The moment when you weigh in and measure yourself can be nerve-racking. “What if I’m not losing weight?” “What if I’m not losing inches?” And…”what if I’m losing inches but not weight?”
Just a few weeks ago, I received a long email from a reader Beth. She has been religiously following a diet which she thought was healthy. She’s also doing some light exercises regularly. She has lost 3 inches on her waistline. But on her scale, it says she has lost 0.5 pounds — after 3 weeks of effort.
Beth couldn’t believe it, so she went to her mom’s home and weighed herself there. After the second time of weighing herself, she was disappointed. She really didn’t lose much weight at all.
Still, she didn’t give up. And she went to Target that night and bought a new digital scale, and stood on it right after she installed batteries. Still the same.
Out of frustration, she wrote to me that night.
“I don’t know what went wrong. It’s so frustrating not seeing results on the scale because it feels as if everything I’ve done is in vain. Can you tell me what I should do?”
So what exactly is happening?
Hint: the first word in my response to her was “congrats!” And that should at least tell you it not only wasn’t a bad thing to not lose weight at this time, but also is something worth celebrating.
Why am I losing inches but not weight?
First of all, Beth’s situation is not uncommon. I know people who has lost more inches than her but dropped nearly 0 pound based on the scale.
When I celebrated it for her, I did not do this with the “cheering the last winner” sentiment. Growing up in an Asian household under a tiger mom, I’ve never been the last winner once without getting my ass whipped. My parents got a “treat” for that named “Leather Belt & Meat Stir-Fry” — that’s the punishment I get when being the last winner. Therefore for me, celebrating it is hard.
Rather, I said ‘congrats’ to Beth due to the reason below:
If you’ve dropped 3 inches and 0.5 pound, you are dropping much more fat — compared to losing 3 pounds and dropping 0.5 inches. And losing fat is really your ultimate goal — no matter what weight loss program you join.
To be specific, fat is 3X bigger than muscle when the weight is the same. Because of the volume difference, the same amount of fat loss in terms of weight always leads to a much leaner look compared to losing the same pound of muscle.
In other words, losing fat gives you the most visible result — even if the scale number isn’t much different due to the relative light weight of the fat tissues. And because of that, you can even look slimmer and weigh the same.
Is losing inches better than losing weight?
It sure is. The difference in inches is always more accurate reflection of your fat-loss result. And if you are an 160-pound woman and have lost 5 pounds of muscle and fluid, your friends probably won’t even tell a difference. And that leads to the opposite problem: losing weight but not losing inches, which would require a change of weight loss approach.
Now here’s another question commonly asked by people:
“Losing weight — regardless from fat or muscle — will give me a lower BMI. A lower BMI means I’m healthier anyways. So why give a crap about whether I’m losing fat, muscle, or fluid?”
First of all, losing weight doesn’t necessarily mean becoming healthier, and it could sometimes mean sickness.
Second, fat loss vs muscle loss could determine how your body functions for the long run.
For instance, fat has the tendency of storing calories, and high fat ratio leads to slow metabolism, which makes losing weight difficult. By contrast, muscle burns energy and by boosting your metabolism that way, it helps you burn fat efficiently.
On the other hand, fat accumulation within the body can lead to chronic inflammation which causes weight gain in return. And chronic inflammation is found to be at the core of many chronic diseases — including diabetics, heart diseases, sepsis, arthritis, obesity, and cancer, etc.
It doesn’t stop here.
Chronic inflammation can disrupt your hormonal patterns, causing several problems leading to weight gain such as insatiable sugar cravings, hunger, etc. And it causes belly fat — apron belly or visceral fat, which is a far bigger health concern than just ‘extra weight’ as it’s the fat around internal organs, which is directly linked to chronic diseases such as diabetes.
These are the physical impact of having high body fat content. On the mental health side, Also, high body fat content is associated with mood swings, negative thinking, stress, anxiety, depression, and even impaired memory and everyday performance.
On the physical appearance side, a higher body fat ratio also makes you look flabby and weak — vs a higher muscle ratio makes you look toned, sculpted, and strong. For instance, a 150-pound woman with 35% body fat is different from a 150 pound woman with 18% body fat on every level — from how they look, how they perform, how they feel, how they think, to how they live.
So if you’ve been losing inches steadily but not many pounds yet, just keep it up!
Meanwhile, here’s a reminder: don’t weigh yourself too often. The scale numbers don’t tell you much about your body’s inner dynamic, such as whether your metabolism is running efficiently and whether your body is taking in nutrients and utilizing it efficiently.
However, if you really want to weigh yourself from time to time, be sure to follow guidelines I included in this article The Worst Time To Weigh Yourself.
When will the scale number move?
Ha, this is why I suggested that you don’t weigh yourself too often. When you desperately want your scale number to go down, the mentality actually works against you regarding the goal of holistically losing the weight.
Now back to the question, it really depends….And there are a few potential factors to consider:
First, are you working on building muscle while losing fat?
Because if so, the scale number will come down more slowly since muscle, as we just talked about, is more dense than fat.
Also, if your original body weight isn’t that high for your height — say 150 pounds and 5’9″, you probably won’t experience lots of weight loss even though you look much slimmer. This is because there isn’t much weight loss needed to begin with. And as you are losing fat, the lost weight due to fat loss get quickly compensated by muscle gain.
Second, are you experiencing chronic inflammation?
If you are experiencing chronic inflammation already, you are likely losing fluid and fat faster following the right program. And because of that, you might see scale number coming down faster.
Third, have you hit a weight loss plateau?
A weight loss plateau is very common. Read How To Get Over The Weight Loss Plateau for more.
Regardless what the reason is, there’s one thing for sure though:
If you are following a weight loss journey that helps you effectively and sustainably lose fat, the scale number will do you justice eventually.
Leslie Chen is an Executive Weight Loss Coach for High-Achieving Women. For 8 years, she has been helping professionals and entrepreneurs who struggle with problematic eating and weight patterns create a blissful and freedom-based food life — while losing weight left and right.
Leslie is rated as the Top Weight Loss Coach by Coach Foundation. She’s also frequently interviewed on globally top 0.1-1% podcasts about Health and is an expert contributor for world-class media including Entrepreneur.com.
To learn her scientific, proven strategy which has changed many people’s lives in a 14-minute video, access her 14 Minutes of Gold.
To work with her, book a 1:1 Clarity Call here.
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