You are putting in the effort to lose weight and you notice you are losing inches but not weight. Is there something wrong or is that the way weight loss can go?
There are many reasons why you may be losing inches but not weight. Sometimes you can lose inches without losing fat. However, often losing inches but not weight means that you’re losing some fat but that your weight just fluctuates.
How important is weight?
The term “weight loss” implies that seeing the number on the scale go down is the most important thing happening. If you think about it that’s not what most people are after.
Chances are that you want to lose body fat. Excess body fat is the thing that harms your health, the thing that makes you tired.
Losing weight is not always the same as losing body fat. Just like gaining weight is not always because of gaining body fat.
Seeing this in action with a little experiment can make you understand this better. Step on the scale. Not down the number. Drink a liter of water. Step on the scale again.
You will notice that in the span of 10 minutes you gained 2.2 pounds or 1 kg. This change in weight has nothing to with gaining fat and you probably didn’t gain any inches either. It was simply because you drank water.
The advantage of weighing is that it’s easy to do but it doesn’t represent fat loss perfectly.
6 ways you can lose inches but not weight
If you’ve lost inches but not weight the next step is to find out why that happened. Some causes can imply that you’re losing fat. Others can indicate that your current habits are not good enough to lose fat.
Learn these 6 ways you can lose inches but not weight and see which one applies most to you.
1. Eating certain nutrients
There is always water present in the human body. Certain nutrients increase the amount of water weight you retain.
Some examples of nutrients that do this are salt, carbohydrate-rich foods, and creatine.
If you’ve recently increased your intake of foods with these nutrients you might have gained some water weight but lost some fat and inches. This would be good overall for your fat loss progress.
2. More stress
Stress is not just a mental process, it has physical consequences too. Long-term stress can increase the amount of cortisol, a hormone, in your body (1). More cortisol can lead to more water retention.
So maybe you recently had a few stressful weeks but you followed through on your weight loss plan. Because of this stress, you might have more water weight in your system. At the same time, you might be making fat loss progress.
If you’re trying to lose weight you want to get the stress under control anyway. Cortisol can mess with your fat loss.
3. Time of the month
Women often gain weight around the time of the month. Hormonal changes can make your body retain more water.
Again you might be losing fat but retaining more water weight. This can lead to losing inches but not weight.
4. Less bloating
Some foods make you bloat more than others. Often this is just what happens with some foods, other times it can be because of food intolerance.
You might have started eating less of these kinds of foods and lost inches. That does not mean you lost any fat. Your current weight loss habits might not be enough to make you lose fat.
In this case, you have to take another look at your habits and see where there is room for improvement.
5. Gaining muscle
There is a difference in how much volume fat takes in versus the same amount of muscle. Basically like one pound of feathers vs one pound of steel. The feathers will take in a lot more space but in the end, they weigh the same.
If you’ve recently started exercising or eating more protein, you might have lost fat and gained muscle at the same time. This can then lead to less volume, inches, but the same amount of weight.
This extra muscle will benefit your long-term weight loss a lot. A big part of how many calories you burn a day is your current weight. By gaining muscle you gain some healthy, calorie-burning, weight.
6. Irregular patterns
There are 2 ways irregular patterns can distort your view about how much progress you are making.
The first one is the time of the day you weigh yourself. The best time to weigh yourself is in the morning right when you wake up. You know you didn’t drink any water or ate any food for +-8 hours.
You can still sweat a different amount during the night depending on the temperature but first thing in the morning is the best it will get.
The second irregular pattern is your bowel movement. Weighing yourself right before or right after a toilet visit makes a difference.
What is a normal weight loss rate?
Some people also just expect too much weight loss. They are disappointed with their progress while they are actually doing a good job.
One pound of body fat is about 3500 calories, one kilogram is about 8000 calories.
A healthy weight loss rate is a calorie deficit of about 500 calories a day. This varies from individual to individual but a weight loss rate of about 1 pound per week is normal.
How to create a healthier relationship with the scale
Just because your weight doesn’t always measure fat loss accurately doesn’t mean you should never weigh yourself again. Weighing yourself is quick and easy to do and it can still offer you important data.
The first thing you can do to create a healthier relationship with the scale is not put too much value on individual measurements. Remind yourself that your weight will fluctuate. Only the trends in multiple data points will tell you if you’re making fat loss progress.
The second thing you can do is redefine success as sticking to your habits instead of the number on the scale. Every few weeks you can then decide to change your habits if the scale still isn’t moving.
Other ways to measure progress
As you can tell weight is not the perfect way to measure fat loss progress. There are other ways you can measure progress too with each their advantages and disadvantages.
If you feel that the scale is not for you, you can consider changing your method of measuring progress. You can also use multiple methods to get a better view of what’s happening.
Body fat percentage
Body fat percentage is how much percent of your weight is due to body fat.
In numbers, this is [weight from body fat] divided by [total body weight]. So if you weigh 200 pounds and 20 of those pounds are body fat you have a body fat percentage of 10%.
Water retention and how much food is in your body still have an impact on this measurement but less than with body weight. Body fat percentage is arguably the best way to measure fat loss progress.
The problem with body fat percentage is that the measuring tools are inaccurate, expensive or they have a learning period.
The next way to measure fat loss progress is with the circumference of certain body parts. You can do this with both a measuring tape and how tight your clothes fit.
Here are some examples of body parts that are good to measure:
- Waist: at the belly button
- Hips: at the widest part of the buttocks
- Thighs: arbitrary at the same distance above your knee (for example 10 inches)
- Biceps: arbitrary at the same place
Circumference is a good way to measure fat loss progress. More muscle will reduce circumference progress a little.
This way of measuring is also fairly consistent. The only thing that will cause big fluctuations is bloating and eating or drinking a lot right before you measure.
Humans are surprisingly good at noticing physical differences with their eyes.
You can take pictures of yourself every week or so. When you’re not sure if you’re making fat loss progress you can sit down with someone and compare the pictures.
Other non scale victories
Non scale victories or NSV in short are ways to measure progress without weight.
An example is noticing that your mood and energy levels have improved.
These non-scale victories are not the best way to measure progress objectively but they can help you feel more satisfied when you’re not 100% happy with the numerical results.
You can notice progress with these very quickly. It’s a surprise to some people how much a week of healthier eating does to you.
What does losing inches but not weight mean?
The fact that you’re are losing inches but not weight doesn’t say much in terms of fat loss progress in the short term. There are different reasons for this. Some reasons mean you’re losing fat, others mean you hit a plateau.
If you keep losing inches but not weight week after week you are most likely making fat loss progress. In that case, you can continue your current lifestyle.