How To Lose Only Fat And Not Muscle

If you are someone who has struggled with weight loss for quite some time, this article is going to break down how you can target fat loss, and more specifically, how to lose only fat and not muscle.

If you are someone who cares about their appearance in the mirror, you are probably looking for that toned, chiseled look.

PS: toned is the dumbest word in the fitness industry.

What may have happened in the past, is that you may have gone on some crash diet, lost the weight, and found that even at your goal weight, you looked great with clothes on, but still had a soft look with no real muscle tone or definition.

This is called skinny fat.

You have effectively lost weight, but not fat. As a matter of fact, your body fat percentage may have even increased.

This is because if you don’t apply the basics of sustainable fat loss, you run the risk of losing muscle, which is NOT what you want.

First, we are going to break down what NOT to do, because it is just as important as what to do.

What NOT to do

#1 Do Not Cut Calories Too Low

We have all heard of this magic 1200 calorie number, and for most people, it’s absolutely ridiculous.

The goal of fat loss is to eat as MUCH food as possible while still losing fat, not as little as possible.


Your metabolism adapts over time to the amount of calories that you give it, therefore, if you start at 1200, hit a plateau, you are going to have to eat below that number to keep going.

You want to start out with a sustainable amount of food, and keep the hunger pangs away as long as possible.

This will mitigate cravings, and keep you from binging.

Your body is smart, and if you starve it, it is going to rebound and you are not going to be able to control your hunger cravings. Hunger hormones were put in place to keep you alive, and in this day and age, we have so much food readily available to us that we need to keep those hunger hormones under control. Eating enough calories is going to make sure you don’t lose muscle, binge, or give up before you reach your goal.

#2 Do Not Rely Only on Cardio

If you are jumping into your weight loss journey by hitting the stair stepper for hours per day, you are making a big mistake.

I know, you see the little calorie counter on the cardio machines and think that you are burning the fat right off of your body, but it just doesn’t work like that.

As a matter of fact, doing too much intense cardio may actually hinder your progress.


Doing cardio actually makes your body more efficient at burning calories, meaning that your body will actually adapt to doing that amount of cardio daily.

It may work in the very short term, but long term, it is not a good idea.

Not only that, doing excessive amounts of cardio is not the best strategy for preserving muscle.

#3 Do Not Rely On Fat Burning Supplements/Fad Diets

If you have been dieting for quite some time, there may be an allure of jumping on something that seems like magic.

Maybe one of your coworkers told you how she lost 40 pounds in 3 months on keto, and that seems too good to be true.

It is.

People who do unsustainable diets are looking for a quick and easy way out, without putting in the work to maintain those results.

This is why millions of Americans who go on keto every year end up gaining that weight back plus some extra.

So yes, it is too good to be true.

Same goes for magic, fat burning supplements. They don’t exist. Even if someone tells you how much their liquid L-carnitine melted the fat off their love handles, it’s just not true. They were in a calorie deficit.

The funny thing is, since most people don’t even know how fat loss works, the placebo affect may have actually cause them to eat healthier and exercise along with their weird supplements, which in turn was the driver of their trimming of the mid-section, not the magic pill.

#4 Just because a food is healthy, does not mean it’s good for fat loss

First of all, lemme say this—there are no good or bad foods!

As long as you are being mindful of calories and eating foods that support your goals, you can fit any food you like into your day.

That being said, there are certain foods that will make it easier to lose fat in a calorie deficit, and foods that make it harder.

You may have heard someone say “I don’t count calories, I just count colors.” Or “Don’t restrict yourself, just eat whole foods.”

While these people mean well, they really aren’t helping.

If you don’t know how many calories are in a food, you are more likely to overeat.

Some of the healthiest foods— nuts, seeds, dried fruits, olive oil, avocados, hummus, tahini…have a high amount of calories.

This is why it’s important to understand that even though I recommend you eat what makes you feel good, it’s important to understand that eating healthy does not mean you are going to lose fat.

You need to be in a calorie deficit, and if you are not tracking calories, you should start.

It’s important to know how many calories your body needs, and what a proper portion of food for your body looks like.

If you want to know how many calories you should be eating for fat loss, check out my free calorie calculator here.

How To Lose Only Fat and Not Muscle (Step by Step)

Now let’s get into what you SHOULD be doing. Pay attention because these are the real tips on how to lose only fat and not muscle…

#1 Be in a slight calorie deficit

When a new online coaching client starts working with me, they are usually not eating enough food.

They are trying to rush the process, and don’t know how to track calories accurately. Remember, the goal of fat loss is to lose fat while eating as much food as possible. This will take longer, but it will make sure that you aren’t losing muscle or strength in the process.

You should be eating right below your maintenance. Your maintenance is the amount of calories your body requires to maintain it’s current weight. Usually a 200-300 calorie deficit is plenty.

If your maintenance is 2,000 calories per day, you would just eat anywhere from 1700-1900 calories per day.

PS: If you haven’t gotten my free calorie calculator yet…wtf are you doing??

#2 Strength training 3-4 times per week

If you aren’t currently strength training, you should be.

Not only will this ensure that you are maintaining muscle and strength as you lean out, but you are actually increasing your metabolism.

Strength training is one of the best ways to burn more calories at rest. Muscle is a metabolically active tissue, which means that the more muscle you have on your frame, the more calories you are burning. This means more food. More food = Happy.

Keep in mind, if you are a female, building muscle does not mean you are going to look like a bodybuilder. It’s actually VERY challenging to build that much muscle and most of them are on very special…supplements. You are not going to get bulky by lifting heavy 3-4 times per week. You are going to fill out your clothes better and accentuate your physique.

Within the guidelines of strength training, here are some general rules:

  • You should be trying to add weight, reps, sets, or time under tension each week (no more pink dumbbells)
  • Your training program doesn’t need to be fancy and have 12 different exercises
  • Most good training programs should take about 45 minutes to 1 hour per session. That’s about 3-4 hours per week. You still think you don’t have time?
  • You should be focusing on using good form and filming yourself
  • Use a good training split for your schedule (most people do well with a push-pull-legs)

#3 Eat high protein

Here are some of the benefits of protein:

  • Most filling macronutrient
  • High TEF (takes a lot of energy for the body to break it down)
  • Very hard for the body to store as fat
  • Muscle gain/retention while losing fat

Aim for around 0.8-1g per pound of bodyweight.

If you have a LOT of fat to lose, a good rule of thumb I use with clients is 1g/lb of goal bodyweight.

Aim for lean protein sources as they are going to get you the most protein for the least amount of calories:

  • Lean ground beef
  • Lean ground turkey
  • Chicken sausage
  • Turkey sausage
  • Chicken breast
  • Ground chicken
  • Tuna
  • Egg whites
  • Fat free greek yogurt
  • Low fat dairy
  • Protein shakes
  • Protein powder
  • Ground bison
  • Lean cuts of steak
  • Lean cuts of pork
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Seitan
  • Lentils
  • Beans

Don’t overthink it, use whatever protein sources you like, but your meals should be centered around a protein source. Aim for 30-40g of protein per meal, and add in a scoop or 2 of protein powder to hit your goal.

PS: if you are looking for some high protein snack ideas check this out.

#4 The 80/20 Approach

This is probably the most important aspect of this entire article.

When you learning how to lose only fat and not muscle, a huge component is not being too restrictive with your nutrition.

The 80/20 approach is simply eating minimally processed, whole foods 80% of the time, while fitting in foods you love 20% of the time.

If you love having a burger and french fries a couple times per week, you can totally do that while still making progress as long as it fits into your calories.

So what does an 80/20 approach look like on a daily basis?

Here’s an example:

  • Breakfast: Protein Oats with blueberries (Whole foods)
  • Lunch: Big salad with grilled chicken, tons of veggies, and Bolthouse farms ranch
  • Snack: Smart pop popcorn and an apple
  • Dinner: Cheeseburger with french fries
  • Dessert: Yasso bar (mint chocolate chip of course)

You can see that this person would be enjoying plenty of fruits, vegetables, fiber, and plenty of micronutrients, while still enjoying a burger and fries.

The more sustainable and realistic your nutrition looks on a daily basis, the more progress you are going to make.

#5 Get your steps up

When learning how to lose only fat and not muscle, one of the greatest tools in your arsenal is walking.

I know, it’s not super exciting, but it is one of the greatest tools in your arsenal.

Here’s why:

  • minimal effort
  • can do it while on a call, listening to a book/podcast, or even working
  • is the least taxing form of cardio
  • is easy to recover from
  • will actually help you recover from heavy lifting days
  • if you do it outside you are getting health benefits, vitamin D, circadian rhythm, grounding
  • the easiest way to burn the most calories

Whenever a new coaching client is struggling with getting their steps in, I send them this list of ways to get them in:

  • Park in the back of the store.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Get a standing desk.
  • 10 minute walk break from work.
  • Walk to the store instead of driving
  • Pace while you chat on the phone
  • Fidget>Standing still

However you get it done, most people will see tremendous fat loss benefits from just walking for 30 minutes to an hour each day.

Conclusion on how to only lose fat and not muscle

There you go! You made it to the end. It wasn’t that bad right? And since you are the kind of person that actually reads entire articles, I think we are going to get along great.

If you are interested in online coaching, you apply here.

Thanks for reading!

If you are a visual learner like myself, here’s a short video:

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