Weight Loss Vs Fat Loss – Understanding Energy Balance

Weight Loss Vs Fat Loss – Understanding Energy Balance

Weight loss vs fat loss, what’s the big deal?

You’ve probably been frustrated by this…

You start a weight loss diet and you lose some weight quickly to begin with.

Then after a week or so the scale won’t budge anymore. And even though the scale is down, you don’t look any different!

That’s because weight loss and fat loss are not the same thing. 

Why does the scale stop moving?

It comes down to energy balance and how energy is stored in the body.

Yes I’m talking about calories in and calories out but not in the way you’re thinking. 

This article I’m going to break it down for you. You’ll learn:

  • why fast weight loss isn’t ideal,
  • how to target fat loss in the body,
  • why quick fixes will never work,
  • how much food is too much and,
  • how to really speed up your metabolism for “faster” fat loss results.


Weight Loss Vs Fat Loss Explained  


If you want a better looking and feeling body, you need to focus on body composition changes, not weight loss.

But Jodie “if only I could lose this much weight I’ll end up with the body of my dreams.”


To change your body composition you need to lose body fat and build muscle.

It’s pretty easy to lose a bunch of weight fast but it won’t necessarily result in you having a leaner, tighter body you feel good in.

Not all weight loss is equal.

5kg of lost fat is going to look very different to what 5kg of lost muscle will. 

Weight loss is simply a result of changes in your body’s energy stores. 

You need to lose energy from stored fat, not muscle to get lean and toned.



Energy is stored in different ways in the body, not just in fat tissue.

Muscle contains energy. Your brain and organs even store energy.

Let’s keep it simple and consider body fat and muscle tissue only. 

Body fat and muscle store different amounts of energy.

That’s why changes in energy stores are not identical to changes in body weight.

And, it’s easier to lose weight faster from muscle than fat.

It costs less energy to lose muscle.

It’s estimated that a pound of fat contains around 3500 calories whereas a pound of muscle contains about 600 calories.

Say you go eat as little as possible for a week to lose weight quickly…

You end up in a calorie deficit of 3500 calories for the week.

If you lose 100% body fat, you would lose 1 pound. If you lose 100% muscle, you would lose about 5 pounds.

But losing 5 pounds of muscle is going to look very different to what losing 1 pound of fat will.

Losing weight quickly is NOT ideal.

You’re chasing the wrong thing if you want fast weight loss but really desire a better LOOKING body.

Note that the initial drop in weight that happens at the beginning of a diet is not muscle or fat. It’s water and glycogen.

It takes more than a few days to lose muscle or fat (in most cases).

Also note that water, which your body can hold onto, obviously has weight and needs to be considered when looking at changes in body weight even though it doesn’t store energy.



Numbers are never that simple when dealing with the human body.

When in a calorie deficit you’re likely going to lose a combination of muscle and fat.

You can’t just assume you need a 3500 calorie deficit for the week to lose 1 pound of fat.

For long lasting weight loss you need to target fat loss.

This means maintaining muscle mass by weight training a few times a week so you ensure most of the weight you’re losing is fat.

If you don’t have much muscle mass (most of you don’t have nearly as much as you think) then you’d be better off to build some muscle whilst losing body fat to start. You can read my article on how to do this here.

This is going to help you look and feel better, even if your weight doesn’t change as much as you’d like.

Programs that encourage a restrictive diet with no exercise whilst promising fast weight loss are setting you up to fail.

You’ll be losing mostly muscle mass and this makes it harder to lose body fat in the future.

Quick fixes will never work. Don’t fall for them.


Weight Loss Vs Fat Loss Explained



To lose weight you need to consume less energy (food) than what your body needs so that it’s forced to use it’s own energy stores.

This is what a calorie deficit is.

How much food you need to be in a calorie deficit will depend on how much energy you use throughout the day.

You can calculate your calorie needs for your goal by downloading the guide on my homepage here.

To really learn how to change your body composition sustainably, you need to understand the energy expenditure side of things too.

This is more than just the amount of exercise you’re doing.

If you understand this, you’ll see why it is so important to get those steps up and eat your protein too.

You’re more likely to do something if you know the purpose for it so let me explain.

Your total daily energy expenditure or TDEE is all the energy your body uses to go about your daily life.

It’s comprised of 4 components:

  • Basal Metabolic Rate/ Resting Metabolic Rate (BMR/RMR)
  • Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)
  • Thermic Effect Of Food (TEF)
  • Exercise Activity (EA)

All of these impact your body composition in different ways.



  • BMR/ RMR

Your body requires energy to keep itself alive even when you’re not doing anything.

This is your RMR.

Your BMR is pretty much the same thing, except it refers to when you’re asleep. RMR makes up about 60-75% of your TDEE depending on how active you are. You can’t really change your RMR. It’s main contributor is your lean body mass (mostly the energy required by your organs and then some from skeletal muscle). Other factors include genetics, gender, age, and hormone levels. The heavier you are the higher your RMR will be.

  • NEAT

You don’t really think about scratching your head, chewing gum or getting up to grab some water.

This is your NEAT. It includes any movement you make that isn’t formal exercise.

Aiming for a step target each day is a way to ensure your NEAT is higher and is especially important when you’re in a deficit. NEAT is the most adaptive component of your TDEE. In other words, you’re likely to subconsciously move around less when your energy availability is lower.

It’s also the most variable component between two people and can have a huge impact on your overall TDEE if you keep it higher (up to around 30% which is greater than formal exercise).

That’s why you should prioritise walking over cardio for fat loss in the beginning. Steps have a far greater effect than you may think.

  • TEF

When you eat food it doesn’t just become fat or get excreted.

It is broken down by your digestive system into its most basic molecular components, then these are absorbed by the body and utilised for different things (or it can be excreted). This all costs energy and the amount of energy required depends on each different macronutrient.

Overall TEF contributes about 10% to your TDEE. However because the different macronutrients vary significantly in their TEF (protein is around 20%, carbs at 6% and fat at 3%), it can increase to around 15% if your diet is higher in protein.

  • EA

Formal exercise obviously requires energy and this varies greatly between individuals.

Your apple watch and other devices are very bad at estimating the amount of calories used during exercise and since this only account for around 5-10% of your TDEE (unless you’re incredibly active like a trained athlete), it really isn’t worth paying much attention to.

You should be exercising to get strong, build muscle or for enjoyment. Focus on getting your NEAT and protein up to help more with fat loss.


Weight Loss Vs Fat Loss Explained



Does having more muscle gives you a faster metabolism?

Yes, to an extent but it doesn’t have the impact you’d think. Muscle only contributes about 20% to your RMR and doesn’t burn much more energy than what fat tissue does.

Perhaps you blame your slow metabolism for weight gain as you get older.

Your metabolism does slow down as you age however, the amount it does isn’t that significant.

Weight gain as you get older is less to do with your metabolism or how much muscle you have, and more to do with your inactivity.

Other than gaining or losing weight, you can’t really alter your RMR.

But you can “increase your metabolism” by increasing your activity especially your NEAT.



If your energy expenditure is higher than your energy intake (calories consumed), then you will lose stored energy from the body which can be water, muscle, fat, glycogen or a combination.

It’s the long term imbalances between energy expenditure and intake that lead to significant changes in the bodies energy stores and thus your body composition.

This is a simplified summary of weight loss vs fat loss and the energy balance equation. It gets more complex when you consider the fact that both sides of the equation are adaptable. But that’s another article in the making.

Thanks for reading!

Ps. If you’d like help transforming your body, you can apply for 1:1 coaching by reaching out here.