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Water Weight vs. Fat

Written on January 18, 2024 by Jordan Stachel, MS, RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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When people are monitoring their weight, they may be particularly attuned to their body composition and the various metrics associated with it. Two such metrics are water weight and body fat. Read this article for everything you need to know about water weight vs. fat.

What Is Water Weight?

Water weight is when there is excess fluid in your body. Because the body contains around 60% water, there will always be some water weight needed for the body’s functioning.[1] While diet and lifestyle habits can cause minor water weight changes, there are also more severe water weight conditions, typically referred to as edema. Edema can present as swollen ankles, feet, and legs and may impair one’s ability to engage in activities of daily living.[1] If you have edema, a healthcare provider can aid in helping you manage it.

Water retention can be caused by several factors. Some of these include sitting for long periods, hormonal changes, hydration levels, and medical conditions.[2] This water retention can present with several symptoms, including bloating, swelling of the limbs, puffiness, and stiffness.

The remedies for water retention will vary based on the cause of the retention. Some of the common remedies include limiting salt intake, balancing out sodium levels with other micronutrients, elevating your feet, wearing compression socks, and wearing tighter-fitting clothes.[2] Because water retention can be uncomfortable to live with, it is important to get to the root cause to help remedy the condition.

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What Is Fat Mass?

Fat is a stored form of energy that is also known as adipose tissue. Fat tissue releases certain types of hormones that control metabolism, like leptin.[3] Fat cells can grow in size and number, but the amount of fat you have is determined after birth and during puberty. However, if you gain weight as an adult, fat cells can grow. If you lose weight as an adult, fat cells shrink in size but not in number.

There are also different types of body fat. These include brown fat, a type of fat that is stimulated by the cold to make us warm. Thus, in colder temperatures, the body will burn brown fat to warm your body. There is also white fat, which is the most common type of fat and is used for fat storage. This white fat is what is known as adipose tissue. There is also beige fat, which is white fat that can be converted in its function to have similar properties as brown fat. Lastly, there is pink fat, which is white fat that is converted during pregnancy and breastfeeding to help produce breast milk.[3]

How to Distinguish Between Water Weight Versus Fat Weight

So, how do you distinguish between water weight vs. fat mass? If you want to lose weight, you can track your weight loss, whether it be from water or fat. This can be done using a body composition analysis scale, which can track several physiological measures. Some of these include fat mass, water weight, bone density, and basal metabolic rate.[4]

If you want to lose water weight, as noted above, the solution will depend on the cause of the water retention. If you want personalized guidance on managing water weight, contact a qualified healthcare provider.

To lose fat mass, you can take several steps. This will be an individualized journey tailored to you and your unique needs. Some helpful tips for jumpstarting a fat-loss regimen include [4]:

  • Creating a deficit: To lose fat mass, you need to create a caloric deficit. To do this safely, it is always best to consult a qualified healthcare provider, such as a dietitian, so that you are comfortable, satisfied, and well-balanced during this process.
  • Getting enough nourishment: While you are in a caloric deficit, it is important to get enough nutrients in. It is especially important to get enough protein, as protein feeds lean muscle mass, helping your body to feel safe in a deficit.
  • Movement: Finding a movement routine that works for you and your body is essential for aiding fat loss. Adults should get between 150-300 minutes of cardio-based movement per week. Among other things, this will help preserve your muscle mass.

Support Your Physiological Health With Everlywell

Through our weight management program, Everlywell has the tools and expertise needed to support your weight loss journey. Our services are discreet and home-based, and we provide access to licensed clinicians to guide your care plan. The program includes quarterly lab tests for most participants, lifestyle content, and, if recommended by a healthcare provider, prescriptions.

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  1. Fluid retention: What it can mean for your heart. Harvard Health. Published December 16, 2019. Accessed January 15, 2024.
  2. Edema. Cleveland Clinic. Last reviewed May 17, 2022. Accessed January 15, 2024.
  3. Body fat. The Nutrition Source. Published February 2, 2023. Accessed January 15, 2024.
  4. Leidy HJ, Clifton P, Astrup A, et al. The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015;101(6):1320S-1329S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.084038. Accessed January 15, 2024.

Jordan Stachel, MS, RDN, CPT is most fulfilled when guiding others towards making stepwise, sustainable changes that add up to big results over time. Jordan works with a wide variety of individuals, ranging in age from children to the elderly, with an assortment of concerns and clinical conditions, and has written for publications such as Click hereInnerbody. She helps individuals optimize overall health and/or manage disease states using personalized medical nutrition therapy techniques.

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