Fat Loss vs. Weight Loss: What Every Dieter Needs to Know


If you had to define what a fad diet is, the easiest way to explain it would be to use the words sheer force. That is, all diet fads work under the same principle: they restrict calories and one or more of the macro nutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) in an effort to force weight off the body. An excellent example is the low carbohydrate diet popularized by the late Dr. Robert Atkins and known as the Atkins diet. In short, the Atkins diet restricts all carbohydrates from the diet. This severely restricts glucose that the brain and skeletal muscles need for function. Thus, with less glucose to fuel the body, body fat is forced to take a different metabolic pathway. Fat fragments combine with one another forming ketone bodies. Ketone bodies provide an alternative fuel source for the body. However, when their production exceeds their use, they accumulate in the blood causing the body to go into ketosis. As a result, the dieter experiences dramatic weight loss, normally within the first few days and usually from a loss of appetite brought on by ketosis.


The example diet fad above may sound like an effective way to lose weight; however, there are two fundamental flaws common to all fad diets like the Atkins diet when we try and lose weight by restricting calories and nutrients:

1. The weight loss is only temporary. Once the dieter goes off the diet and reintroduces all the nutrients and kcalories previously restricted, the dieter gains all the weight back and almost always gains more weight back then at the starting point of the diet. Therefore, the dieter not only ends up right back where they started but in many cases, ends up worse than where they were before.

2. The weight loss is not primarily body fat. Fad diets as in the example of the Atkins diet, cause a reduction in overall weight due to depletion of glycogen, proteins, body fluids, and important minerals. This spells trouble for the dieter because these are all key substances the body needs for function, survival, and growth.

Using again the example of the Atkins diet, studies are now showing fat loss is no greater on a ketogenic diet than compared to other methods for promoting weight loss. This makes such weight loss plans as the Atkins diet not only unnecessary for weight loss but also dangerous because key nutrients are restricted or worse, eliminated.


An effective plan for weight loss should focus on permanent loss of body fat, not weight loss. In order to do this, conditions have to be setup to allow the body to let go of body fat:

1. The body must be provided with all three macro nutrients in the correct ratios. This means we need all of the macro nutrients- carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
2. The caloric consumption must be from foods that deliver nutrients in their purest form that nourish the cells. Consume nutrient dense foods such as raw fruits and vegetables, organic grains, proteins from either plant sources or quality animal sources such as hormone and antibiotic free meat from grass fed cattle and healthy fats like olive oil, chia and flax seeds and Omega 3 rich foods such as fatty fish.
3. Every kcalorie must count: calories consumed must come from a quality source that nourishes and feeds the cells.


We talked about the phenomena of ketosis: that is, when carbohydrates are restricted to the point where the body produces ketone bodies which causes the body to go into ketosis. As a result, weight loss occurs; however, the weight loss is not primarily body fat but rather essential body fluids and proteins-both of which are critical to human health and function. A much more healthy and permanent method that eliminates excess body fat and not valuable body weight is the phenomena of self-regulation.


When the body is well fed and the cells are nourished, conditions are set where the body is able to freely let go of excess body fat. How does this occur? When cells are nourished, the body is free to let go of adipose tissue (body fat) that it was previously holding onto as a result of calorie restriction and nutrient depletion. Since the cells are now being fed with sufficient calories and the nutrients it needs, the body is in a condition where it can let go of the weight it does not need and it will keep what it does need. Thus, the body is able to self-regulate its weight. The result is weight loss in the form of excess body fat while still retaining healthy fat burning muscle tissue, proteins, and vital body fluids. This keeps the metabolism working at optimum performance and keeps excess fat off-permanently.


Let’s look at the table below to contrast weight loss vs. fat loss:


           Weight Loss                 

  • Restricts or eliminates one or more of the macro nutrients to force weight off the body.
  • Restricts kcalories
  • Weight loss is temporary.
  • Nutrients, proteins and vital body fluids  are lost instead of exclusively body fat.

             Fat Loss                  

  • Provides all three macro nutrients in correct ratios for body function and growth.
  • Kcalories are not restricted.
  • Processed foods are eliminated and the body receives nutrients in their purest form. As a result, the cells are nourished.
  • Weight loss is permanent.
  • Weight loss is exclusively body fat.
  • Since the body’s cells are being nourished, the body does not need to conserve excess body fat.

As you can see from the table, it makes much more sense to follow a diet plan where sufficient calories of the highest quality are ingested that provide all three of the macro nutrients as well as the vitamins and minerals the body needs. This is all we need to provide for the body to release excess fat. Combine this with sensible activity 4-5 days a week and you will see the body fat come off–permanently and safely. And just like all diet fads, counterproductive diet plans like the zero carbohydrate diet will be history.


Ellie Whitney, S. R. (2015). Understanding Nutrition. Stanford, CT: Cengage.
Kolodziejski, K. (n.d., n.d n.d). Why Aren’t Fad Diets Effective for Long-Term Weight Loss? Retrieved from SFGATE: http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/arent-fad-diets-effective-longterm-weight-loss-9700.html
Renee A. Alli, M. F. (2012, 02 02). ‘Dieting’ doesn’t work, but a healthy weight loss plan will help you reach your goal. Retrieved from WebMD: http://fit.webmd.com/teen/food/article/fad-diet-myth

James Torro
James A. Torro is a former certified fitness instructor and is currently a nutrition major. He earned his MBA from the University of Scranton and lives in Tampa, Florida with his wife and two children.