Losing Inches, But Not Weight (Why This Happens & What To Do)

reasons why you may be losing inches but not weight

You may be working out consistently and eating in a calorie deficit, but you’re not dropping pounds as fast as you want to. But even if your weight on the scale refuses to budge, you may notice that you still look leaner and your body is still getting smaller.

But how is it possible for you to lose inches and not weight?

Eight reasons why you may be losing inches but not weight are:

1. You’re going through a recomp

2. You reached a plateau

3. Your bone density has increased

4. You have training inflammation

5. You’re retaining water

6. You’re on your period

7. You’re weighing yourself inconsistently

8. Your scale is inaccurate

In this article, I’ll go into more details behind each of these reasons for losing inches but not pounds and whether or not you should be concerned. I’ll also discuss what you should and should not do when you’re losing inches but not weight.

Need a training program to help you get started with your weight loss goals? Check out the Fitbod app and try your first workouts for free. You can customize the app to suit a variety of training goals and get a personalized plan to help you get stronger.

Should You Be Concerned If You’re Losing Inches But Not Weight?

should you be concerned if you’re losing inches but not weight

There’s usually no need to be concerned if you’re losing inches but not weight, as it is still an excellent sign of progress. However, many people with weight loss goals either refuse to see it that way because they’re more concerned about their weight or they just don’t fully understand what they’re even trying to accomplish in the first place.

When it comes down to it, most people are more concerned about their appearance and want to look smaller or leaner (though there are plenty of people who want to lose weight for health reasons as well). They equate a smaller body with a lower weight and believe they’ll be happier with how they look once they reach a certain — often arbitrary — number.

Because they’re so focused on the scale, they’re not always able to see that physical changes are still taking place. However, losing inches even if you’re not losing weight isn’t a bad thing. It indicates that your body is getting leaner, and you’re likely gaining some muscle if you’ve been lifting weights, especially if you’re new to strength training.

Even if you’re significantly overweight, when you lose inches, you’re still losing excess fat that would otherwise be placing excess stress on your organs and joints. And while you may embark on an exercise and healthy eating plan to lose weight, it can also improve conditions such as high blood pressure. However, you won’t see those changes on the scale.

With all that said, there are some scenarios where you should be concerned if you’re losing weight but not inches. You may have an undiagnosed thyroid or hormonal issue. Medications like anti-depressants and those used to treat conditions such as arthritis or lupus can also make it difficult to lose both weight and inches.

If you suspect that any of these things are holding you back from reaching your goals, you should speak to your physician to determine the best course of action.

Need a workout program? Try Fitbod for Free.

Why Are You Losing Inches But Not Weight?

why are you losing inches but not weight

There’s usually not a single reason why you’re losing inches and not weight. It’s often a combination of different factors, some of which you can control and some of which you can’t.

1. You’re going through a recomp

Body recomp, short for recomposition, occurs when you lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. It’s a difficult and lengthy process because you’re trying to make yourself smaller and bigger at the same time, two goals that are contradictory to each other. But it is possible and is one of the most likely reasons why you’re losing inches but not weight.

Recomp typically requires you to eat at maintenance — the number of calories you can eat each day without gaining weight — or in a very slight calorie deficit. The calorie deficit is small enough that you can lose fat, but it will happen at a slower rate than the 0.5lb-1lb/week loss that’s often recommended.

While many people do recomp intentionally, you may be doing it inadvertently by not tracking your calories properly and not being in as much of a calorie deficit as you think you are. 

Related Article: How To Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle (Science Backed)

2. You reached a plateau

Weight loss plateaus are common, especially if you’ve been in a calorie deficit for several weeks or months. Plateaus can also occur if you haven’t changed your exercise routine in a while.

This is because your body adapts to different nutrition habits and training routines. Your metabolism also slows as you lose weight, and if you don’t adjust your calories accordingly, you’re no longer in a calorie deficit. This can put you into more of a recomp rather than a fat loss phase, which will slow your progress.

Related Article: Can Cardio Make You Fat? (5 Things To Consider)

3. Your bone density has increased

Lifting weights and aerobic activity not only help you build muscle but can increase your bone density as well. Bone density refers to the amount of bone mineral in your bones, and research has identified correlations between bone density and body weight.

However, a higher bone density will only add a few extra pounds to your frame, so bone density isn’t entirely to blame for losing inches but not weight.

Related Article: How Much Weight Can You Lose in 60 Days (The Healthy Way)

4. You have training inflammation

Lifting weights and high-intensity workouts like CrossFit causes micro-tears in your muscles. This is called exercise-induced muscle damage, and inflammation can build up as your muscles work to repair this damage.

That inflammation leads to your muscles holding on to more water as they repair themselves, which can make your weight increase by a couple of pounds. This is more likely to occur when you try a new exercise program or suddenly increase your training volume or frequency.

However, it’s also important to note that weight gain from training inflammation is only temporary. Anecdotally, I can tell you that my weight always goes up 2-3lbs whenever I start a new training block. But it sorts itself out after a couple of weeks, and I’ll also usually drop a couple of pounds during a deload week when I’m not training as intensely.

Related Article: Powerlifting Recovery: 9 Ways To Recover From Hard Training

5. You’re retaining water

Eating a high-sodium meal or suddenly consuming more carbs than you’re used to can cause water retention because it throws off your hydration levels. Being under a constant state of stress can also lead to water retention due to an increase in cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone.

You may also experience water retention if you have undiagnosed food allergies or intolerances that are messing with your digestive system (though you should get this confirmed by a doctor).

Whatever the cause, water retention can result in temporary weight gain because of all the water that your body is holding onto.

6. You’re on your period

In females, the menstrual cycle can cause water retention and bloat, leading to a temporary weight increase on the scale. As well, food cravings are often high in the days leading up to your period. Giving in to those cravings, especially if they’re for salty or fatty foods, can make bloating even worse.

Fortunately, as long as you don’t go completely off the rails with your nutrition during your period and get back on track once it’s over, your weight should go back to normal within a few days.

7. You’re weighing yourself inconsistently

Your weight can fluctuate throughout the day based on what you’re eating, how often you’re going to the bathroom, whether or not you worked out that day, and what you did in the gym. If you weigh yourself first thing in the morning on some days and in the late afternoon on others, your results can be inconsistent.

The same is also true if you weigh yourself naked on some days and fully clothed on others, or if you weigh yourself on a different type of floor every time you step on the scale.

Related Article: What To Do If You’re Gaining Muscle and Not Losing Fat

8. Your scale is inaccurate

If you’re using the same scale and weighing yourself at the same time every day and you still don’t notice any changes, it could indicate a problem with your scale.

That’s not to say that you should rush out and buy a new scale or start looking up DIY solutions to fix the one you already have just because you don’t like the number it displays.

But if it’s been showing the exact same number every single day for a couple of weeks, or if it changes significantly in either direction from one day to the next, it likely needs some fixing. You may just need to reset it or replace the batteries. Sometimes, even just making sure that the floor it’s on is even can do the trick.

Related Article: How Much Weight Can You Lose in 60 Days (The Healthy Way)

How To Measure Weight Loss Success

how to measure weight loss success

Instead of getting fixated on your scale weight, there are several other metrics you can track that can help you measure your weight loss success. Below are four ways you can tell if your body composition is changing even if your weight is staying the same.

1. Taking note of how your clothes fit

When you’re losing inches but not weight, you’ll notice that your clothes fit differently even though the number on the scale won’t budge.

Shirts and pants that were once tight on you will be looser, and you may even have to start buying new clothes in a smaller size.

2. Measuring your body fat percentage

Having your body fat analyzed every 4-6 weeks is one of the best ways to determine if you’re losing fat even if you’re not losing weight. Getting a DEXA scan done or using hydrostatic weighing in which you’re submerged underwater while sitting on a scale are two accurate ways to measure body fat percentage.

You could also buy an at-home scale that measures body fat percentage. Scales like these work by using bioelectrical impedance to send electrical currents up one leg and down the other. If the currents encounter a lot of resistance, it’s an indicator of a high body fat percentage.

These scales are known to be inaccurate, but you can still use them as a guide. For example, your scale may tell you that you’re starting with a body fat percentage of 25% when it’s really closer to 30%. But if the number keeps decreasing each week or each month, it’s still a good sign that you’re losing fat, even if the actual number isn’t accurate.

3. Taking progress pictures

Taking pictures of yourself before you start your diet and every 2-3 weeks during it can provide a visual representation of your progress.

You may not notice any changes when you look at yourself in the mirror every single day. But when you take photos of yourself over the course of several weeks and put them next to each other, you can tell if your arms, chest, legs, waist, and/or hips look smaller.

4. Paying attention to how you feel

This has less to do with visible changes to your body and more to do with intangible factors like your energy levels, moods, and how your body feels. Even if you’re losing inches and not pounds, you’ll be able to move your body more easily, last longer in your workouts before getting fatigued, and may notice fewer aches and pains in your joints.

All of these are indicators of a healthier body and are, in many ways, more rewarding than trying to reach an arbitrary number on the scale.

What Should You Do If You’re Losing Inches But Not Weight?

1. Stop weighing yourself every day

Weighing yourself every day can help you identify trends such as how certain foods affect your weight. But it can also negatively impact your mental health and make it harder for you to recognize the visual progress you’re making.

If you’re constantly getting upset by the number you see on the scale, cut back on how often you weigh yourself. Weigh yourself every other day or once a week instead. If you find that to still be too much, you may want to not weigh yourself at all for a period of time.

2. Keep up with your training

Even if you suspect that your weight loss has stalled because you’re holding onto training inflammation, you should still continue lifting weights.

Retaining muscle mass is important when you’re trying to lose weight so you can continue decreasing your body fat percentage. You will lose some muscle when you lose weight, but following a strength training program will ensure that most of your weight loss comes from fat instead.

If you need a training program that can help you reach your goals, download the Fitbod app. You can customize each of your workouts based on your preferred style of training, how much time you have to work out, your available equipment, and the muscle groups you want to focus on. There’s also a video library that includes more than 600 exercise demos. Download the Fitbod app today – your first workouts are free!

Related Article: Muscle Weight vs Fat Weight: What’s the Difference?

3. Keep your protein and carb consumption high

You’ve undoubtedly heard people praising low-carb diets and how quickly they can lead to weight loss. While that may be true, research has shown that following very low-carb diets such as the keto diet can hinder your body’s ability to build muscle.

As such, even if you want to accelerate your weight loss, you’ll want to keep carbs in your diet so you can continue to make progress towards your body composition goals.

In addition, you should make sure you’re eating enough protein to aid in muscle mass retention, satiety, and recovery. A good rule of thumb for active individuals is to consume at least 0.8g of protein per pound of body weight.

Related Article: Eat More to Lose Weight? Yes, It’s a Successful Strategy

What You Should Not Do If You’re Losing Inches But Not Weight?

what you should not do if you’re losing inches but not weight

1. Freak out

I know it can be hard if you’re chasing a certain number on the scale and it feels impossible to get there. But getting upset, trying to comfort yourself with food, and giving up on your workout routine will only make matters worse.

Besides, being happy with your body is often more important than being happy with what you weigh. If you’re losing inches, you’re losing fat and improving your body composition. Those visual changes should have a much more positive impact on your self-confidence than a number on a scale.

2. Decrease your calories to dangerously low levels

I mentioned earlier that not making changes to your calorie intake when you reach a plateau will make it more difficult to keep losing weight. And while you may need to keep gradually decreasing your calories the longer you remain in a fat loss phase, this doesn’t mean you should start skipping entire meals or eating tiny portions of food.

Not eating enough can have significant negative health impacts, including compromising your immune system and affecting your memory and ability to focus. Neither of these is worth going to extremes just to lose a couple of extra pounds.

3. Work out more

Your weight loss can stall if you’ve been doing the same exact workouts day in and day out. But while changing how you work out can help you break through that plateau, you don’t necessarily need to add more exercise. Too much exercise can lead to decreased motivation, more injuries, and lower energy levels.

Instead, you should look for ways to switch up your routine so you’re still working out effectively without killing yourself in the gym. You can do this by doing more high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts instead of steady-state exercise or trying a different type of cardio.

If you strength train, you should also make sure you’re training with enough intensity by lifting weights that feel challenging to you and moving up in weight once certain exercises start to feel easier.

Related Article: Cutting Without Cardio: Is It Possible? (Yes, Here’s 8 Tips)

4. Cut out entire food groups

If you truly have a food allergy that’s been confirmed with a medical diagnosis, then you will have to cut out foods that contain things like gluten or dairy. But cutting out all carbs or fats from your diet to accelerate your weight loss isn’t a good idea.

Not only can this lead to you missing out on essential vitamins and nutrients, but it can also lead to rapid weight gain once you reintroduce those foods back into your diet. 

Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try Fitbod for free.

Final Thoughts

When you’re trying to lose weight and have a goal weight in mind, it can be frustrating when weeks go by and your weight hasn’t changed. But by being so fixated on the scale, you may not even realize that you’re losing inches and still changing your body composition.

When this occurs, it’s usually not a cause for concern. The cause of this can be something as simple as needing to replace the batteries in your scale. But even if that still doesn’t change anything, it’s important to not give up.

The scale alone won’t always tell you how much progress you’re making, and staying consistent with your training and nutrition will yield some exciting results.

About The Author

Amanda Dvorak

Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.