triceps, and back) and adds up those numbers in millimeters and is calculated with your age, weight, and height.
  2. Bioelectrical Impedance: Some scales have this and some gyms have a game controller-looking device that you input your age, weight, and height. Then you hold that controller out, press start, and it sends an electrode through your body and see how quickly it goes from one end of the controller’s handles to the other.

There are other ways to calculate body fat percentage, some involving underwater hydrostatic weighing, air-displacement weighing, 3D body scans, and x-rays. These methods are definitely more costly and not as easily accessible, which is why I’m only focusing on the top two options.

Body fat percentages can tell you so much more information than someone’s weight. Men and women have differences in what is typical so I created this chart below so you can see which category you might fall in:

Men Women

Essential Fat

2 – 5%

10 – 13%


6 – 13% 14 – 20%
Fitness 14 – 17%

21 – 24%

Average 18 – 24%

25 – 31%

Obese 25% +

32% +

Nowadays, you’ll find lots of body positive advocates who are toned and fit, yet they weigh what they believe to be an arbitrary number. Because it’s really not what’s on the scale. The focus should not on the number, but rather on how you feel, whether your clothes feel looser, and measurements.

Whenever I get asked what my fitness goals are, I don’t give people a “goal weight” (I actually dislike that term a lot) or how many pounds I want to lose. Instead, I say I want to lose 5% body fat or I want to achieve 18% body fat within a year. I set myself realistic goals that aren’t based on weight. A couple years ago, I would have been obsessed with being below a certain weight. Now, I could care less about that number and instead I want to focus on how I look and build my confidence through building muscle.

Next time you freak out about the number on the scale – please don’t! Instead, go to your local gym (if you have a membership) and ask to calculate your body fat percentage. Most will do that for you for free. If you’re without a gym membership and do all your workouts at home, there are some resources online to help you calculate your body fat percentage based on your measurements. You’ll just need a measuring tape!

xx Sam

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