You slave away at the gym and hardly ever cheat on your carefully laid diet plan -- but the numbers on the scale aren't changing, even as your waistline shrinks. It is quite possible to lose inches but not pounds, and if this is happening to you it could signify increased physical fitness. Keep at your routine; whether the scale agrees or not, you're improving your appearance as well as your health.
Fat vs. Muscle
Muscle is denser than fat, meaning a square inch of muscle weighs more than a square inch of fat. When you burn fat and gain muscle at the same time, the added muscle may outweigh the lost adipose tissue, even though it takes up less space. Thus, your measurements may decrease while your weight stays the same -- or even goes up. If you are exercising but haven't changed your diet, you're probably losing fat and gaining muscle at roughly the same rate. Regardless of weight, you become healthier as you lower your body-fat percentage while gaining lean muscle mass.
Exercise and Fat
The type of exercise you do plays a role in muscle gain versus fat loss. Aerobic exercise, or cardio, burns calories efficiently for a stronger immediate fat-burning effect. Cardio exercises include running, swimming and using elliptical machines. Strength-training exercises also burn some calories, but mainly focus on building muscle tissue. Examples include lifting weights or performing pushups and squats. Muscle tissue requires more calories to maintain than fat, so building muscle eventually increases resting metabolism.
A slimmer waistline may indicate visceral fat loss -- even if you haven't shed a pound, according to Harvard Medical School. Visceral fat lies deep in your abdomen. More troublesome than subcutaneous fat just beneath the skin, visceral fat emits molecules that raise your risk of asthma, heart disease and breast cancer. This type of fat vanishes more easily than subcutaneous fat, disappearing with exercise, improved diet and possibly stress reduction, according to Harvard.
Healthy Fat Loss
If you have excess body fat, focus on losing it the healthy way instead of worrying about the scale. Women usually shed fat safely on 1,500 calories per day, or 1,800 calories with regular exercise. That's enough to curb hunger and ensure proper nutrition. Get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate cardio exercise each week, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous cardio, spread out over multiple days. Strength training is also important for overall health and weight maintenance, so work all muscle groups two to three times weekly.
- ExRx.net: Diet and Exercise
- ExRx.net: Spot Reduction Myth
- MayoClinic.com: Exercise for Weight Loss: Calories Burned in 1 Hour
- Harvard Health Publications: Taking Aim at Belly Fat
- GoodHousekeeping.com: Is 1,200 Calories a Day Enough?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity do Adults Need?
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.