Cutting vs Losing Weight

Cutting vs Losing Weight: 5 Key Differences that Matter

Cutting is a dietary approach that’s often used by those interested in fitness, as well as bodybuilders and pro athletes, with the intention of losing or cutting their body fat while retaining muscle. 

Cutting is often compared with other diets which are similarly used to lose weight and people might talk about cutting and losing weight as though they’re the same thing. But is cutting the same as just losing weight?

To put it plainly, cutting and losing weight aren’t the same thing. There are fundamental differences between cutting and losing weight. These differences include changes to body composition as well as the types of diets and workouts that these different approaches involve.

Here, I’ve expanded on the 5 key differences between cutting and losing weight so that you can see what these differences are and why they matter.

Also, check out this video which explains about cutting and losing fat:

Is Cutting and Losing Weight the Same Thing?

Cutting and losing weight isn’t the same thing. Cutting is a dietary approach used specifically to cut body fat whilst retaining muscle. This contrasts with other diets where the focus is on the overall loss of body weight.

So, cutting is different from simply losing weight. Although someone might lose weight when cutting, the goal of cutting is specifically to reduce body fat whilst retaining muscle mass. 

This is why cutting is a popular approach amongst athletes, bodybuilders, and those interested in fitness who want to look more shredded or cut weight for an event like a competition.

In comparison, most people have tried to lose weight at some point in their lives. When trying to lose weight the goal is to reduce overall weight, as measured on a scale in pounds or kilograms. 

So whilst someone losing weight might lose body fat, they can also lose water weight and muscle tissue too. 

To expand on this some more, let’s take a look at the 5 key differences between cutting and losing weight.

Cutting vs Losing Weight – 5 Key Differences

When it comes to the difference between cutting and losing weight there are 5 key differences that matter. These are:

  1. Motivation
  2. Changes to body composition
  3. Duration of time
  4. Exercise 
  5. Diet 

1. Motivation

Firstly, the motivations behind losing weight and cutting are different. It might seem like the motivation would be the same, considering they’re both essentially about losing weight. 

However, the difference between cutting and other types of diets is that when cutting the focus is on losing body fat and retaining muscle. This is very different from other diets where the focus is on overall weight loss.

This is because the motivation behind these different approaches isn’t the same. When cutting, most people want to lose body fat in order to look more ripped. They might also be cutting to lose bodyweight for a competition.

In comparison, when people are trying to lose weight their motivation behind it might vary but overall they just want to lose weight on a scale. The focus isn’t necessarily on where that weight comes from, so they can end up losing fat but may also lose muscle. 

2. Body Composition

Secondly, cutting and losing weight also differ when it comes to how they affect body composition. Body composition is a term used to describe the proportion of fat a person has compared with lean tissue such as muscle and bone.

As I’ve already mentioned, when cutting the idea is to lose body fat and retain muscle. This involves changing your body composition to reduce body fat without negatively affecting the amount of muscle tissue.

In contrast, if someone is trying to lose weight they’re usually not bothered about where that weight loss is coming from, so long as they’re losing it! Although they might prefer to lose fat rather than lean tissue, this isn’t the primary focus like it is with cutting.

This means that when losing weight people’s body composition changes in a different way than it does when cutting. So someone losing weight might end up losing weight through muscle loss as well as fat loss.

This is usually the result of excessive calorie deficits that are not sustainable. A calorie deficit on a cut is just a small deficit (200-300 calories) under your maintenance requirement meaning you can maintain muscle tissue much easier. 

A heavy deficit on most generic weight loss programs results in lost muscle tissue and ultimately a worse body composition when the dieting phase is over. It’s better to lose less weight but have the majority come from fat loss than it is to lose total body weight – from an aesthetic standpoint anyway. 

3. Duration

Thirdly, another fundamental difference between cutting and losing weight is the duration of time that these approaches would be done for. 

Cutting is done over a much longer period of time. It is something that is sustainable but not necessarily possible to do long-term. For most people, cutting is done over a couple of months (3-6 months). 

Although this duration varies depending on how much body fat they are aiming to lose and what their body fat percentage is when they start.

The duration of time a person would cut for also varies depending on what they’re doing it for. If someone is cutting to lose weight before an event like a competition then this obviously limits the amount of time they can do it for.

In comparison, weight loss is usually done over a much shorter period of time potentially over a few months if not less. Again, the amount of time a person would want to lose weight over depends on how much they want to lose.

On average, people can safely lose 1-2lb per week. So if they wanted to lose 20kg then they would be losing weight for 5-6 months. 

As well as the duration, cutting and losing weight are different because cutting is temporary. A person might cut down to look more ripped for a competition or to change their body composition for an event, but generally, they don’t stay at this lower body fat percentage.

This is because cutting is a difficult process, and maintaining this lower body fat percentage can be challenging. So, people would gain weight again after they’ve cut down. Generally, this weight is gained through increasing muscle mass also known as bulking.

In contrast to cutting, most people want weight loss to be permanent meaning they wouldn’t want to gain back the weight that they have lost. Although for many people it isn’t permanent (and there are different reasons for this), most people set out to lose weight for good.

4. Exercise

Fourthly, another difference between cutting and losing weight is exercise. Exercise is obviously an important part of dieting and living a healthy lifestyle. 

When cutting, people are aiming to retain their muscles whilst losing fat. As a result, they would focus on exercises that are going to help to build muscle. This means doing resistance training and weight lifting.

Weight lifting has consistently been shown to promote muscle growth. This happens as lifting weights affects the cells within muscles, forcing the body to repair them. This triggers what’s called satellite cells, which fuse to muscle fibers and increase the size of muscles.

This process of affecting the cells and the body repairing them needs to be done continuously for muscle growth to occur.

So when cutting the focus is on weight lifting to stop the loss of muscle mass that can occur when cutting down on calories.

In comparison, when losing weight people don’t need to focus on weight lifting. Typically, if someone is trying to lose weight then they’re going to focus on exercises that are going to burn the most calories. This usually involves forms of cardio like spin or HIIT.

Although you might see people who are trying to lose weight lifting, this isn’t necessarily going to be a primary focus like it is when cutting.

5. Diet

Lastly, cutting and losing weight are very different in terms of diet. 

Both cutting and losing weight involve eating a calorie deficit. This is the fundamental basis of any kind of weight loss: you need to eat fewer calories than you’re using that way your body burns ‘reserves’ like fat.

The amount of calories you need to consume per day varies depending on factors like your gender, as well as your activity levels. For example, those with very active lifestyles need more calories because they’ll burn more throughout the day than those who aren’t very active.

Whilst both cutting and any diet which helps to lose weight will involve a deficit, the make up of these diets is different.

When cutting the idea is to promote muscle growth. So alongside weight lifting, people should have a high protein diet. Having a high protein diet is important for different reasons.

Firstly, protein is crucial for muscle growth as it is a building block of muscles. So to build bigger and stronger muscles people need a high protein diet.

Secondly, protein can boost your metabolism, which helps to burn more calories. This maximizes results from consuming a calorie deficit, meaning better results from cutting.

Thirdly, protein has also been shown to keep people fuller for longer, which makes it a good choice when consuming a calorie deficit as it helps to keep people fuller for longer and reduces cravings.

In comparison, when trying to lose weight what diet a person has really depends on what dietary approach they’re using. Different diets can lead to weight loss and there are plenty of different approaches out there, from low-fat to counting macros.

Generally, the priority when losing weight is on consuming a calorie deficit and the types of foods that a person consumes aren’t as big of a priority.

This isn’t to say that the choice of food doesn’t matter. Obviously, the type of food a person eats has a significant effect on their overall health. However, it’s not the primary focus like it is when cutting.

Most people trying to lose weight will follow a fad or crash diet due to the promise of quick results. I am generalizing here but I bet many people reading this can relate…


Cutting and losing weight are both terminologies that you think mean the same thing when in reality, they are very different. Losing weight is a general term that simply refers to losing weight – meaning when you step on the scale it will show fewer pounds than the time before. 

Cutting on the other hand is a very intentional dieting strategy with a focus on losing body fat whilst maintaining lean muscle mass

For anyone seriously looking to improve their physique, a dedicated cutting phase and strategy should be considered. This is something we take pride in helping with so if you are interested in losing body fat (and not just weight) check out some of these resources below:

When should you start a cut
How long should you be on a cut for
What to do after a cutting phase

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