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.
Why Inches Lost Matters
Track inches lost, in addition to pounds lost, to get a better picture of your health. Some health risks are tied directly to your measurements, anyway; a waist size of larger than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women indicates a higher risk of obesity-related diseases, so tracking inches lost off your waist can give you more insight into your disease risk than simply watching the scale.
Measuring inches lost shows the visible effects of weight loss — like how well your clothes fit — better than looking at pounds alone. Because muscle is more dense than fat, a pound of muscle takes up less space than a pound of fat. That means you might lose inches as you drop fat and gain muscle, even if you don’t see a significant reduction on the scale. If you’re at a healthy weight, tracking inches lost in key areas — your chest, waist, hips and thighs — can help you see that you’re getting fitter even if you’re not losing weight. A 135-pound woman with 20 percent body fat weighs the same as a 135-pound woman with 14 percent body fat, for example, but the woman with less body fat will have smaller measurements.
When you first begin to lose weight, typically the first thing to go is water weight. According to specialists, 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.
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.