Weight Loss or Fat Loss? It Makes A Difference

Dr. Sears' Blog: Weight Loss or Fat Loss? It Makes A Difference

With the New Year comes the guaranteed resolution for most people to lose weight. Invariably that resolution is usually abandoned some time in February. Part of the reason is that we really don’t know what we are talking about when it comes to weight loss. Weight loss is composed of three separate components: water loss, muscle loss, and fat loss. If you restrict calories, you are going to lose weight. What that weight loss might consist of (water, muscle, or fat) is a very different question.

There are no health benefits to water loss (i.e. dehydration) or muscle loss (i.e. protein deprivation), but there is something magical about fat loss. If you can lose excess body fat, then you are virtually guaranteed to lower blood sugar levels, blood lipid levels, and blood pressure. Not surprisingly, drugs used to reduce blood sugar, blood lipids and blood pressure are the biggest sellers in the country.

Considering the continuing outcry to reverse our obesity epidemic, no one seems to bother to measure fat loss in any clinical trials. This is why you see a lot of research studies published stating it doesn’t matter what diet you follow because if you restrict calories, you will lose weight. I agree with that statement. But if you want better health (not to mention looking better in a swimsuit), then you want to make sure that you are losing fat at the fastest possible rate while conserving muscle mass at the same time. The published clinical studies that have looked at fat loss make it very clear that the anti inflammatory diet is the best dietary strategy to burn fat faster (1-3).

If the moderate-carbohydrate anti inflammatory diet is good, then shouldn’t an even lower-carbohydrate diet like the Atkins diet be better? Not so fast. The published studies comparing the anti inflammatory diet to the Atkins diet make it clear that there are no benefits to consuming a lower-carbohydrate diet that generates ketosis, but there are plenty of negative consequences, such as increased cellular inflammation and decreased capacity for exercise (4,5).

But losing weight is relatively easy compared to keeping it off. That’s why the recent DIOGENES study is so important (6). This study makes it very clear that if you want to keep lost weight off, then your best choice is maintaining a diet that has at least 25 percent of the calories coming from protein, and about 40 percent of the calories coming from low-glycemic carbohydrates. That’s the anti inflammatory diet.

So if your New Year’s resolution is to lose weight (and really lose fat) and keep it off, then the anti inflammatory diet should be your only choice.


  1. Layman DK, Boileau RA, Erickson DJ, Painter JE, Shiue H, Sather C, and Christou DD. “A reduced ratio of dietary carbohydrate to protein improves body composition and blood lipid profiles during weight loss in adult women.” J Nutr 133: 411-417 (2003).
  2. Lasker DA, Evans EM, and Layman DK, “Moderate-carbohydrate, moderate-protein weight-loss diet reduces cardiovascular disease risk compared to high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet in obese adults. A randomized clinical trial.” Nutrition and Metabolism 5: 30 (2008).
  3. Fontani G, Corradeschi F, Felici A, Alfatti F, Bugarini R, Fiaschi AI, Cerretani D, Montorfano G, Rizzo AM and Berra B. “Blood profiles, body fat and mood state in healthy subjects on different diets supplemented with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.” Eur J Clin Invest 35: 499-507 (2005).
  4. Johnston CS, Tjonn SL, Swan PD, White A, Hutchins H, and Sears B. “Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets.” Am J Clin Nutr 83: 1055-1061 (2006).
  5. White AM, Johnston CS, Swan PD, Tjonn SL, and Sears B. “Blood ketones are directly related to fatigue and perceived effort during exercise in overweight adults adhering to low-carbohydrate diets for weight loss: a pilot study.” J Am Diet Assoc 107:1792-1796 (2007).
  6. Larsen TM, Dalskov SM, van Baak M, Jebb SA, Papadaki A, Pfeiffer AF, Martinez JA, Handjieva-Darlenska T, Kunesova M, Pihlsgard M, Stender S, Holst C, Saris WH, and Astrup A. “Diets with high or low protein content and glycemic index for weight-loss maintenance.” N Engl J Med 363: 2102-2113 (2010).

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About Dr. Barry Sears

Dr. Barry Sears is a leading authority on the impact of the diet on hormonal response, genetic expression, and inflammation. A former research scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Sears has dedicated his research efforts over the past 45 years to the study of lipids. He has published 40 scientific articles and holds 14 U.S. patents in the areas of intravenous drug delivery systems and hormonal regulation for the treatment of cardiovascular disease. He has also written 14 books, including the New York Times #1 best-seller, The Zone, which have sold more than 6 million copies in the U.S. and have been translated into 22 different languages.


  1. Mikeb

    Great great creation. This text leads details about weight reduction plus a perfect shape. People want the right as well as a lacking fat body. This post will probably be perfect for all. So, keep sharing.

  2. William Madison

    There are no magic foods. Some foods may help you suppress your appetite a little. Some other foods may slightly increase your metabolic rate. Unfortunately, the effect is miniscule. The only way to really lose fat is to consume fewer calories than you burn. This way your body will tap into the fat stores to get the energy it needs.

    • Barry Sears

      The true secret to permanent fat loss is to reduce calories without hunger or fatigue. Your primary dietary tool is the reduction of insulin resistance in the hypothalamus and dopamine reward system in the Ventral tegmental area of the brain so that fewer calories provide greater appetite suppression and greater dopamine rewards.

    • Barry Sears

      I agree that you have to restrict calories to lose excess fat, but that calorie restriction has be accomplished without hunger or fatigue. That can only be achieved if you are able to control the hormones in the gut, brain, and blood on lifetime basis. One of key of gastric bypass surgery is the change in the levels of gut hormones induced by the surgery. Hormonal control is the key to permanent weight loss, not willpower.

  3. thomasreye

    Thanks for your great creation. Your post leads more info about weight loss and a perfect body shape. Everybody wants a healthy and a fat free body. Your post will be helpful for all. So, keep sharing.

    • Dr. Sears

      Thank you for your kind comment. However, you would like a body with the least amount of excess fat, not a fat-free body. The real goal is a healthy body and that means one with the least amount of excess cellular inflammation.

    • Barry Sears

      The perfect body is one that is optimally functioning. In other words, one that is in the Zone. The clinical markers of the Zone are markers of hormonal control. The levels of body fat and hunger are controlled genetically, but they can be modified by dietary control of hormonal responses.

  4. Rick

    Hi just have a quick question I’m fairly new to cross fit training and I’ll be doing it probably five days a week. I have started the zone diet, and I noticed for my body type I needto eat a five block diet, would you think that is accurate I’m 5’7″ and weigh 162 pounds male, so I chose the five block diet. Do you think five fats is to many!!

    • Barry Sears

      No as you will need the extra fat to provide the calories for repair of the damaged tissue during intensive training.


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