There is concern that intentional weight loss may generate excessive loss of fat-free mass (FFM). Idealists target minimal loss of FFM, while others consider that FFM loss of up to 25% of weight loss is acceptable. In a cross-sectional study of 275 weight-stable, overweight or obese adults, we used whole-body dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry to measure FFM. A range of models was used to estimate the expected ΔFFM/Δweight ratio required to attain the body composition of a weight-stable individual at a lower body mass index (BMI). Higher BMI was associated linearly with higher FFM in men and women. Proportional ΔFFM/Δweight was influenced by sex, BMI and age. Direct scatter plot analysis, quadratic curve fit modelling and linear FFM–BMI modelling provided similar estimates for each model of ΔFFM/Δweight ratio, with 40% for men and 33% for women. These results show that the 25% rule is inappropriate and our estimates are higher than those generally reported after intentional weight loss indicating favourable preservation of FFM.