How Many Pounds Do I Have to Lose to Drop an Inch?

A man wrapping a tape measure around his waist.
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When you're on a diet to lose weight, it's tempting to focus on losing pounds, even though shedding inches is usually a more reliable indicator of your progress. There is no specific measure of pounds it takes to lose an inch. This is partly because it varies not only from person to person but also from inch to inch. Losing inches is usually a good indicator of fat loss, while losing pounds can also include water weight and muscle loss.

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Water Weight

When you first begin to lose weight, typically the first thing to go is water weight. According to Dr. Dave Woynarowski on the Dr. Dave Unleashed website, you can expect to drop your first inch after losing about 8 pounds, most of which is excess water being shed from your body. This is water that the muscles require in order to store carbohydrates as glycogen. Once you've introduced a caloric deficit, the body first goes to stored glycogen for energy before burning fat. As the glycogen burns up, the water needed to store it ends up being expelled.


Dress Downsizing

There's no hard-and-fast rule regarding how many pounds equals an inch. A general rule of thumb is that it takes about 10 to 20 pounds of weight loss in order to go down a dress size, although this varies between individuals as well as clothing manufacturers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends reducing your caloric intake by 500 to 1,000 calories per day in order to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week. Theoretically, by following these guidelines you can expect on average to lose a dress size every 10 to 20 weeks.

Inches Vs. Pounds

If you've added regular exercise to your weight-loss strategy, particularly strength training, there will most likely be times when you continue to lose inches without losing any pounds. This is because you're replacing fat with muscle. If you replace a pound of fat with a pound of muscle, you won't see any movement on the scales. But because muscle is smoother and more compact than fat, taking up less room inside your body, you should still notice the inches melting away. For this reason, weighing yourself regularly isn't always the best measure of progress.


Build Muscle and Burn Fat

For a healthy weight-loss approach, the goal should be to lose fat, not just pounds. Without exercise and proper nutrition, simply eating less will cause muscle to be lost along with fat. Adding strengthening and toning exercises to your fitness routine will help to build muscle, which will in turn help the body to metabolize fat more efficiently, according to the American Council on Exercise. Getting plenty of lean protein in your diet, such as chicken, turkey and fish, will also help by providing fuel for your new muscles.