Weight loss composition is one-fourth fat-free mass: a critical review and critique of this widely cited rule

Obes Rev. 2014 Apr;15(4):310-21. doi: 10.1111/obr.12143. Epub 2014 Jan 22.


Maximizing fat loss while preserving lean tissue mass and function is a central goal of modern obesity treatments. A widely cited rule guiding expected loss of lean tissue as fat-free mass (FFM) states that approximately one-fourth of weight loss will be FFM (i.e. ΔFFM/ΔWeight = ∼0.25), with the remaining three-fourths being fat mass. This review examines the dynamic relationships between FFM, fat mass and weight changes that follow induction of negative energy balance with hypocaloric dieting and/or exercise. Historical developments in the field are traced with the 'Quarter FFM Rule' used as a framework to examine evolving concepts on obesity tissue, excess weight and what is often cited as 'Forbes' Rule'. Temporal effects in the fractional contribution of FFM to changes in body weight are examined as are lean tissue moderating effects such as ageing, inactivity and exercise that frequently accompany structured low-calorie diet weight loss protocols. Losses of lean tissue with dieting typically tend to be small, raising questions about study design, power and applied measurement method reliability. Our review elicits important questions related to the fractional loss of lean tissues with dieting and provides a foundation for future research on this topic.

Keywords: Body composition; energy expenditure; mathematical model; obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / anatomy & histology
  • Adipose Tissue / pathology*
  • Aging
  • Body Composition*
  • Caloric Restriction
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Exercise
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Obesity / pathology*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Thinness / pathology*
  • Weight Gain
  • Weight Loss*