Last month, upon measure of the usual three girths, I discovered I’d lost 11 inches– cause for great celebration. I only measure once a month because I think that otherwise the progress might be so slight as to go unnoticed. Given that clothes seem looser and I haven’t seen so much progress on the scale, I was thinking– ah, it’s being transformed to muscle. So I looked forward to today: May’s Measuring Day.
Except I was busy and away for most of the day and by the time I could get my hands on a tape measure it was nearly 6 o’clock. I was quite disappointed to see that the measurements were only a total of two inches less overall. Two inches. And yes, that’s two inches farther ahead than I might have been, and still a step in the right direction, even when the pace is an excruciatingly slow inch by inch. It’s still progress.
I was curious about this though, so I did a little digging under “losing weight but not inches.” There’s more there than you would expect. (Also “losing inches but not weight,” but most people understand that transforming fat into muscle makes for a denser flesh, and thus somewhat more heavy. Fat is actually very buoyant, which is why so many of us chubby people like to frolic around in the pool. But I digress.)
This “losing weight but not losing inches” turned up all kinds of things I didn’t know, or at least hadn’t thought about. Like this, from Livestrong:
“When you lose weight you lose it from throughout your body. Fat is drawn proportionately from wherever it is stored. If you carry fat in your hips and buttocks, then you will draw more weight and inches from that area. However, because you draw from fat throughout your body, measurement of inches lost in one particular area, such as your belly, will show loss more slowly than your weight will. Keep dropping weight, and you will eventually see the results in your tape measurements.”
When people lose “weight,” they lose fat, or water, or muscle. If it’s fat you’re losing, you’re taking away more bulk and thus you will see the change reflected in small measurements. But if you lose muscle mass, you lose inches at a much slower rate.
Many dieters don’t consume enough protein. If you don’t feed your body enough protein, you lose muscle mass, which — say it together now “means more weight loss than volume loss.” Sedentary lifestyles, injury and illness all contribute to muscle atrophy, where again, you’ll see a measurable decrease in weight, but little change in volume.
Apparently, operator error (of a tape measure!) is also a problem in the “losing weight but not inches” phenomena. Apparently, it’s not just our weight that changes during the day, so do our measurements. I guess I knew this– ever try on shoes in the late afternoon? But I didn’t think about the effect that water retention and meals consumed would have on the measurements taken at 6 p.m. So tomorrow morning, first thing, I’m going to measure again.
But the most surprising fact about the failure to lose volume was this one: your dietary and exercise patterns can cause you to lose muscle mass and gain fatty bulk. That is, the very thing that you’re doing to try lose weight and gain fitness may be pushing you in the opposite direction.
If you engage in strenuous resistance workouts in the morning before breakfast, or following periods of fasting, you promote the breakdown of muscle protein. If you eat sporadically, you starve your muscles of energy for much of the day, promoting protein breakdown. Then, when you do eat, especially if you eat a large number of calories to compensate for the prior calorie deprivation, you flood your body with glucose which can’t be used, so it is converted into fat. In this way, you can deplete lean muscle mass and replace it with bulky fat.
I am guilty of all of this. I have engaged in strenuous workouts before breakfast. (Advice from elsewhere on Livestrong, on how to jumpstart your metabolism.) I have engaged in strenuous workouts following periods of (unintended) fasting, and I rarely gorge. I always eat sporadically, but I am trying to do better. It seems like if I was eating as much as I am supposed to as often as I am supposed to that I would be eating constantly.