Why are you losing inches but not weight?
You’ve been following a strict diet and exercise plan for a few weeks now and have noticed that whilst your waist is definitely getting slimmer and your clothes fit looser, you’re not seeing a difference when you step on the scale. This may make you question whether your lifestyle changes are indeed working positively.
The short answer: yes.
To lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than you burn. This is known as being in a caloric deficit and doing so forces your body to use its fat stores as a source of energy.
The number of calories that you should aim to consume will depend on your age, gender, weight, height and how active you are.
You can use the calculator below to get a rough estimate of what your calorie intake should be.
This calculator will never show a number below 1000 calories per day. Please speak to a qualified health professional before attempting to eat less than that.
For example, a 35 year old lady who weighs 170 pounds, is 5 feet 6 inches tall and exercises 4 times a week should aim to consume around 1800 – 1900 calories per day, in order to lose weight.
However, doing this doesn’t necessarily mean that she will see significant changes when she steps on the scale, even after a few weeks. This is because ordinary weighing scales only tell you what your total body mass is, not what your body is made up of.
Your body consists of fat, muscle, water and bones (among other things). As you begin to exercise, you also increase muscle mass. However muscle and fat are very different, with the former being much more compact than the latter.
This means that a pound of muscle takes up much less space than a pound of fat does. So if you lose one pound of fat but build one pound of muscle too, you won’t see any change when you step on the scale. But you will lose inches around your waist and your clothes will fit looser.
Is this a good thing? It definitely is! It shows that you are progressing in the right direction. Your ideal goal should not just be to ‘lose weight’, but rather to build muscle, whilst losing fat.
When most people aim to lose weight, they set a target like “I want to weigh 150 pounds within 1 month”. Whilst setting a goal like this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can discourage you from moving forward when you don’t see any significant changes.
Instead of just tracking how much weight you have lost, you should also track fat loss and muscle gain, because this gives you a better indication of how your body is changing. A lot of people start their weight loss journey only knowing their mass (i.e. the number you see on the scale) and not their body fat percentage. Ideally, you want to know both.
You can measure your body fat percentage at home by using a body fat caliper or get it measured by your doctor, or even at the gym. The most common method used is to pinch folds of skin at various parts around your body (such as your chest and thighs) and then measure the thickness using a caliper. You can find more in-depth details about the process here. You can also use weighing scales that measure body fat, however these aren’t always accurate.
Once you know your body fat percentage, you can keep track of how it changes over time.
Your lean mass represents the weight of your bones, organs and muscle. If your body fat percentage decreases over time but the number on the scale doesn’t change much, it means that your lean mass and overall body composition has improved.
Additionally, the more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate will be, which slightly increases caloric expenditure throughout the day and that means further fat loss.
Here are some tips as you carry onward on your weight and fat loss journey:
Don’t obsessively measure your body fat – everybody wants to see quick results, but measuring your fat percentage twice a day is pointless because it takes time for changes to happen within your body. A better approach would be to measure body fat once a week or every 2 weeks. Doing so will keep you motivated and also provide a more accurate indication of progress. And of course, if you notice that your clothes start to fit loosely, that’s a great sign.
Weigh yourself at similar times during the day – if you weigh yourself first thing in the morning one day and then after dinner on another, your results won’t be accurate. This is because the food and water that you eat and drink has mass, and it will show on the scale. For example, a liter of water weighs 2.2 pounds! Your best option would be to weigh yourself first thing in the morning once you have visited the toilet, before eating or drinking anything.
Don’t worry about looking bulky – another fear that some people have, especially ladies, is that they will start to look like bodybuilders because they are putting on muscle. However this should not be a concern. In order to get the physique that a body builder has, you need to train intensely, sometimes multiple times a day, and also be in a caloric surplus. Body builders eat anywhere from 3000 calories upwards. Exercising a few times a week whilst remaining in a calorie deficit will give you a toned body, rather than a bulky one.
Make sure you are eating enough protein – not only is protein required for the repair and growth of muscle tissue, it also boosts metabolism slightly and has a high satiety. Numerous studies have shown that increasing protein intake is advantageous to weight loss. You should aim for 25 – 30% of your total calories to come from high quality sources of protein. As your protein intake increases, make sure to increase your water intake too; doing so assists with fat burning and weight loss.
Losing inches but not weight should not be a cause of despair. It most likely means that you are losing fat and increasing muscle mass, which is a positive step forward. Your overall goal should be to reduce body fat percentage rather than just ‘losing weight’.