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If I'm not losing WEIGHT, am I still losing FAT?

Last Updated: Apr 25, 2014 02:17PM UTC

Article by John Barban

The terms 'fat loss' and 'weight loss' often get used interchangeably, but they shouldn't.
If you lose a pound of fat, then technically you should weigh a pound less. This however is hard to detect if your daily water fluctuation and the amount of food and drinks you have in your body can be as much as 5-7lbs in any given day. If you just drink a few glasses of water you will easily be a pound heavier due to the extra water weight added to your body. Eating a big meal can easily add 3-5 pounds of weight to your body while you're digesting and assimilating the food. These are temporary gains in bodyweight and do not necessarily mean you've gained body mass be it fat or muscle. It's really just food in your gut.

Understanding that your daily body 'weight' can fluctuate 3-5 pounds just from the weight of the food you have eaten it's not surprising that you may not really be able to detect a 1 pound decrease in fat mass. At least not directly on a scale.

Also when you have a significant amount of fat to lose (in excess of 40lbs) you're body will be carrying excess water along with the excess fat. This means that if and when you decide to start cutting fat you will experience a 'weight' loss that exceeds your actual 'fat' loss. As you lose body fat you will also lose a certain amount of excess water retention. This is a good thing as excess water makes you look smooth and bloated and it takes away from your muscular definition.

It's typical for someone to lose twice as much 'weight' as 'fat' in the initial stages of a fat loss cut down. Someone who needs to drop 40lbs will likely see a big weight loss at the beginning. It's a good bet that in the first 2-4 weeks at least 50% of the 'weight' that is coming off is water, the rest is actual fat. This higher ratio of weight loss to fat loss starts to drop as you get to lower body fat percentages.

It seems that as you drop below approx 25% body fat you can assume that most of the actual weight you lose is due purely to fat loss.

Finally when you're close to or below 20% body fat or lower you may notice that you get visibly leaner and can lose fat without seeing your body weight change much at all. At this final stage you will be lean enough that even minor changes in fat levels will make a difference on your visible definition. These changes will be proportionally small when it comes to measurable weight, however the changes they make to your visible definition will be big.

It's true that losing 1 pound of fat when you're body fat is 30% will not even be noticeable, however losing a full pound of fat when your body fat is 20% will make a dramatic difference in your look even if the scale doesn't budge.

Finally your muscle hydration and weight training status will also change how full and heavy your muscles are on a day to day basis. Having fully hydrated and glycogen loaded muscles can dramatically increase your body weight, even if it only lasts for a day or two. This ability of your muscles to swell with water, nutrients and glycogen can also throw off your measurement of fat loss vs weight loss. When you're very lean you can actually lose fat, and even gain weight at the same time. These likely won't be huge swings but it's definitely possible.

In summary:

You can you lose fat without losing weight.

You can even gain weight while losing fat.


If you have lots of fat to lose, you'll start out by losing significantly more weight than is accounted for by fat due to a reduction in water retention…this is a good thing.

When you're approaching 20% body fat and attempting to cut even lower you will likely get leaner without seeing much of a change in body weight. (This odd effect is partly why people think the last 10 pounds are harder to lose.)

In reality you're still losing fat but the total amount of weight that is coming off starts to slow down.

For more great articles like this one, visit John's website at johnbarban.com! :)

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