Losing Inches but not Weight? Here’s What to Do

concept of losing inches but not weight
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If you are losing inches but not weight, there can be many reasons behind it, such as muscle buildup, weight loss plateau, and water retention. But don’t worry, there are ways to break through this.

Losing inches, but not weight can be frustrating. You’re doing everything right, watching what you eat, and working out regularly, but the number on the scale just isn’t budging. 

Many Americans struggle to lose weight every year. Statistics [1]Cleveland Clinic: Americans Concerned About Their Weight, but Don’t Understand Link to Heart Conditions and Overall Health show that while 74% of people are worried about their weight, only 43% have tried to lose weight through their diet. Moreover, out of 84% of Americans relying on at least one weight-loss method, 13% quit within a week.

Are you also losing inches but not weight? If yes, there may be specific reasons behind it. It is important to identify the reasons before you resume your weight loss journey. Here is a quick guide to clear up all your doubts if you are losing body fat but not weight.

Before we tell you why you are losing inches but not weight, understand the difference between inch loss and weight loss.

Difference between inch loss and weight loss

Sometimes, a scenario occurs when people eat healthily and work out regularly, even notice changes in their body measurements but not in their weight. While weight loss is the reduction in body weight resulting from diet, exercise, or both, inch loss is losing body fat from specific areas, such as thighs, buttocks, waist, arms, etc. When you lose fat from your body, the changes show up in these body parts.

For example, when you do strength training, you tend to burn fat and build muscle. So, even if you lose inches from your midsection, those changes might not be visible on the scale. Weight loss scales are often misleading since they do not indicate fat loss. Hence, you might be working out but not losing weight.

Reasons why you are losing inches but not weight

If you have been wondering why you have been losing inches instead of weight, here are some possible reasons:

1. Losing weight but gaining muscle simultaneously

One of the primary reasons behind losing inches but not weight is gaining muscle. This happens when you are trying to lose fat with your exercise and diet but also performing strength training exercises to maintain weight. This process of losing fat and gaining muscle simultaneously is referred to as body recomposition. Experts say that strength training, when combined with a low-calorie, high-protein diet, results in body recomposition. The extra muscle you gain eventually, engenders no or slower weight loss.

2. Water retention  

Water retention causes your weight to fluctuate. Your body retains water for several reasons, the major ones being:

  • Stress
  • Excess sodium or carb intake
  • Medications
  • Menstrual cycle

So, don’t be surprised if your clothes fit differently on some days. However, if your body is retaining water, the best you can do is skip high-sodium foods and start drinking water (yes, drink enough water to avoid water retention).

3. Hormonal fluctuations  

If you are a woman, hormonal fluctuations are common during menstruation. During this time, your body retains more water and fluids, and it may feel like you have gained weight. But this is temporary. Once your menstrual cycle is over, your weight bounces back to normal. 

4. Weight loss plateau

A weight-loss plateau is a point after which the weight stops changing. During the initial weeks of your weight loss journey, you will experience a rapid drop in weight. This is generally because of calorie restriction through diet. Most weight loss occurs within the first 4–6 weeks [2]National Library of Medicine: Energy Content of Weight Loss: Kinetic Features During Voluntary Caloric Restriction of calorie restriction. As you continue to lose weight, your metabolism slows. Eventually, you burn fewer calories even when you follow the same diet. Subsequently, your weight loss hits a plateau. To beat this scenario and lose more weight, you either need to cut back on the calories you consume or increase your physical activity..

What to do if you are not losing weight but only inches?

If you are losing inches without losing any weight, it is probably because you are losing fat but gaining muscle. Nevertheless, here are some tips to help you lose weight and keep you motivated:

  • Do not weigh yourself daily –  Although weighing daily can help you know how certain foods affect your body in terms of weight, weighing yourself too often can lead to frustration if you do not see the results you want. Therefore, you should avoid weighing yourself daily. However, you can weigh yourself once a week or even once a month to track your progress.
  • Watch your diet – One of the most important things you can do to lose weight is to watch your diet. Avoid eating processed foods, sugary drinks, and refined carbs. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. Make sure to consume adequate protein as it helps build muscle. Also, consume complex carbs and healthy fats as they help you feel satiated and prevent cravings.
  • Exercise regularly – While trying to lose weight, retaining muscle mass is equally important. Incorporate a mix of cardio and strength training in your workout routine. Cardio helps burn calories while strength training helps build muscle.

If you are losing inches but not weight, don’t worry. Just make sure you are following a healthy diet and a regular exercise routine.

Is it possible to lose inches without losing weight?

You might be consuming a few calories and exercising daily, yet the scale doesn’t show any progress. Now, if you wonder, “Can you lose inches without losing weight”? The answer is, “Yes, you can!” The exact explanation of why you are losing inches but not weight goes as follows:

The scale tells how much your body weighs (including fat, muscle, fluids, organs, etc.)but does not give you an exact measurement of your body fat. Moreover, muscle mass and fat weigh the same on the scale. The difference between both lies in density, and muscle takes up less space. So, even if the scale doesn’t show any signs of weight loss, it can be a better indicator to track your weight loss goals.

Factors that affect weight loss

Weight loss can be a complex process, and several factors [3]National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Factors Affecting Weight & Health can affect it. Listed below are some factors that can affect your weight loss goals:

Age

Aging affects the body’s metabolic rate and capacity to develop new muscle cells and tissues. Consequently, many people tend to gain body weight as they age. They can gain weight in young adulthood and continue gaining it until they reach the age of 60 or 65. Kids who are obese are more likely to struggle with obesity in adulthood.

Gender

A person’s gender can impact how the body stores fat. For instance – for women, fat is more likely to accumulate in the buttocks and hips while men build up fat in their belly.

Race or Ethnicity

Research [4]PubMed: Trends in Obesity Among Adults in the United States, 2005 to 2014 has shown that obesity rates in American adults (both men and women) are highest in African Americans. This is followed by Hispanics and Caucasians. Asian Americans have been observed to have had the lowest obesity rates.

Family history 

It is a well-known fact that obesity often runs in families. That means that if one or both of your parents are obese, you may have a higher risk of suffering from obesity.

Diet and physical activity

If you eat a lot of processed foods, sugary drinks, and refined carbs, you might gain weight faster and eventually become overweight or obese. The same can happen if you have low levels of physical activity.

Sleep

Research [5]PubMed: Sleep patterns, diet quality and energy balance has found that lack of sleep may increase calorie consumption. Experts recommend 7-9 hours of sleep per day for adults and 7-8 hours per day for older adults. 

Other factors

Some other factors that can affect your weight loss goal are:

  • Demographics
  • Family habits and cultural traits
  • Stress
  • Eating disorders 
  • Certain medications.

Other ways to measure weight loss progress

As mentioned before, a weighing scale measures your total weight, not just body fat loss. For this reason, you may not like to depend on a single parameter to track your weight loss. Considering multiple parameters for measuring weight will help you understand how much fat you are actually losing. 

Measure inches instead of pounds

Measuring your body parts separately is one of the best ways to track weight loss. Grab a measuring tape and measure your arms, hips, waist, thighs, etc. It is the best indicator of your weight loss goals. 

Use a body fat calculator

Use a body fat calculator to know whether you are on the right track with your weight loss goal. Fill in the parameters and measurements of your body parts and wait for the calculator to tell you your body fat percentage.

Use body fat measurement scale

A body fat measurement scale will give you information about the body fat percentage, muscle mass, bone density, and other parameters. This will give you an understanding of whether you are losing muscle mass, water weight, or fat.

Weigh yourself wisely

If you are planning to stick to a weighing scale, then incorporate a few rules. Follow a weekly or monthly routine instead of a daily one, so you don’t get bogged down by the numbers. 

Secondly, weigh yourself at the same time every day for better accuracy. And don’t forget to keep track of your weight. Use a journal, notebook, tracker, or an app to jot down the numbers. You can even keep progress pictures to observe the changes over time.

Calculate your BMI

Since the weighing scale is not an accurate way to measure weight loss and may indicate temporary weight gain initially, it’s better to measure your progress by calculating your BMI. By incorporating both your height and weight, a BMI calculator gives a healthier idea of your weight loss based on your body composition. Use a good BMI calculator to determine your ideal weight as per your height.

Calculate your waist-to-height ratio

Measuring the waist-to-height ratio will let you know your body’s extra fat. Simply measure your waist and height. Now divide the waist size by height. If your waist circumference is more than half your height, you are obese. 

Bioelectrical impedance analysis

This test uses low-level electrical signals to estimate your body composition. It is done using a machine that passes an electrical current through your body. The resistance to the current is used to estimate your fat-free mass. This analysis lets you get a clearer picture of your fat loss versus muscle loss.

Is inch loss better than weight loss?

Inch loss refers to losing inches from typical areas of your body, including your buttocks, waist, and thighs. So, when you lose inches, there is a decrease in the circumference of these fat storage areas. On the other hand, a high waist circumference indicates excess fat accumulation that can lead to chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Hence, inch loss is extremely crucial if you have a high waist circumference.

You may stick to a healthy eating plan and workout routine to lose inches fast. Depending on your fitness goals, you may include a strength training program in your routine. 

To sum up, inch loss is a more positive indicator of weight loss than weight loss itself. Reducing the high waist circumference of your body, especially around the midsection, will help you reduce belly fat and prevent the risk of certain chronic diseases.

Conclusion 

There may be specific reasons why you are losing inches but not weight. If you are losing inches but not weight, it doesn’t mean you have failed in your weight loss journey. In fact, it can be a healthy sign since there is a reduction in your waist circumference. 

The weighing scale is a measure of your total body weight, it is not an accurate way to track your weight loss progress. Rely on other parameters such as body inch measurements, waist-to-height ratio, and BMI to get a clear picture of how much weight you are losing.

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