When you've changed your diet and started exercising in an effort to lose weight, it's natural to want to see your hard work pay off as the number on the scale goes down. But what happens if you're losing weight but not inches around your waist? Are you doing something wrong?
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If you know you're living a healthier lifestyle, you're probably doing things right.
"It's important to flip your mindset and know that changes are happening and you're on the right track," Ramona Braganza, fitness expert and celebrity trainer, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
While we're conditioned to want to visualize those changes and look for quick results, it's also important not to base everything on the scale or inches lost — how you're feeling in terms of other factors like your energy, mood or sleep quality also matter.
At the same time, it's important to know what might be going on because it can help ease any frustration you may be feeling and keep you on the right path:
1. You’re Losing Visceral Fat
Visceral fat is particularly dangerous. It's the type of fat that hugs your internal organs and drives up your risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is not the type of fat that sits just below your skin that — as the CDC says — "you can pinch."
If you're losing pounds but not inches, this may be because initially, you're losing visceral fat. And that's great news!
"The way to look at wellness right now is to move beyond the visual and into the health factor. External changes will take longer than what's happening in your body," Braganza says.
2. You’re Losing Muscle
It's important to consider where the majority of your weight loss is coming from: fat, muscle or water?
"If you're losing weight but not inches, you're probably losing muscle and water," Gabbi Berkow, RD, CPT, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer in New York City, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
It's not ideal to lose muscle mass rather than fat, but this can happen if you lose weight too quickly, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Losing more than 1 to 2 pounds a week can lead to other side effects, too, including gallstones, gout and a loss of bone density. You're also more likely to gain the weight back when you lose it lightning-quick.
3. You’re Forgetting Deeper Core Exercises
If you're all about crunches and are losing weight but not inches, it may be time to rethink your ab routine.
"You'll want to train the transverse abdominal muscle, the deeper core muscles that pull your abdominals in," Braganza says.
She finds that Pilates-based exercises make the most difference in this musculature. And that includes familiar moves like planks, plank variations and V-sits.
You can also fit in this training during the day, she says. When you're standing in line, contract your core muscles to pull your belly away from your waistband.
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4. You’re Eating More Fiber
But there is an adjustment period, which may account for why you're not losing inches off your waist.
"Increasing fiber, especially cruciferous veggies (like broccoli and cauliflower), can lead to water retention," Berkow says.
She recommends increasing fiber gradually, or by about 5 grams per day. (The general recommendation is to eat between 25 and 38 grams of fiber per day, notes the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.) And try to stick to whole-food sources of fiber, like fruits, veggies and whole grains, rather than fiber-enriched foods that contain ingredients like inulin and chicory root.
5. You’re Eating More Sugar Substitutes
You may be turning to foods that contain low-calorie sugar substitutes like sugar alcohols (sorbitol, xylitol, erythritol and mannitol are a few) in an effort to reduce your sugar intake and overall calories.
Understandable, but some people find these cause bloating and water retention, Berkow says, which can contribute to losing weight but not inches.
6. You’re Slouching
Sometimes a one-second fix makes all the difference if you find you're losing weight but your waist is not getting smaller.
"Standing taller will lengthen up your abdominals a bit more," Braganza says.
7. You’re Not Pooping
"Elimination is a big part of weight loss," Braganza says.
First thing in the morning before she gets out of bed, she drinks a large container of water and then lays there for 20 minutes. (This is called Japanese water therapy.) Once she stands up and gets going, she usually has to go to the bathroom.
Staying regular can help beat bloating that leaves your belly looking a bit inflated. Plus: You'll feel better, too.