While weight loss can include reduced weight from stored carbs, protein, water, and fat, fat loss includes only weight loss from fat. Fat loss typically occurs at a slower rate.

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If you’re like most people, you may be eager to know when you can expect to see results after embarking on your weight loss journey.

At the same time, you may want to know whether the weight you’re losing is coming from fat rather than muscle or water.

This article reviews the stages of weight loss, the difference between weight loss and fat loss, and tips for preventing weight regain.

Weight loss generally occurs in two stages — an early, rapid weight loss stage followed by a slower, longer period of weight loss.

In some cases, weight loss may plateau. This is when it may become challenging to prevent weight regain.

Stage 1: Rapid weight loss

The first stage of weight loss is when you tend to lose the most weight and begin to notice changes in your appearance and how your clothes fit. It usually happens within the first few weeks.

In the beginning, your weight loss will be mostly due to water loss. For example, if you’re following a low carb diet, it will result in less water being stored in your body and a net loss of water. How you’ll lose weight after that depends on your specific diet plan.

Weight loss tends to happen more rapidly in people who follow a low carb diet than in those who follow a low fat diet, as those on a low carb diet deplete their body’s carb stores faster, along with water.

But in the long term, the research remains mixed on whether a low carb or keto diet offers an advantage for overall weight loss over a low fat diet.

Factors other than diet, including your age, sex, starting weight, and physical activity level, can also influence your rate of weight loss.

For example, men are likely to lose weight more quickly than women and older adults may lose weight more quickly than younger adults.

Additionally, you’re likely to lose weight more quickly if you have a higher starting weight and exercise more often.

Stage 2: Slow weight loss

In the second stage (usually after the first few weeks), weight loss occurs at a much slower rate and will usually be due mostly to fat loss.

At times, you may experience a weight loss plateau during which you lose little to no weight.

Weight loss plateaus can occur due to metabolic adaptations that decrease your metabolism and the number of calories you burn while exercising.

However, weight loss plateaus more commonly happen because some diets may be overly restrictive and hard to follow, causing people to deviate from them.

It’s important to follow a dietary pattern that fits your lifestyle and preferences so that you can stick with it long-term.

In either case, you’ll likely need to adjust your diet and lifestyle over time to reach your goal.

While the terms “weight loss” and “fat loss” are often used interchangeably, they have different meanings.

Weight loss is a decrease in overall body weight from stored carbs, protein, water, and fat, while fat loss is weight loss only from fat.

Fat loss is a healthier goal than weight loss since weight loss may include water and muscle loss.

Maintaining muscle is important for supporting healthy blood sugar levels, managing inflammation, and maintaining your mobility as you age.

While a standard scale can’t differentiate between weight loss and fat loss, you can increase the likelihood of fat loss by eating plenty of protein and creating a calorie deficit by engaging in more physical activity and reducing your overall calorie intake.

The evidence to support dieting for sustainable weight loss is far from convincing.

A 2018 review cited an older review of 29 studies, which found that participants who lost weight through dieting regained more than half the weight they lost within 2 years, and by 5 years, they had regained more than 80% of the weight they lost.

However, these statistics shouldn’t prevent you from focusing on your diet and losing weight to improve your health or self-image.

Besides, diets are only effective if they allow you to develop sustainable, healthy behaviors.

Here are some dietary and lifestyle tips that may help prevent weight regain:

  • Engage in self-monitoring behaviors such as tracking your diet and exercise: Tracking your calorie intake and exercise increases your awareness of your behaviors and how they affect your weight loss goals.
  • Find physical activities you enjoy: Exercise can come in many forms, such as biking, walking, swimming, taking the stairs, and playing outdoors with your kids. Find an activity you enjoy and do it often.
  • Try to keep healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, available at home: If you have more nutritious foods at home instead of highly processed snacks like chips and soda, the decision to eat healthily is already made for you.
  • Prioritize sleep and try to reduce stress however possible: A lack of sleep and many of life’s stressors can sabotage your weight loss goals. Work on establishing healthy sleep habits and try to learn ways to ease your worry about things you can’t control.
  • Fill your plate with whole foods: Choose whole, minimally processed foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats whenever possible. These foods can help keep you feeling full and provide your body with the necessary nutrients to support weight loss and your health.

What is the hardest stage of weight loss?

The second weight loss stage is likely to be harder because your weight loss will be slower. This is also the stage where many people hit a weight loss plateau.

Which body part loses fat first?

Where you lose fat first depends on many factors, such as your genetics, sex, and age. While the research is conflicting, experts mostly agree that you cannot target a specific body part to lose weight through exercise.

However, some research suggests that men typically lose weight in their abdominal area, while women tend to see more weight loss in their hips.

Women in postmenopause and men in middle age, in particular, tend to gain weight around their abdomen, which suggests they may see weight loss in this area at first.

Learn more about where you lose weight first.

What is the physiology of burning fat?

When you’re exercising, your body breaks down stored fat, known as triacylglycerol, via a process called lipolysis. This causes the release of free fatty acids (FFAs) into your bloodstream, which are transported to your tissues for energy.

As your muscles use more energy and need increased blood flow, the FFAs enter the mitochondria of your muscle cells and are burned off. The shrinking of fat cells occurs over time when their contents are released and used for energy by your muscle cells.

You tend to lose the most weight and notice the most significant physical changes during the first weight loss stage.

During the second stage of weight loss, you lose weight more slowly, but the weight you lose comes primarily from fat rather than stored carbs, protein, and water.

The most important factor in weight loss is adopting sustainable and healthy dietary and exercise habits that you can maintain in the long term.