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Losing Inches But Not Losing Weight?

Focus on Fat Loss, Not Weight Loss

By

Updated July 07, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Losing inches not weight
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Because so many of us want to lose weight, at any given moment, most of us know how much we weigh. Most of us even have a favorite scale, the favorite being the one that gives us the lowest number possible. We talk about weight, think about weight and, sometimes, lie about weight, but how often do we think about what that number means?

For too many of us, weight isn't just a number but something that can actually change how we feel about ourselves. But, 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 just have you tossing out your scale forever.

Focus on Fat Loss, Not Weight Loss

When you talk about losing weight, what you usually mean is slimming down. But slimming down doesn't always mean losing weight. It may sound odd, but it's possible to get thinner 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. But, if the scale doesn't change, you may not even be aware that you're getting real results. Knowing the difference between losing weight and losing body fat can change how you get results and may even change how you look at your own body.

The Truth About Your Weight

What does your weight say about you? If you think about it, that number doesn't tell you a whole lot. The scale shows your weight, but does it tell you how much of that weight is muscle and how much is fat? Or how much of that weight is water, bones or organs? A bodybuilder's weight could be off the charts because of extra muscle, but does that mean he's overweight or fat? Most of us would say no because we know that weight doesn't tell the whole story.

Knowing your body composition is crucial information if you really want to get results and, unfortunately, the scale doesn't tell you that. Another reason scale weight isn't so reliable is that it changes all the time. All of us experience weight changes throughout the day, sometimes by as much as 10 pounds depending on what and how often we eat and drink. You could gain weight right now by putting on a pair of heavy boots, but does that mean you've gained fat? No. Just as taking those boots off doesn't mean you've lost any fat.

While the scale isn't completely useless, it 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 throw out the scale for good.

Should You Throw Out the Scale?

You now know that focusing on fat loss is much more important than focusing on your weight. When you lose body fat, you're making permanent changes in your body, shifting your body composition so that you have less fat and more muscle. 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.

When you first start a program, you may need extra encouragement to keep going, proof that what you're doing is working and the scale may not give you that. Other ways the scale can work against you:

  • It measures everything: The number on the scale includes everything - muscles, fat, bones, organs, fat, 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 you're getting leaner and slimmer.
  • It doesn't reflect your health: As mentioned above, the scale can't tell the difference between fat and muscle. That means a person can have a low body weight, but still have unhealthy levels of body fat.
  • 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? You may question everything you're doing, wondering why you even bother at all. Focusing on weight may overshadow the positive results you're getting such as fat loss, more endurance and higher energy levels.

Change How You Measure Your Success

Even if you're not ready to stop weighing yourself entirely, using other ways to measure progress can keep you motivated and help you realize that you are making changes, no matter what the scale says.

  • Go by how your clothes fit. If they fit more loosely, you know you're on the right track
  • Take your measurements to see if you're losing inches
  • Get your body fat tested or use an online calculator
  • 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

If the scale is making you crazy, taking a break from weighing yourself may just open your eyes to other possibilities. Your weight isn't the only measure of your success. Put away the scale and you may just see how far you've really come.

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