When you’re starting a weight loss journey for better health, one of the keys to success is properly measuring your progress. The usual method of checking progress is by looking at the scales. The problem is, the scales don’t show you the entire picture of your weight loss progress.
There are different ways to measure body fat percentage, with the two most common ways being measuring your actual weight and calculating your body mass index (BMI). It’s important to know how to properly track your weight when you’re on a weight loss program so you can make adjustments as needed and reward yourself accordingly.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
BMI is an assessment of your body weight to your height. It's a little more complicated than that in terms of the formula that's used to calculate it. While it’s the quickest way of showing you the ratio between your weight and height, it has limitations. If you have a lot of muscle mass, that can make you appear to have a higher BMI. In other words, it could make you look like you're obese even if you’re not.
If you're doing a lot of weight training, your BMI can actually increase as your body fat decreases. Unless you’re going through a massive body-building program, measuring your BMI is a good way to track your progress if you’re doing a general weight loss program.
When it comes to weight, the scales are not a perfect way of measuring your progress. That’s because you can also lose weight as you lose muscles and gain fat. Muscle is actually heavier than fat.
As to how much weight loss is healthy, know that just 10% reduction in your body weight is going to produce enormous benefits because of the fact that this fat, especially abdominal fat, is actively producing things that are affecting our metabolic health.
Tracking your progress by checking your weight or calculating your BMI are acceptable measures of progress if you have started with either of these and you are doing a general weight loss program with resistance training.
However, the gold standard is body fat percentage and there are lots of different ways to measure it.
Tools to Measure Body Fat Percentage
Calipers are tools that pinch on your skin to separate the fat tissue from the muscle. They measure the fold of your skin to help you estimate the percentage of body fat. They are used on seven different locations of your body:
- Subscapula or the lower tip of your shoulder blade
- Midaxiallary site or the area below your armpit on the fifth rib
- Suprailiac site or the front of your hips
You then get the average of two to three measurements to estimate the total body fat percentage. Body fat percentage is a valuable way of measuring progress because this is what we need to focus on. If we are able to reduce the level of fat, then we are also getting metabolic benefits.
DEXA scan or commonly known as bone density scanning is actually used for osteoporosis, but it can also be used to get your body fat percentage. What’s great about DEXA scan is it tells you how fat is distributed in your body in addition to telling you how much body fat you have.
Hydrostatic weighing is based on Archimedes principle, which says that different densities will have a different buoyancy underwater. Fat may be more buoyant than muscle, so with hydrostatic weighing, they put you under water and weigh you under it.
When they weigh you under water, they can tell how much fat and how much muscle you have and from that they can tell the percentage of body fat you have. This is one of the most effective ways of measuring body fat, and it’s even more effective than DEXA scans.
Bioelectrical impedance analysis uses scales to measure the rate through which electrical signals travel throughout your body. This rate is used to calculate your body fat percentage.
When using bioelectrical impedance, you need to do it at the same time every day because the results can be influenced by several factors like your food or drink intake.
Progress is Not Just About the Numbers
There are a lot of ways to measure progress, not just your weight or body fat percentage. Don't forget to add how you feel about how your life is improving. Is the emotional aspect of your life better because you are having more control over some of the emotional decisions that you're making when it comes to food? Are you learning more about your body, which can be counted as intellectual growth?
Here are other examples of ways to measure your weight loss progress that aren’t based on numbers:
- Pay attention to how you are feeling a week or two after getting off high glycemic foods that have been spiking your blood sugar a lot or quitting addictive foods like dairy and wheat. You can feel ill in the first two weeks, but then after that you will start getting a surge of energy. This is progress.
- If you are able to quit unhealthy food habits like eating junk foods when stressed, which you would normally succumb to prior to your weight loss program, then that is progress as well.
- Sometimes, when we've decided to embark on something that improves our lives in such a way that we feel connected to God more than we did before, that is an enormous improvement in our life and it can be another way of seeing progress.
Even if these don’t reflect in your BMI, your weight, or your body fat percentage, you can still count them as success. You can look at your progress from the different levels that I often talk about in my blogs: physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and social. The five levels of resistance when starting a healthy diet plan are actually the same levels that you can examine if you want to assess your weight loss progress.
When we start assessing our weight loss progress from all these different levels, we can see success in lots of different ways. Eventually, if you're seeing success in those realms, it often duplicates itself into other parts of your life.
Not seeing progress in your weight loss efforts? Get support from a group and connect with me personally on our Weight Loss Awakening Friendship Group on Facebook.