Are You Losing Inches But Not Losing Weight?

How the Scale Lies

Verywell / Emily Roberts

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Weighing yourself is a typical part of trying to lose weight, however, it isn't always necessary. There are alternative ways to measure weight loss progress that do not involve numbers or a potentially triggering experience. That said, 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 on your scale.

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Watch Now: 4 Reasons Losing Inches but Not Weight is Worth Celebrating

Know the Truth About Weight

When you talk about losing weight, you might want to go down a few clothing sizes, particularly around the hips, thighs, belly, and arms. However, that doesn't always mean losing actual weight off the scale.

It's possible to gain muscle and reduce body fat 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. Knowing the difference between losing weight and losing body fat may influence how you assess your progress.

A typical scale shows your weight, but it doesn't tell you how much of that weight is muscle, fat, water, bones, or organs. A bodybuilder's weight could be off the charts because of extra muscle, but it doesn't mean they are overweight. Knowing your body composition is crucial information if you really want to get results. Unfortunately, a typical scale doesn't tell you that.

Another reason scale weight isn't so reliable is that it changes all the time. You will see weight changes throughout the day (sometimes by as much as 10 pounds) depending on what and how often you eat and drink, how often you go to the bathroom, or if you are retaining water.

While many people now prefer to get rid of their scales and base their progress based on clothing size or general feel, the scale may be a useful tool to check in with from time to time to maintain weight. In fact, a review published in 2016 found that for people who have lost weight, regularly weighing themselves helped them maintain that weight loss.

Focus on Fat Loss, Not Weight

Still, the scale 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 track your progress.

Focusing on fat loss, if that is your goal, is much more important than focusing on your overall weight. When you lose body fat and increase muscle mass, you're shifting your body composition. 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.

Here's how the scale may mislead you.

  • It measures everything. The number on the scale includes muscles, fat, bones, organs, 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 your body composition is changing.
  • It doesn't reflect your health. The scale can't tell the difference between fat and muscle. That means a person could have a low body weight but still have unhealthy levels of body fat or have a higher body weight and be very muscular.
  • 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? Focusing on weight may overshadow the positive results you're getting from a balanced diet and exercise, such improved cardiovascular endurance and higher energy levels.

Measure Success in a New Way

When you first start a weight-loss program, you may need extra encouragement to keep going, and proof that what you're doing is working. The scale may not give you that. Using other ways to measure progress can keep you motivated and help you realize that you are making positive changes to improve your overall wellbeing.

Consider other methods to measure success, beyond the scale.

  • Notice how your clothes fit. If weight loss is your goal and your clothes fit more loosely, you are likely achieving your goal.
  • 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.
  • Use a scale that measures body fat through bioelectrical impedance. These scales are readily available at a variety of different price points, or one may be available at a local gym. They will give you a more accurate view of your body composition.
  • Use an online calculator. This is a guesstimate, but if you repeat the test every so often with the same calculator, you can see if the overall body fat estimate trends down over time.
  • 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 push-ups 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.

A Word From Verywell

Consider taking a break from weighing yourself and open your eyes to other possibilities to monitor fat loss or progress with your wellness practices. Your weight isn't a measure of your success. Put away the scale and focus on other more important factors that may come along with a balanced diet and exercise program.

We recognize that speaking about weighing, taking body measurements, or tracking weight loss progress may not appropriate for all. If you or a loved one are coping with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline for support at 1-800-931-2237.

1 Source
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Montesi L, El Ghoch M, Brodosi L, Calugi S, Marchesini G, Dalle Grave R. Long-term weight loss maintenance for obesity: a multidisciplinary approachDiabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2016;9:37–46. doi:10.2147/DMSO.S89836

By Paige Waehner
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."