The separate effects of energy restriction and weight loss on serum lipids were studied in 24 postmenopausal moderately obese women before and after weight loss of greater than 10 kg to normal weight. Fasting serum triglycerides (TGs), total cholesterol (TC), high-density-lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and insulin were measured at the end of four 10-d in-hospital phases, two before and two after weight loss: phase I, stable weight; phase II, 3350 kJ/d(800 kcal/d), followed by outpatient weight loss; phase III, 3350 kJ/d (800 kcal/d); and phase IV, stable weight. Diet composition and exercise were constant the entire study. Energy-restriction effect was determined by comparing average values in stable-weight phases (I and IV) with low-energy phases (II and III); weight-loss effect was determined by comparing values in obese phases (I and II) with reduced-weight phases (III and IV). Energy restriction lowered TG, TC, LDL cholesterol, the LDL-HDL cholesterol ratio, and insulin and raised HDL cholesterol (all P less than 0.05). Weight loss lowered TG, TC, LDL cholesterol, and insulin (all P less than 0.01) but did not change HDL cholesterol or the LDL-HDL cholesterol ratio. The results suggest that reduction to a weight-steady nonobese state significantly lowers TG, TC, and LDL cholesterol but does not improve HDL cholesterol or the LDL-HDL cholesterol ratio.