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What is the Difference Between Fat and Flab?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There are several definitions for the term "flab," but most agree that it is soft, fatty, hanging tissue on various parts of the body, particularly noticeable in the mid-body and on the arms. Possibly the main difference between fat and flab is that flab is the visible result of fat. On the other hand, some people view flab as the soft hanging skin that may result after people have lost significant weight. Loose skin is a problem for many people who lose a lot of weight, and there are disagreements on how best to correct this issue.

For the most part, loose, flabby skin contains fat, making it looser and more noticeable. Flab is also possibly an expression of poor muscle tone. When people do not have enough muscle mass, the surrounding tissue may look loose and untoned. Flabbiness can be a combination of the two, where extra body fat combined with poor muscle tone creates a saggy, and in many people’s estimation, unflattering appearance.

When diet experts or fitness gurus discuss fat and flab, they typically state that people are less flabby when they have smaller underlying fat cells. In order to get rid of flab, the thing to do is reduce fat levels in the body and increase muscle tissue simultaneously. This strategy may work well, especially if people have only carried weight for a short time, such as during a pregnancy, and particularly when people are under 30.

If flab is due to skin that has been stretched out, particularly for long periods time, the medical community often suggests that even large and healthy amounts of fat loss will still leave residual flab or hanging skin. Some fitness experts believe that even in people with reduced collagen and elastin, this hanging skin can be reduced with additional fat loss and building of lean muscle mass. According to some, fat and flab can still be lost simultaneously.

There is disagreement as to whether such methods may work, and many people opt for surgical removal of flabby areas, especially after pronounced weight loss. Many people opt for this remedy because the flab may remain despite the patient's best efforts, and may be unsightly and uncomfortable. Presently, there are few studies that account for how much of “flab” or loose skin removed contains actual fat, and if this type of fat reduction improves appearance. Generally, the medical community suggests exercise and diet for people with a small amount of fat and flab, but might recommend surgical measures for removal of a lot of skin after large amounts of weight loss.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon995889 — On Jun 06, 2016

People need to stop focusing on age. There are teenagers who have loose skin and have every bit as much as a problem as middle aged adults. The loose skin is just an issue for quite a few people. Its not a metabolic issue but a cosmetic one. The best way to reduce loose skin as much as possible is strength training, as opposed to heavy cardio. Building muscle helps tighten the skin around it. I had a flabby chest and lifting weights tightened many of the problem areas for me. Wearing compression garments actually do help over time move skin. If you are still not happy with it, surgery is the only last option. But that is really nit picking . Many people can fix the most noticeable areas without surgery.

By anon946178 — On Apr 17, 2014

Being fit and healthy seems to be the best, preferable choice, if possible. After significant weight loss, there often will be flab (loose skin) that remains. If a cosmetic or plastic surgeon pinches this loose skin and mistakes it or fat, (performing liposuction to remove fat - "fat" that is actually flab), your skin may be grafted onto your underlying structure. This skin grafting, or skin adherence is extremely painful; it limits mobility; it will likely be permanent, and it can be disabling.

By golf07 — On May 20, 2011

@julies - I totally agree with what you said about keeping your muscles toned. For years I was faithful at an exercise program and loved using The Firm videos. Life somehow got crazy and I did not exercise for 8 months. I could feel such a big difference in my muscle tone and strength. It did not happen over night, but was a gradual process.

I have slowly started my exercise program back again, and can't believe how much better I feel. When I start get toned muscles I find that I have more energy, strength and just feel more in control of my body.

By julies — On May 19, 2011

Seems like the older you get, the harder it is to fight the flab. I have heard that in women, the arms and the stomach are two areas that we need to concentrate on the most. Losing weight can help, but using some kind of strength training can make the biggest difference.

If you have had kids that makes losing the belly fat even harder - not impossible, but harder. Things never seem to be quite the same. I think of fat and flab as being pretty much the same thing, and that by keeping your muscles toned can help with that. You don't want to put on too much muscle, but I can tell a big difference when I am not toned up.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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