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

reasons why you may be losing inches but not weight

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? 

Key Takeaways

  • Common reasons for losing inches, but not pounds, include reaching a plateau, experiencing inflammation, and retaining water.
  • Seeing the number stall on the scale isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Losing inches indicates building muscle mass and getting a leaner, more toned physique.
  • Using Fitbod can help you continue losing weight by understanding your body’s composition. You can customize the app to suit various training goals and get a personalized plan to break through plateaus.

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 others can’t.

1. You’re going through a recomposition

A body recomposition (aka body recomp) occurs when you lose fat and gain muscle simultaneously. 

It’s a difficult and lengthy process because you’re trying to make yourself smaller and bigger at the same time, and the two goals contradict each other. 

It’s one of the most likely reasons 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. 

One of the best aspects of the Fitbod app is its new body composition feature. It’ll help you better understand your body’s fat, muscle, and bone ratio so you aren’t so focused on the number on the scale. 

Related Article: How To Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle

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. 

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.

Brittany Werner, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, advises:

“If you’re working towards a weight loss goal, progress will never be linear. You’ll inevitably encounter a weight loss stall, or what we refer to as a plateau. This period of time can be ​​downright frustrating and confusing. “

She continues:

“Long-term, sustainable change is not a fast process. A true stall or weight loss plateau is four or more weeks with no progress toward a weight loss goal. It’s important to be patient when adjusting a nutrition plan to ensure you give your body time to adjust. Sometimes, weight may stall for a week or two and then begin trending down again, so waiting a full four weeks before making changes is key.”

However, with Fitbod, you won’t have to worry as much about hitting plateaus since the app monitors your progress and adjusts your workouts accordingly as you get stronger. 

Related Article: Can Cardio Make You Fat?

3. Your bone density has increased

Lifting weights helps 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 it isn’t entirely to blame for losing inches but not weight.

Related Article: How Much Weight Can You Lose in 60 Days?

4. You have training inflammation

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

That inflammation leads to your muscles holding onto 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. 

I can tell you that my weight always goes up 2-3lbs whenever I start a new training block. 

5. You’re retaining water.

Eating a high-sodium meal or suddenly consuming more carbs than you’re used to can cause water retention by throwing off your hydration levels. 

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.

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 go 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 use the same scale and weigh 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.

However, if it shows 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 fixing. 

You may just need to reset it or replace the batteries. Sometimes, even just ensuring the floor it’s on is even can do the trick.

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’s 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 don’t fully understand what they’re trying to accomplish in the first place.

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.

Werner advises:

“It’s important to keep in mind the many reasons your weight can fluctuate and remember that the scale is just one way to measure your progress. If the number on the scale is truly frustrating you, but you’re dropping inches, I encourage you to take a step back and reflect on your goals. Most often, our goals revolve around changing our body composition, and to look a particular way despite what the scale may say.”

The key is to focus on your overall progress instead of being so laser-focused on what the scale is telling you.

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.

Once you use Fitbod’s body composition feature, the concept of losing inches versus pounds will make more sense. It’ll help show you why building lean muscle mass is crucial and beneficial to achieving your goals.

Unfortunately, there are select circumstances where you should be concerned if you’re losing weight but not inches. You may have an undiagnosed thyroid or hormonal issue

Steven Batash, MD, of Batash Endoscopic Weight Loss explains:

“An underlying condition can also inhibit weight loss efforts, such as hormone imbalances, and certain medical conditions (thyroid, diabetes, etc.), some medications can cause weight gain, PCOS, or changes associated with menopause for women.

Another reason a person may not be losing weight is too much stress. Stress can sabotage even the best weight loss efforts. Our body dumps a hormone into our bodies when we become overstressed which causes the body to retain fat, making it very difficult to lose weight.”

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.

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. Take note of how your clothes fit.

When you lose inches but not weight, you’ll notice 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. Measure 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 is one way to go about it. This scan measures your bone density and is often used to check for osteoporosis. 

You can also try 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.

You can also keep track of your body fat percentage using Fitbod’s body composition feature. 

It will help you understand your body’s muscle mass and bone density in addition to body fat so you can measure it against your exercise and strength gains.

3. Take progress pictures.

Taking pictures of yourself before you start your fitness program 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. Pay 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 lose inches and not pounds, you’ll be able to move your body more easily, last longer in your workouts before getting fatigued, and 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 Avoid Doing?

When you have a goal weight in mind, it can be frustrating when weeks go by and the number hasn’t changed. 

But remember, 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.

Here’s what to avoid doing when the number on the scale won’t budge.

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

1. Don’t 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. Don’t decrease your calories to dangerously low levels

Not changing your calorie intake when you reach a plateau will make it more difficult to keep losing weight. While you may need to gradually decrease 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. Avoid working out more

Your weight loss can stall if you’ve been doing the same exact workouts day in and day out. 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 ensure 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. 

Fitbod takes the guesswork out of how much weight to add to your strength training reps. As you progress and get stronger, the app automatically adjusts your workouts.

Related Article: Cutting Without Cardio: Is It Possible? 

4. Don’t cut out entire food groups.

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

This can result in missing out on essential vitamins and nutrients, but it can also lead to rapid weight gain once those foods are reintroduced into your diet. 

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.