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Weight Loss » Losing Weight But Look Fatter: Cracking This Enigma

Losing Weight But Look Fatter: Cracking This Enigma

losing weight but look fatter

The Unexpected And Disappointing Result Of Losing Weight But Not Fat

Oh, how satisfying, exciting, and motivating it is to look at your scales each day and see wonderful results from your hard work when you are doing your best to lose weight! However, it can be a real bummer when you realize that the slimming down is only noticeable from the change in your weight, not from your body shape. As shedding pounds is never an easy process, you may feel extremely frustrated and disappointed by the fact that though you are losing weight, you are looking fatter.

As most people aim at trimming off a couple of inches or slimming down a couple of sizes, such outcome may lead to despair, loss in motivation, and even cause one to give up just halfway through. This is why it is important to understand the difference between losing weight and slimming down. Read on to find out why weight loss doesn’t equal fat loss, why you might be losing weight but look fatter, and what to do to fix this.

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Why Weight Loss Doesn’t Equal Fat Loss?

If you are reading this, then you may have experienced what losing weight means but not inches. This is quite common and is sure to be baffling if you are not aware of how the process of slimming works. The key issue in your case is that you are losing weight but not fat. Your body weight includes the mass of your body fat and a fat-free mass, or lean body mass – your muscles, bones, organs, and water (1). A very real possibility is that when you notice that you are losing weight but look fatter, there is a high chance that you only lost water weight or muscle mass, or both.

Fat is an essential component of your body, which performs a lot of important functions. Body fat stores energy, protects your organs, starts various vital chemical reactions, stockpiles essential nutrients, etc. (7). Although body fat is essential, having too much fat may lead to some serious health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and many others (3). Especially dangerous is visceral fat – a type of fat that is accumulated around your abdominal organs (9). Now, what you do want to do is to start burning the excess fat along with your visceral fat, which does your body no good. You can use this body fat percentage calculator to find out how much fat you have, and how much you need to burn, if indeed it exceeds the norm.

Reasons Why You Are Losing Weight But Look Fatter And How To Fix That

To start burning fat and slimming down, you first need to analyze what you were doing up until now in order to shed pounds and look at what went wrong. To help you do that, here are some of the common reasons why people are experiencing this situation of losing weight but look fatter:

losing weight but not fat
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  • Lack of sleep

Sleep plays an extremely important role in your health and weight loss. During sleep, your brain is preparing for the next day, and your body is recovering, healing, and growing. Sleep deficiency has been linked to the increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and obesity. Just as sleep helps maintain a healthy balance between the hormones that make you feel full (leptin) and hungry (ghrelin), the lack of sleep increases ghrelin levels, and lowers the leptin levels, which adds up to making you feel hungrier than you would have been if you had slept well (5). This in turn makes it more difficult for you to follow a diet, and avoid unhealthy food cravings, eventually adding to your body fat.

How to fix it?

To overcome this pattern, you need to sleep more. If you have trouble falling asleep, you can try meditation or relaxation techniques. Such practices will put your mind at peace, and clear away the swirling thoughts that are often the main reason for your lack of sleep. You can also try drinking a cup of warm milk or water before sleep. A cup of calming herbal tea is also a great option.

  • Water retention

Water retention occurs when your body fails to properly manage fluids. Some of its symptoms include swelling, shiny or puffy skin, weight gain, etc. This may occur because of hormonal imbalances, obesity, kidney problems, lack of physical activity, etc. (10) When you lose weight but look fatter, there is a possibility that it is the result of swelling caused by water retention.

muscle weighs more than fat
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How to fix it?

Water retention is often the result of an increased sodium intake. Sodium is essential for your body, but only up to a certain amount. Although you may feel like you are in control of your sodium intake because you don’t use that much table salt, there are other sources of sodium in your diet, such as various processed foods, including crackers, chips, canned foods, soft drinks, fast food, and others (12). Try to steer clear of these salty foods, and always check the labels for the sodium content of a product. If reducing your intake of sodium doesn’t help, please consult a doctor.

  • Loss of water weight

The previous point stated that the reason why you are losing weight but look fatter may be due to water retention. In this case, you are losing fat, but it’s additional water that makes you look fuller. There also is another way, in which water may promote weight lost but not inches, and that is when you lose water weight. As it is also a component of your weight, water will be a component in the result on your scale, all the while not making those noticeable changes in your figure. It will be a bit more apparent if you are already slim and want to make your muscles look more chiseled. However, if you are overweight, and lost a couple of pounds without the noticeable result, then perhaps what you lost was only water weight.

How to fix it?

Proper hydration is one of the staples of a successful weight loss campaign. Try drinking about 8 glasses of water per day. Make sure to drain a glass during your work out, before going to sleep, and after waking up. Also, cutting carbohydrates too drastically will cause water weight loss as you use up all your stored glycogen, which has a lot of water attached to it. To avoid this, choose a nutritional strategy that is more moderate in healthy carbohydrates, or decrease them gradually rather than all at once.

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  • Drinking alcohol in excess

If you are a fan of alcohol, you may have a beer or wine belly. A round and protruded belly is not the most attractive feature for anyone. Alcohol, along with sweetened drinks, store juices, and others, are filled with empty calories. Indulging yourself with beer eventually leads to increased amounts of visceral fat, which is extremely difficult to get rid of (8). As abdominal fat is one of the most stubborn types of fat, you may lose weight, but see no changes in the size of your belly.

How to fix it?

Avoid drinking empty-calorie drinks, including all the above-mentioned. If you don’t like plain water, you can drink unsweetened coffee and tea. The latter is a great option, as it promotes weight loss, and there are various types of tea, so you can conveniently change them up so you will not get sick of them.

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  • Increased levels of stress

When you are stressed, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol, which affects your inner body with an increased amount of belly fat. This is often strikingly visible and may be one of the reasons why you are losing weight but look fatter (4). A study showed that increased levels of cortisol may indeed cause abdominal fat depositions even in otherwise slender women (6).

How to fix it?

Try to reduce your stress levels by avoiding stressful situations as much as possible. It sounds simple, but in reality, may be really difficult, especially if you get very stressed from work, or at home. If you can’t avoid stressful situations, try healthy coping mechanisms such as meditation. It has proven to be highly effective at helping people relax and lowering their stress. You can also increase your amount of physical activity, spend more time in the fresh air, and treat yourself once in a while. Take a bubble bath, go shopping, or read your favorite book – it will also help to distract you and in turn partially reduce your stress level.

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losing weight but look fatter
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  • Extreme calorie restriction

Some people think that as they consume fewer calories, they will burn more fat. However, this is not true. Too little of a calorie intake may even interfere with your slimming process. Why does it happen then – you might ask. There are two main reasons for that. The first is that when your body notices that you don’t get enough calories from your food, it goes into survival mode, and begins to use your muscle mass as an energy source, breaks it down, and leads to muscle loss. 

Second, is that during an extreme calorie restriction, there will be changes in your metabolic functions which will in turn reduce the thyroid hormone, and end up slowing down fat loss. It also increases the production of the before-mentioned stress hormone cortisol, which additionally hinders the fat burning process (11).

How to fix it?

The recommended weight loss pace is 1-2 pounds (0.45-1 kg) a week. 1 pound of fat equals 3500 calories, so for your caloric deficit to be healthy, you need to reduce your daily caloric consumption by 500 calories (2). You can use this calories burned calculator to calculate how many calories you require daily, and then subtract 500 from the result.

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  • Lack of exercise

Eating at a proper calorie deficit will make you lose weight, but if you think you can avoid regular exercise, don’t expect the result to be fast and impressive. Lack of exercise may make you lose weight but look fatter because if you restrict your caloric intake, and don’t work your muscles, you will start to lose muscle mass. In such a case the result on your scale will show you not only how much fat you have burned, but also how much muscle mass you have lost.

How to fix it?

Any physical exercise will involve your muscles and add to the number of burned calories. Decide on what your goal is and start working out accordingly. If you want to slim down, without growing muscle mass, then some resistance training and cardio may be perfect for you. If your goal is to get buffed after you slim down, then strength training and weight lifting are your best options.

losing weight but not inches
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  • Lack of patience

This one seems obvious, and yet some people may deny or ignore it. When you work hard, you want to see the result right away. Although you may notice how the number on your scales is getting smaller, for your goal to be visible on your body you should spend a significant amount of time working on yourself by putting your body in motion. You didn’t gain that fat in a week so don’t expect it to be gone in such a small amount of time. Perhaps it could be that you think that you are losing weight but look fatter only because you have made an error in setting your expectations too high. 

How to fix it?

Remember, weight loss is a gradual process, and requires some patience. Start a journal and keep a track of your progress. Write down your weight, along with body measurements. This will help you stay motivated and show you what your result really is. Don’t give up just because you don’t see any changes in the mirror after a couple of weeks of dieting. However, if your situation doesn’t change after months of you trying to lose weight, then you should reconsider your weight loss means, and consult a doctor.

different female body types
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FAQs

How to lose weight around the waist to improve proportions?

There are different female body types – ectomorphs have a small frame, endomorphs have a thick and wide build, and mesomorphs are believed to have the best of the previous two types. To improve their proportions, women of different body types require different approaches. As spot reduction is a myth, you need to take a holistic approach by working on your whole body.

If you are an endomorph and you are wondering how to lose weight around your waist to improve proportions, then you need to start following a diet with a caloric deficit, and a regular cardio workout plan. If you are an ectomorph and want to have a bit more curvaceous figure, then you can try a Brazilian butt challenge, to build your buttock muscles, and visually make your waist smaller. There also are exercises that are particularly effective at helping you reach an hourglass figure, no matter what your body type is.

How to make my body look slimmer?

If you don’t feel like dieting and exercising, but want to make your body look slimmer, here are some simple tips for you:

  • You can make your body look slimmer with the help of certain clothes. Black clothes are known to visually make you thinner. 
  • Wear clothes with vertical stripes and avoid big patterns. 
  • Pick flattering clothes, instead of those that draw attention to your weak sides. 
  • Improving your posture may also significantly improve the way your figure looks. 
  • Avoid salty food, and foods that cause bloating, such as beans, lentils, brussel sprouts, broccoli, garlic, and others.

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Conclusion

Sometimes, losing weight is not exactly what you are striving for. What you really want to do is burn fat. If you feel like you are losing weight but look fatter, now may be the time for you to reconsider your slimming means. Such unsatisfactory results may occur due to lack of sleep, water retention, an extreme caloric deficit, lack of exercise, lack of patience, and others. These things most certainly can be fixed, so do not despair. Use the suggestions outlined in this article and continue doing what you are doing. If you feel like something is wrong, or if you started dieting without consulting a specialist, make sure to ask for professional advice before making any changes in your lifestyle.

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DISCLAIMER:

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

SOURCES:

  1. Body Weight, Body Composition, and Aging (2004, sciencedirect.com)
  2. Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics (2020, mayoclinic.org)
  3. Health Risks of Being Overweight (2015, niddk.nih.gov)
  4. Reasons You’re Not Losing Belly Fat (2019, webmd.com)
  5. Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency (n.d., nhlbi.nih.gov)
  6. Stress May Cause Excess Abdominal Fat In Otherwise Slender Women, Study Conducted At Yale Shows (2000, sciencedaily.com)
  7. The biology of fats in the body (2013, sciencedaily.com)
  8. The Truth About Beer and Your Belly (2010, webmd.com)
  9. What Is Visceral Fat? (2019, webmd.com)
  10. What to know about water retention (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
  11. Why Am I Losing Weight But Not Body Fat? (2019, livestrong.com)
  12. Why Am I Retaining Water? (2020, webmd.com)
Nikki Midland

Nikki Midland

Nikki is an experienced writer who specializes in nutrition, weight management and overall health. Due to her personal struggles with weight in the past, she has also developed a keen interest in fitness and exercising. Nikki believes that since she started doing sports, not only her body, her whole life has drastically changed for the better. Nikki has a great passion for helping people achieve their weight loss goals. She stands firm in her belief that tackling challenges is the only way to become a better version of yourself that is why she urges her readers to never give up.

Kristen Fleming

Kristen Fleming

I am a U.S. educated and trained Registered Dietitian (MS, RD, CNSC) with clinical and international development experience. I have experience conducting systematic reviews and evaluating the scientific literature both as a graduate student and later to inform my own evidence-based practice as an RD. I am currently based in Lusaka, Zambia after my Peace Corps service was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic and looking for some meaningful work to do as I figure out next steps. This would be my first freelance project, but I am a diligent worker and quite used to independent and self-motivated work.

Kristen Fleming, MS, RD, CNSC

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