Losing Inches But Not Losing Weight?

You're on the right track


Because so many of us want to lose weight, at any given moment, most of us know how much we weigh. Most of us even have a favorite scale, the favorite being the one that gives us the lowest number possible. We talk about our weight, think about our weight and, sometimes, lie about our weight, but how often do we think about what that number means?

For too many of us, weight isn't just a number but something that can actually change how we feel about ourselves.

Step on the scale first thing in the morning, and if that number is lower than it was before, you may feel better about yourself. If it's higher? Your day may start on a downward slide. But what does your weight really mean and how useful is it when it comes to tracking weight loss progress? Learning the answers to those questions may give you a completely different perspective of your scale.

Focusing on Fat Loss, Not Weight Loss

When we talk about losing weight, what we usually mean is slimming down. We want to lose weight around the hips and thighs, the belly and arms. But, the odd thing about slimming down is that it doesn't always mean losing actual weight off the scale. 

It may sound strange, but it's possible to get thinner without actually seeing a change in your weight. This happens when you lose body fat while gaining muscle. Your weight may stay the same, even as you lose inches, a sign that you're moving in the right direction.

The problem is, we're often focused on the scale, believing that if that number doesn't change, we're simply not getting real results. Knowing the difference between losing weight and losing body fat can change how you see your self, your progress, and maybe even how you look at your own body.

The Truth About Your Weight

What does your weight say about you?

If you think about it, that number doesn't tell you a lot.

The scale shows your weight, but does it tell you how much of that weight is muscle and how much is fat? Or how much of that weight is water, bones, or organs? The average head weighs 11 pounds, but that's not something your scale can tell you.

A bodybuilder's weight could be off the charts because of extra muscle, but does that mean he's overweight or fat? Most of us would say no because we know that weight doesn't tell the whole story. Knowing your body composition is crucial information if you really want to get results and, unfortunately, the typical scale doesn't tell you that.

Another reason scale weight isn't so reliable is that it changes all the time. All of us experience weight changes throughout the day, sometimes by as much as 10 pounds depending on what and how often we eat and drink, how often we go to the bathroom or if we're retaining water. You could gain weight now by putting on a pair of heavy boots, but does that mean you've gained fat? No. Just as taking those boots off doesn't mean you've lost any fat.

The scale does have some important uses. For people who've lost weight, studies have shown that regularly weighing themselves helps them maintain that weight loss.

It's easy for weight to creep up over time, so the scale is a useful tool in that respect.

However, while the scale isn't completely useless, it may not be the best tool for people just starting a fat loss program. If it doesn't help you stay on track and reach your goals, maybe it's time to take a different approach to tracking your progress.

Should You Throw Out the Scale?

You now know that focusing on fat loss is much more important than focusing on your weight. When you lose body fat, you're making permanent changes in your body, shifting your body composition so that you have less fat and more muscle.

When you lose weight, you could be losing water or even muscle. It's impossible to know if you're seeing real results or just the product of your daily habits, hormonal shifts, and changing hydration levels.

When you first start a program, you may need extra encouragement to keep going, proof that what you're doing is working and the scale may not give you that. Here's why the scale may mislead you.

How the Scale Lies

  • It measures everything: The number on the scale includes everything—muscles, fat, bones, organs, fat, food, and water. For that reason, your scale weight can be a deceptive number.
  • It doesn't reflect the changes happening in your body: If you're doing cardio and strength training, you may build lean muscle tissue at the same time you're losing fat. In that case, the scale may not change even though you're getting leaner and slimmer.
  • It doesn't reflect your health: As mentioned above, the scale can't tell the difference between fat and muscle. That means a person can have a low body weight but still have unhealthy levels of body fat.
  • It isn't always a positive motivator: If you step on the scale and you're unhappy with what you see, how does that make you feel? You may question everything you're doing, wondering why you even bother at all. Focusing on weight may overshadow the positive results you're getting such as fat loss, more endurance, and higher energy levels.

Changing How You Measure Your Success

Even if you're not ready to stop weighing yourself entirely, using other ways to measure progress can keep you motivated and help you realize that you are making changes, no matter what the scale says. This is especially true if you're not losing weight where you'd like to.

It helps to remember that your body loses weight in a certain order based on your gender, age, genetics, and other factors beyond your control. So, just because you aren't losing weight in your hips doesn't mean you're not losing weight somewhere. It may just be from a place you don't much care about.

  • Go by how your clothes fit. If they fit more loosely, you know you're on the right track. It helps to have one pair of pants that are a little too tight. Try them on once a month and make notes on how they fit. Clothes don't lie.
  • Take your measurements to see if you're losing inches. Measuring your body at different points helps you figure out if you are, in fact, losing fat. Knowing that may motivate you to keep going and allow your body to respond to your workouts.
  • Get your body fat tested or use an online calculator. These are usually guesstimates, but if you get tested every so often under the same circumstances you can see if that body fat number is getting lower.
  • Set performance goals. Instead of worrying about weight loss or fat loss, focus on completing a certain number of workouts each week or competing in a race. See how many pushups you can do or how many days in a row you can exercise. These are tangible, reachable goals that give you more of that instant gratification the scale doesn't.

If the scale is making you crazy, taking a break from weighing yourself may just open your eyes to other possibilities. Your weight isn't the only measure of your success. Put away the scale and you may just see how far you've really come.


Tracy L. Tylka, Rachel A. Annunziato, Deb Burgard, Sigrún Daníelsdóttir, Ellen Shuman, Chad Davis, Rachel M. Calogero. The Weight-Inclusive versus Weight-Normative Approach to Health: Evaluating the Evidence for Prioritizing Well-Being over Weight Loss. Journal of Obesity, 2014; 2014: 1 

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