Losing several waist sizes without losing weight

Someone (female, 5’ 9" I think) I know has worn 14s, 12s, 10s, and 8s over the past years–all while weighing 153-157 lbs. And she now thinks she may need to move down to a 6, even though she still weighs 155. For her current size 8s now look really big on her, and she can pull them away from her waist putting a good two inches between the waist on the pants and her actual waist. And they’re baggy in the back. I was there when she first started wearing these pants (just a little over a month ago!) and they did not fit like this. At first she thought they had simply stretched over the course of a couple of days wear in a row–but washing and drying them (which she thinks should have shrunk them back to normal) had no discernible effect.

She’s confused, and vaguely alarmed (though also pleased) about this. Her adoption of a vigorous workout routine seems to have paid off–but she’s discombobulated at how well and how quickly it seems to have paid off–and aggravated at the complete failure to actually lose any weight, which was her original intention.

We’re wondering, what do women’s pants sizes mean? Do they translate directly into inch measurements somehow?

She thinks that different brands size pants differently. Is that true? If so, how wide can the disparity be? (From the above list, the 12s and 10s were Old Navy, and the 8s were Levi’s.)

How usual is it for someone to move from a 14 to an 8 (and possibly a 6) while still maintaining the same weight?

And other related questions.

Women’s pants size (or any clothing item) mean absolutely nothing. Every designer has their own vanity sizing, and changes from week to week. Even within the same brand two items may vary wildly in size. I have a prom dress from the late 90’s that’s a size 10. I also own a size 0 top that’s slightly too large. My measurements have not changed significantly in that time and I maybe gained five pounds.
Also, keep in mind muscle weighs more than fat, so if your friend is losing fat but gaining muscle her body shape may change, but not her weight.

Women’s 6, 8, and 10 can all be the same size in different brands, so that’s not weird. Sizes have shrunk quite a lot, so if her 14’s were old, that could also explain it (example - Marylin Monroe really was a size 14 or so when she was alive, but if she were alive now, she’d be more like a 6). Essentially, women’s pants sizes basically mean nothing, and they do not translate directly into inches.

If she’s started a vigorous exercise routine, that could certainly help a lot, too. Especially if she’s doing a lot of weight training & ab work, she could easily have lost a size without having lost any pounds.

ETA: sizes can vary quite a bit even within the same brand, so even if she’s buying the same brands they won’t necessarily all fit the same.

Hmm… she could be losing fat from her stomach (cutaneous or intraabdominal), but maintaining the same weight due to increases in muscle and redistribution of fat to other parts of her body. I know that different fat deposits have varying effects on health, so it’s not an unreasonable guess that exercise will have varying effects as well. But I have no evidence to back that up – nothing I can find via google scholar and pubmed (and I’m not about to try to sort through the lies and snake oil that would come up with ordinary google searches).

Generally, though, my understanding is that exercise alone is a pretty slow and inefficient way to lose weight. Especially since appetite, naturally, increases with lots of exercise. So if she’s not dieting as well, she very well could be maintaining the same weight even with a lot of exercise.

Some people do respond well to exercise … I wish I did, if I lose weight through diet and exercise I lose my tits, followed by a bit around the waist but my arse and thighs stay the same size =(

Some women get very hourglass like figures when they lose in the waist - she should learn how to take nips at the waist in =) it beats buying new pants all the time!

Two ex-GFs reported similar fluctuation from a 6-10 range due to exercise, with little weight loss, so not unusual at all.

Myself, when I got fairly serious about lifting again, I lost four inches off the pants waist pretty quickly while “only” losing 13 lbs. on the scale – I figured it was closer to a 25 lb. swing in terms of fat/muscle proportions and location.

She’s put on muscle, which takes up less space than fat but weighs more.

It’s a good thing. She shouldn’t be worried about her “weight” but about the amount of body fat she’s carrying.

She’s doing good. That’s exactly what a vigorous workout routine is supposed to do!

No it doesn’t.

I was going to suggest that she is losing fat and gaining muscle, but I can’t see her gaining THAT much muscle in such a short time. Maybe her body is losing fat from the waistline and gaining somewhere else? That’s odd though.

I’d be more inclined to think it has to do with clothes sizing. As said before, sizes on female clothing are not standardized. I wear anything from a size 12 to a size 4, depending on the maker and the year it was purchased.

Yes it does. Muscle is denser than fat - a given weight of muscle will take up less space than the same weight of fat. This is really very common when people start strength training - weight stays pretty level but clothes fit looser.

Without knowing more about how much she’s been exercising and for how long and whether she’s changing clothing brands and all those other things one can’t really make a blanket statement about why her clothes are fitting looser. Personally I suspect it’s the difference between muscle and fat but that’s just from my own experience.

The best way to tell for sure would be for her to grab a tape measure and perhaps some bodyfat calipers and then track her measurements over time - actually write them down in a notebook. She can also gauge her overall fitness by how hard she’s working - if she used to run a mile in 12 minutes and now she runs 2 in 16, she’s gotten faster and improved her endurance. If she was doing an upper body workout with 5 lb dumbbells and now she can do a longer routine with heavier weights, she’s gotten stronger and increased her muscle endurance. People can make some pretty big gains early on in a workout regimen.

I don’t know about losing fat in one spot and gaining it in another; generally speaking you can’t “target” body fat in any one spot for weightloss (that is, no matter how many situps you do that won’t automatically remove fat from your stomach). Your body will burn fat as needed for energy and you don’t get any choice in where it decides to pull from. Individuals do tend to put fat on in particular places - for example we guys get a gut - so I’d be a little surprised if someone were to lose X lbs of body fat and then put it all back on in some other location, especially if they’ve been exercising and dieting to lose it in the first place.

It does!

Muscle: 1.06 g/ml
Fat: 0.9 g/ml.

That’s nearly 18% more.

Of course a pound of fat weights the same as a pound of muscle (in the same way that a ton of feathers weighs the same as a ton of lead). But it’s denser, so for a given volume muscle weighs more. Or, to put it the other way, for a given weight, the muscle mass will be smaller in volume than the same weight in fat tissue.

So your weight can stay the same while the volume of tissue (waistline) goes down.

I have heard of that with Kettle ball works outs. You lose inches but don’t lose any weight because you are building muscle.

I wish I could do Kettle Ball training but I have a bad shoulder.

Good luck.

Why on earth would she care about the number on the scale if she’s getting slimmer and losing dress sizes?

There’s nothing special about kettle ball exercises - any resistance exercises will do that.

You guys (some of you, some are using the correct terms) are confusing the terms ‘dense’ with ‘weight’. A pound is a pound. A pound of fat weighs exactly the same as a pound of muscle. Muscle is more dense, therefore takes up less space, but it’s still a pound.

I’m still trying to track down the actual study, but:

“In a study completed by Dr. Michael Colgan of the Colgan Institute of Nutritional Sciences,** the most muscle gain that has been recorded over the course of one year was 18 1/4 lbs**. Dr. Colgan states that “because of the limiting rate of turnover in the muscle cells, it is impossible to grow more than an ounce of new muscle each day.” Even if you could grow an ounce each day, this would equal 23 lbs. in one calendar year. The turnover rate that Dr. Colgan is referring to is the protein turnover rate, which is how long it takes muscles to fully utilize their stored protein.”

Bolding, etc., mine.

So while yes, she could be gaining muscle, she’s not gaining so much muscle that she’s losing 10 pounds of fat and gaining 10 pounds of muscle in three months. Your body just isn’t capable of that kind of turnover.

Of course. But when people say muscle weighs more than fat, they are talking about the same volume of each, otherwise, the statement would be completely non-nonsensical.

A lot of dieting advice will tell you not to worry about the scale, but rather how your clothes fit on you. You may be losing fat, but gaining muscle, and therefore the weight gain may seem minimal, but due to the equivalent amount in weight of muscle taking up less space than the equivalent amount in weight of fat, you will indeed be slimming down while maintaining or even gaining weight.

That said, the results in the OP do sound a bit atypical, if not implausible. Hard to tell what is going on without actual measurements (not dress sizes) and perhaps even body fat %age readings. While consumer-level scales with body fat readings aren’t terribly accurate, from my understanding they’re somewhat reliable for tracking changes in body fat composition, if not being reliable about the actual numbers.

If this woman went from a size 14 to a size 8 she lost inches. I have only heard of that with Kettle Bell. Here is an article on it. It is a great way to get your waist back.

Is this reading correct:

Woman has worn sizes 8-14 for years (which is a normal range of sizes, considering all the variability between items), but now, after much exercise, is wearing a size 6.

Or is this what you meant:
Woman has gone from mainly 14s to mainly 12s to mainly 10s to mainly 8s and now to mainly sixes in a fairly close period of time, and in the last month has begun to fit into 6s.

The first sounds perfectly reasonable. The second sounds very unusual.

There is nothing magical about a kettlebell. It’s a weight with a handle on it that may force you to use a funny grip and thus get muscles involved that you might not with some other style of handle but that’s all.

I’ll use myself as an example - I have never used kettlebells in my life, not once, and I have taken about 5 inches off my waist size.

You can achieve great results with kettlebells, free weights, bodyweights, Nautilus gyms, Bowflex, rubber bands, working on a farm or any other kind of resistance. It’s all about putting in the proper amount of effort and doing exercises consistently and properly.

Kettlebells are cool, yes, but that’s really silly. I took off inches from my waist just by running last year. You should know there’s no such thing as spot reduction, anyway.