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Can You Lose Inches and Not Weight?

8 min read
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Melissa Mitri post Reviewer Melissa Mitri post Reviewer
Verified by Melissa Mitri
MS, Registered Dietitian, Former President of CT Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Table of Contents

It’s natural to focus on the number on the scale when thinking about getting fit. However, you might have noticed that this number sometimes gives odd results. It might go down one day, up the next day, and then not budge for several days. 

On the other hand, you might notice that your clothes fit a bit looser than usual, although your weight displayed on the scale says otherwise. 

So, what’s going on here?

Can you lose inches and not weight?

Although this probably sounds confusing and contradictory, it can all be explained scientifically. In today’s post, we will help you figure out why you might get slimmer without the numbers on the scale going down. 

So, Can You Lose Inches And Not Weight?

So, is it possible to lose inches and not weight? It certainly is. 

First and foremost, you need to understand that weight loss is not synonymous with fat loss. 

Let us explain this a bit further: the number you see on your scale is the total weight of several components of your body, primarily your bones, muscles, fat, and fluids. Generally, when you lose weight, it can mean that you are losing either muscle mass or fat mass. The number on the scale can also indicate the changes in the water mass your body is holding onto. 

Most people who embark on a fitness journey will experience the losing-inches-but-not-pounds situation eventually. Although it can be frustrating to see that weight is not decreasing, there is nothing to worry about.  

Why Are You Losing Inches But Not Weight?

If you feel like you’re losing inches but not weight, here are a few simple reasons why this might happen:

You can be gaining muscle at the same time you’re losing fat

If you recently started a strength training regimen and are eating a high-protein diet, you are probably building muscle while simultaneously losing fat. This process is known as body recomposition.

Lean muscle has a higher density than fat, meaning a pound of muscle is more tightly packed than a pound of fat [1], so your body circumference will go down when you burn fat and gain more muscle. 

Your body might be holding onto some water

If you’ve been working out diligently and eating in a caloric deficit but see an increase in your weight on your scale, don’t panic—it can simply be the water weight. And, more often than not, this can be a temporary fluctuation. 

For instance, your body will hold on to more water, particularly after you eat a high-carb meal [2]

Another reason for water retention is from too much sodium in your meal [3]

Hormonal changes— like those you experience during menstruation, pregnancy, or with some health conditions like hypothyroidism—also cause your body to retain more water than usual [3]

You might simply be weighing yourself incorrectly

If you want to get a correct measurement, make sure you weigh yourself roughly at the same time each day using the same scale. The ideal time to weigh yourself is in the morning after going to the bathroom and before you eat or drink anything. 

Ensure you only wear light clothes when you step on the scale to avoid external weight fluctuations. 

You might have other issues, such as constipation

Sometimes, other health concerns, such as constipation, can lead to a temporary increase in weight

Generally, a person excretes 200 g of stools per day [4], and if you have constipation, you will retain this bulk inside, displaying a short-term weight gain. In such a case, laxatives might help, but make sure to ask your doctor first. 

What Is Better For You: Losing Inches Or Weight?

From a health and fitness perspective, losing inches is always better than just losing pounds.

A pound drop can simply mean that you’ve eaten less the previous day or that your body is retaining less water. It can also mean that you are losing muscle mass rather than fat mass, which is undoubtedly not a preferred situation. 

On the other hand, a reduction in waist or hip measurements can signal that you are losing fat even though you don’t see an immediate drop in the pounds. You can even see an increase in weight if you build more muscles than you lose fat. 

How Long After Losing Inches Will I Lose Weight?

In the natural course of things, you will more likely see an initial weight drop immediately after you start your weight loss protocol. This reduction is probably due to the loss of water weight that usually happens after cutting back on carbs and sodium.

If you stick with your weight loss regimen for some time, you will notice a drop in your closing sizes, indicating that you are losing inches. 

You might also have to go through a weight loss plateau at some point in your journey, and your weight might even increase. 

It is important to understand that the connection between losing inches and losing weight is complex and can vary from person to person. These changes may not always occur simultaneously, and the timeline for seeing results can be influenced by various factors such as body composition, diet, and workout routine.

Is Weighing A Good Way to Track Weight Loss Progress?

Weighing yourself is a useful method of assessing your weight loss success, but you shouldn’t rely solely on your scale reading. Your scale shows how much you’ve gained or lost overall, whether muscle, fat, or water weight. 

Unless you own a sophisticated scale that indicates body fat percentages, there’s no surefire way to tell which is which.

However, studies show that people who weigh themselves daily achieve more effective weight loss than those who weigh themselves less frequently [5]. It’s more likely because those who self-monitor tend to look after themselves a bit better than those who don’t. 

That said, there are other indicators of fat loss that you can use to get an idea of how your body is responding to your weight loss regimen. For instance, you can take periodic waist and hip measurements and check if they are going down. If you see a noticeable decrease in your waist and hip circumferences, it most probably means that you are losing fat. 

You can also watch simple details like how your clothes fit and your energy levels to get an idea of your fat loss progress. These non-scale victories can sometimes indicate your success better than the number of pounds on your scale.


Why are my clothes looser but not losing weight?

Your clothes may be looser even if you’re not losing weight because you could lose fat and gain muscle simultaneously. This is called body recomposition and can happen if you’ve started a strength training regimen and are eating a high-protein diet. Muscle is denser than fat, so even if your weight remains the same.

Is losing inches better than losing weight?

Losing inches is generally considered better than losing weight from a health perspective. A drop in weight can mean that you’ve eaten less the previous day or that your body is retaining less water. It can also mean losing muscle mass rather than fat mass, which is not preferred. 

On the other hand, a reduction in waist or hip measurements can signal that you are losing fat, which is a healthier and more sustainable form of weight loss.

How do you get rid of water weight?

To get rid of water weight, you can reduce your intake of sodium and simple carbohydrates, which can cause your body to retain water. Hormonal changes can also cause water retention, so it’s essential to be aware of any health conditions that can affect hormone levels. 

For example, people might lose water weight after starting thyroid medication as hypothyroidism, when not treated, causes water retention.

How long does it take for weight loss to show on scales?

You might see an initial weight drop due to water weight loss when you start a weight loss regimen. After some time, usually a month or two, you may notice a drop in your clothing sizes, indicating that you are losing inches. 

The timeline for weight loss to show on scales can vary greatly from person to person, and your body composition, diet, and workout routine can influence it.

You might also experience a weight loss plateau or even an increase in weight, especially if you’re gaining muscle mass. It’s important to remember that this is a normal part of the process, and the scale is just one measure to monitor. 

Bottom Line

Can you lose inches and not weight? You certainly can, and it’s quite normal. 

But if weighing yourself every day is not for you, that’s okay. Tracking changes in body measurements, how your clothes fit, and overall improvements in fitness and energy levels are equally valuable indicators of your health journey. 

Focus on overall health, including fitness and body composition improvements, and tell yourself that the pounds on the scale are just a number. Your weight can temporarily increase, but if you’re sticking to your weight loss regimen and seeing other non-scale victories, such as a drop in cloth sizes, you are probably doing it right. 

Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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