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The different stages of losing weight

Fat loss vs. weight loss

When can you expect to see results after embarking on a weight loss journey? This article explains the stages of weight loss and the difference between weight loss and fat loss.

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
We look at both sides of the argument and strive to be objective, unbiased, and honest.
Last updated on February 15, 2023, and last reviewed by an expert on November 7, 2022. Your Custom Keto Diet →

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 also want to know whether the weight you lose comes 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.

Stages of weight loss

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

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 4–6 weeks.

Most weight loss in this stage comes from carb stores, protein, and water — and to a lesser extent, body fat.

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

However, in the long term, the research remains mixed as to 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 more likely to lose weight quicker than women, and older adults may lose weight quicker than their younger counterparts, although some of this weight loss may be muscle.

At the same time, you’re likely to lose weight quicker if you have a higher starting weight and exercise more frequently.

Stage 2 — Slow weight loss

Weight loss in the second stage occurs much slower, but it primarily comes from body fat, generally after 6 weeks and beyond.

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

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

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However, weight loss plateaus more commonly occur because many diets are overly restrictive and hard to follow, causing people to deviate from them.

As such, following a dietary pattern that fits your lifestyle and preferences is essential to stick with it long term.

Either way, you’ll likely need to adjust your diet and lifestyle to reach your goal.

Summary: Weight loss occurs in two phases — a rapid weight loss phase followed by a slower one. You’ll notice the most significant physical changes in the rapid weight loss phase.

Fat loss vs. weight loss

While weight loss and fat loss are often used interchangeably, they have different meanings.

Weight loss refers to decreased body weight from stored carbs, protein, water, and fat.

Conversely, fat loss refers to weight loss from fat.

Fat loss is a healthier goal than weight loss, as weight loss may include water and muscle losses.

Maintaining muscle is vital for supporting healthy blood sugar levels, controlling inflammation, and maintaining mobility as you age.

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

Summary: All fat loss is weight loss, but not all weight loss is fat loss. Fat loss is a healthier goal, as it prioritizes fat loss rather than muscle or water loss.

Weight loss maintenance strategies

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

Suggested read: The 20 best ways to lose weight after 50

One older review of 29 studies found that participants who lost weight through dieting regained more than half of 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:

Summary: Developing and maintaining healthy dietary and lifestyle habits are the keys to preventing weight regain.


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

Suggested read: 15 common mistakes when trying to lose weight

During the second stage of weight loss, you lose weight at a slower pace, but the weight you lose comes primarily from fat rather than stored carbs, protein, and water.

The most essential weight loss factors include adopting sustainable and healthy dietary and exercise habits you enjoy doing in the long term.

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