Losing Pounds Versus Losing Inches

“Why am I losing inches but the pounds aren’t dropping? One of the most frequent questions a fitness professional hears, along with the statement “I don’t care about inches, I want to see pounds drop.”

Both are very understandable. Television shows like “The Biggest Loser” choose winners based on pounds lost. Diet products promote potential weight loss as their primary enticement. Even your Body Mass Index chooses weight as its primary input consideration. Based on that, it would be easy to assume that one’s body weight would be a direct correlation to one’s heath, and pounds would be the best litmus test of one’s progress in a fitness program. However, making that assumption would be very wrong.

The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 2/3 of Americans are overweight (Body Mass Index over 25), and well over a third are obese,  defined as having a Body Mass Index over 30. The American Journal of Medicine estimates that, in addition, almost one in four Americans that weigh in the desired range are MONW, or metabolically obese normal weight. Commonly, this is referred to as skinny fat. Not only do these “skinny fat” people find themselves at risk for Type II diabetes, their risk of death if diagnosed with Type II is double that of an obese person. So, while MONW individuals may have a body weight in the desired range, they also tend to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and elevated blood sugar levels, all major negatives from a health standpoint.


If you are in a fitness program, and are losing inches, but not seeing the pounds drop, how do we explain that? If you are losing inches, you are likely losing body fat. Based on your type of exercise program, you are probably adding muscle. Muscle takes up much less space in your body. Five pounds of body fat are many times the size of five pounds of muscle, as the photo below illustrates. Remember, we don’t wear a sign on our foreheads posting our weight, so others have no idea how we tip the scale. Move evident, however, is our body’s shape, and our look of healthiness. If you are seeing inches melt away, then you are definitely making some positive progress, especially if that is accompanied with an increase in energy, and generally feeling better. With a high waist to hips ratio being one of the greatest risk indicators for Type II diabetes, losing fat in your midsection can be much more beneficial to your overall health that just dropping pounds. Weight loss from most of the “fad diets” usually comes with losing needed muscle as well as some fat.


Muscle is beneficial in so many ways. It increases your metabolic rate, making you a more effective calorie burner. Muscle also has a much more desirable aesthetic appearance, as opposes to fat. In addition to enjoying being stronger, adding muscle can improve your posture, endurance, cardio performance and a myriad of other factors. Fat, on the other hand, beyond the needed essential levels, brings nothing but negatives to your overall health.


So, if pounds should not be the ultimate goal, what should be? Most experts agree that body composition in one of the most accurate indicators of a person’s fitness level. Women can shoot for an objective of 20-25% body fat, depending on their level of athleticism, and men generally feel great at 15-20%. Most of the fitness models you see on magazine covers are in the single digits, body fat wise, but rest assured the majority of them don’t walk around at that level all year. They train to peak in a season for competitions and photos sessions. Don’t pick one of them as your desired end goal, as they don’t live in the same real world as those who don’t have fitness as their full time job. So, for those of us not seen on magazine covers? Aim for a healthy body composition and you’ll enjoy the results!

Jim Harris