Isn’t it frustrating to be losing inches but not weight?
There’s nothing worse than working hard on your diet and exercise without having any results to show for it on the scale. But just because your weight on the scale isn’t budging it doesn’t mean you’re not on the right track.
It’s easy to feel discouraged when you haven’t lost a single pound in weeks even though you seem to be doing all the right things. It’s a hopeless feeling to wait for the scale to hopefully catch up one day. Most of us would prefer to lose more than just one pound a month!
It can be confusing to lose inches around your waist when the results are matching to the scale. The good news is the scale often lies about your progress and results. Too many people unfortunately give up after stepping on the scale and not seeing the results they’re looking for. But you could actually be getting the body you want but the scale is deceiving.
Ultimately it’s a lot better to lose inches than it is to just “lose weight” on the scale. Here I’m going to explain to you why the non-budging scale is deceiving you even though you’re losing inches.
Slimmer and Thinner but Not Losing Weight
As a longtime personal trainer I’ve had clients over the years who have frustratingly told me that they haven’t lost any weight. But the funny thing is people keep telling them they look slimmer and thinner than before. This can be confusing but the answer is a lot simpler than you’d think.
If you’re working out then most likely the reason the scale hasn’t gone down is because you have been adding some lean toned muscle to your body (1). When it comes to fitness and improving physical appearances it’s often thought that you just want to “lose weight.” But not all the weight on your body is the same. Instead you should be focusing on losing fat on your body.
If you look at a pound of fat versus a pound of muscle you’ll quickly see just how much bigger the fat is than muscle. This is because muscle takes up far less space than the fat despite being the same weight. So as you start exercising and building muscle it’ll “offset” the amount of fat you’ve lost when stepping on the scale. This explains why you’re losing inches but not losing weight.
One of the easiest ways to tell if you’re losing inches is to check how your clothes fit. If you’ve noticed you lost a pant size, a few notches on your belt and your shirts feel baggier than before then that’s a good sign you’ve lost fatty inches on your body.
Now if you have a lot of weight to lose starting off (30+ pounds) then you’re most likely going to lose weight right out the gates. But if you only have say 10 to 20 pounds to lose then it’s going to become a lot less clear when you step on the scale.
This is why it’s so important to track your progress by methods other than just the scale. It’s a much better to track your progress by measuring your body fat percentage, inches, how your clothes fit and before & after pictures.
Why Fat Loss Is Better Than “Weight” Loss
We’ve been brainwashed from the start to believe that all weight is the same. But if you’re overweight then it means you have too much fat on your body. You wouldn’t tell a bodybuilder who weighs 200+ pounds that they need to “lose weight.” I know it can feel like the only way to get thinner is to just lose weight. But this isn’t the whole truth to the story…
If you have trouble losing stubborn fat then it’s because you’re just losing weight. The problem with just losing weight is you’re losing a lot of muscle too. Your body loses muscle as your age which is why many older and elderly adults gain more fat (2).
So if you’re just “losing weight” then you might be losing some fat but you’re also losing a good amount of muscle. Losing weight this way won’t change your body fat and you’ll probably even cause it to go higher. This is because you’ll be losing valuable muscle!
This is exactly why so many people who lose weight still hang on to troublesome fat in stubborn places like their belly, hips, arms and thighs. The trick is to lower your body fat instead. This will in return burn the fat off the stubborn places while giving you a much more aesthetically pleasing physique.
Women can get scared to hear that they’re adding muscle. They fear they’re going to “bulk up” like the next Ms. Olympia. But as long as your dieting and working out the right way then you won’t pack on any significant amount of muscle anytime soon. If anything it or leave you with a thinner, slimmer and more toned physique that doesn’t sag. Many women who lose weight can end up looking “skinny fat.” This is when their “skinny” body actually looks mushy, dimply and saggy instead of toned and tight. Plus being skinny fat is a lot worse for your health (3).
Your metabolism will also increase when you lower your body fat by adding lean muscle (4). A faster metabolism means your body burns even more fat for energy which in the long run helps to improve your physique as well. Your clothes will also fit better and you’ll look better too. It’s better to have a body that looks like a lean piece of steak rather than a mushy bowl of floppy Jell-O.
Other Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Weight
Holding onto water weight is another common reason why you might not be losing inches but not weight. Even if you’re not exercising you could still be losing inches but not weight. This is because you burn through some muscle and fat but have also replaced it with water.
Your body is made up of 60% water which can clearly explain just how much it can affect your weight when you step on the scale (5). So much so your body can easily fluctuate 4-5 pounds a day just from your water weight. You might of heard of wrestlers who have dropped tens of pounds of weight in the days leading up to a contest just by eliminating much of the water in their body.
Also if you’re female and coming up on you period then your body can retain water up to a week and a half leading up to it (6). But the good news is once you have your period then the water will flush out and this weight will go down.
If you’re holding water weight then it’s a good idea to look over your diet and make sure you’re not eating too many salty foods (7). If you’ve been craving salty foods and eating a high sodium diet then your body is going to store water weight more. Tracking with an app like Myfitnesspal is the best way to check your diet to make sure you’re not eating too many high salt foods.
Also make sure you’re not eating too many carbs. A high carb diet can also cause your body to store more water (8). I know it can seem like a lot of work to track what you eat all the time but there’s a saying “what gets measured gets managed.” So even if you only track it for a few days you’ll get a much more accurate picture of what you’re really eating.
If you are eating too many high salt foods then start cutting back on them. Try to replace these foods with those that are higher in potassium such as avocados and spinach. This will help to pull some of the salt out of your body and flush out this water weight (9).
Lost Weight at First but Now Plateaued…
Most people with a lot of weight to lose will quickly drop a lot of pounds right out the gates (10). But then once this big excess fat storage in their body is gone it becomes a lot more difficult for the scale to budge.
This is because you’ll now have to deal with your body fat and water weight. Those with only 10 to 20 pounds to lose go through this at first and now you’re catching up to them. But the good news is as long as you’re working out and dieting then your body will still be losing body fat.
Now this is when tracking your body fat, inches and taking pictures will be a lot more important for measuring your progress and results. A local personal trainer can measure your body fat or you can pick up one of these smart scales that can do it.
At this point it’s better to start focusing on fat loss rather than “weight” loss. It can be a hard thing to wrap your head around when you’ve been imprinted from the start to focus on “losing weight” instead. But by lowering your body fat you’ll end up with that much more physically appealing body than if you were to just lose the “weight” off your body. The trick is to burn fat and not lose the muscle that sculpts and tones your body.
You could also be going through some of the ups and downs with your water weight. You could be retaining more sodium, glycogen stores could be refilling, cortisol levels can be going up or you could even have higher insulin sensitivity (11,12). All of these can contribute to fluctuations in your water weight.
Why am I losing inches but not weight with no exercise?
Most likely from your body holding on to water weight. The simplest way to flush out excess water weight is to cut back on high sodium foods, eat more potassium rich foods and lower your carbs.
But you could also not be eating as clean of a diet as you think. It’s common for people to underestimate how much food that they’re actually eating in a day (13). This is why it’s critical to make sure you’re tracking exactly what you’re eating. Often you think you’re eating a lot better than you really are and this often leads to lackluster results.
For a diet and workout plan that works to rapidly for fat loss then check out The Flat Belly Formula.
The Last Word
So it’s actually a good thing if you’re losing inches but not weight. But I know how frustrating it can seem when you’re working really hard and you step on the scale without any results to show for it.
Just remember the scale is highly deceiving and could easily be throwing off your results without you knowing it. Muscle weighs something too so it could be offsetting the fat you’ve burn with lean and toned muscle. Those who end up “losing weight” without adding any lean muscle end up with the skinny fat look.
Want a mushy and saggy body that comes with losing weight? It’s better lower your body fat and get a lean, toned and smooth physique that’s also thin. Plus when you lower your body fat you’ll burn through stubborn fat spots on your body like hip dips and banana rolls. Doing it this way is best and fastest to get a flat stomach and you don’t have to worry about “bulking up.”
If you’ve been frustrated by losing inches but not weight and you’re not alone. The good news is you’re on the right track and you’re getting better results than you thought. Keep up the good work and don’t let it cause you to give up. You’re actually doing a lot better than you think!
Josh holds a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and he’s a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) by American Council on Exercise. He’s worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the high school and college levels. He has over 15 years of experience as a personal trainer and nutrition coach. He is also the author of The Flat Belly Formula. He strives to bring inspiration and results for people to live healthier lives through smart diet and exercise.