What are the stages of weight loss?


If you’re like most people, you might want to know when you can expect to see results after starting your weight loss journey.

At the same time, you might also want to know if the weight you are losing is from fat rather than muscle or water.

This article reviews the steps in weight loss, the difference between weight loss and fat loss, and tips for avoiding weight gain.

Weight loss usually occurs in two stages – a stage of early and rapid weight loss followed by a period of slower and longer weight loss (1).

Step 1 – Rapid weight loss

The first step in losing weight is when you tend to lose the most weight and start to notice changes in the way you look and the way your clothes fit. This usually happens within the first 4-6 weeks (1).

Most of the weight loss at this point comes from carbohydrate, protein and water stores and, to a lesser extent, body fat.

Weight loss tends to occur more quickly in people who follow a low-carb or keto diet than those who follow a low-fat diet, as they deplete their body’s carbohydrate stores faster, as well as ‘water (2).

However, over the long term, research remains mixed as to whether a low-carb or keto diet offers an advantage for overall weight loss compared to a low-fat diet (3, 4, 5).

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

For example, men are more likely to lose weight faster than women, and older people can lose weight faster than their younger counterparts, although some of that weight loss may be muscle (6, seven).

At the same time, you will likely lose weight faster if you start at a higher weight and exercise more frequently.

Step 2 – Slow Weight Loss

The weight loss in the second stage occurs at a much slower rate, but mostly comes from body fat, usually after 6 weeks and beyond (1).

Sometimes you may experience a weight loss plateau where you lose little or no weight.

Plateaus of weight loss can occur due to metabolic adaptations that decrease your metabolism and the number of calories you burn during exercise (8).

However, weight loss plateaus occur more frequently because many diets are too restrictive and difficult to follow, causing people to deviate from them (9).

As such, it’s important to follow a diet that matches your lifestyle and preferences so that you can stick with it for the long term.

Either way, you will likely need to adjust your diet and lifestyle over time to achieve your goal.


Weight loss takes place in two phases: a phase of rapid weight loss followed by a phase of slower weight loss. The phase of rapid weight loss is when you will notice the most significant physical changes.

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

Weight loss refers to a decrease in overall body weight from stored carbohydrates, protein, water, and fat.

Conversely, fat loss refers to the loss of weight due to fat.

Losing fat is a healthier goal than losing weight, as weight loss can include water and muscle loss (ten).

Maintaining muscle is important for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, controlling inflammation, and maintaining your mobility as you age (11, 12).

While a standard scale cannot tell the difference between weight loss and fat loss, you can increase the likelihood of weight loss as fat by eating a lot of protein and creating a calorie deficit by exercising more. of physical activity and reducing your overall calorie intake. (13, 14).


All fat loss is weight loss, but not all weight loss is fat loss. Fat loss is a healthier goal because it prioritizes fat loss over muscle or water loss.

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

An older review of 29 studies found that participants who lost weight through diet regained more than half the weight they lost in 2 years, and by 5 years they had regained more than 80% of the weight they had lost (15).

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

Moreover, diets are only effective if they allow the development of healthy and sustainable behaviors.

Here are some diet and lifestyle tips that can help prevent weight gain (16, 17, 18, 19):

  • Practice self-monitoring behaviors, such as monitoring your diet and exercise. Tracking your calorie intake and exercise increases self-awareness of your behaviors and how those behaviors affect your weight loss goals.
  • Find an activity that you enjoy. Exercise comes in many forms, such as riding a bike, walking, swimming, climbing stairs, or playing outside with your children. Find an activity that you enjoy and do it often.
  • Have healthy foods like fruits and vegetables available at home. If you have more healthy foods like fruits and vegetables in your home instead of highly processed snacks like crisps and soda, the decision to eat healthy is already made for you.
  • Focus on sleep and reduce stressors over which you are in control. Lack of sleep and many life stressors can sabotage your weight loss goals. Establish healthy sleep patterns and try to learn ways to ease your worries about things you can’t control.
  • Fill your plate with whole foods. Choose whole, minimally processed foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. These foods can help you feel full and provide your body with the nutrients it needs to support weight loss and your health.


Developing and maintaining healthy eating and lifestyle habits are the keys to preventing weight gain.

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

In the second stage of weight loss, you lose weight at a slower rate, but most of the weight you lose comes from fat rather than stored carbohydrates, protein, and water.

The most important weight loss factors include adopting sustainable, healthy eating and exercise habits that you enjoy doing over the long term.

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