4 Ways to Track Your Weight Loss Progress

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Have you ever spent several weeks exercising and watching your diet, only to watch the scale stay at the exact same number day after day?  Of course you have...we all have and there's a very good reason for that:  The scale doesn't tell the whole story. In fact, if you're working out, your body is changing - Your heart is learning to work more efficiently, your circulation is getting better and deep inside your cells, you're actually growing more mitochondria.

All of these changes are necessary for the weight loss to happen but it's hard to get excited about changes that we can't see and feel.  So, if the changes are happening and you can't measure them, and the scale isn't moving how do you know if you're making progress? Why not try a new way to track your progress?

Track Your Body Fat

Scale weight can be a useful number to know but, even better, is knowing your body fat percentage. This is important because scale weight doesn't always tell the whole story. As Elizabeth Quinn, Sports Medicine Guide notes: "An individual can be "overweight" and not "over-fat." A bodybuilder, for example, may be 8% body fat, yet at two hundred and fifty pounds may be considered "overweight" by a typical height-weight chart." (Body Composition vs. Body Fat)

Knowing your body fat percentage can give you a better idea of how much fat you really need to lose and, even better, whether you're making progress in your program...things your scale can't tell you.

It's possible for your scale weight to remain the same, even as you slim down, especially if you're losing fat and gaining muscle.

There are plenty of options for body fat testing including:

  • Calipers
  • Bioelectrical Impedance Scales
  • DEXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry)
  • Hydrostatic Weighing
  • Online calculators (used in conjunction with skinfold or tape measurements)

    A healthy body fat range is 25 - 31% for women and 18 - 25% for men. To choose the right method for you, get more details at What's Your Body Fat? Keep in mind that most health clubs offer some type of body fat testing.

    Get the most out of your body fat measurement by:

    • Checking it once a week or every other week instead of daily. Body fat doesn't vanish overnight and you may not see those small changes if you measure every day.
    • Having the same person measure you each time. Different trainers will measure you in different ways, so stick with the same person each time and make sure the person is very experienced in measuring body fat.
    • If using a bioelectrical impedance scale, be sure to measure under the same circumstances each time. Hydration, food intake and skin temperature can affect body fat measurements.
    • Keep track of your numbers in a journal or calendar.

    Take the Body Fat Quiz to find out how much you really know about your own body fat.

    Use the Scale

    As I mentioned above, scales don't always give you the whole story about your body or your weight loss progress.

    For that reason, scales (when used alone) are my least favorite method of tracking weight loss. Another reason to dislike scales is what I like to call 'Weight Loss Psychosis,' or the tendency for otherwise rational people to abandon all reason, lock themselves in closets and/or ditch any and all healthy behaviors because...why bother if the scale doesn't change?

    The problem with body weight scales is that they measure everything--fat, muscle, bones, organs and even that sip of water you just had. The scale can't tell you what you've lost or gained, which is important information if you're trying to lose weight...and by weight, what we really mean is fat.

    Here are just a few things that can increase your weight, causing it to fluctuate as much as 10 lbs in one day:

    • Water. Because the body is about 60% water, fluctuations in your hydration levels can change the number on a scale. If you're dehydrated or have eaten too much salt, your body may actually retain water, which can cause scale weight to creep up. Similarly, many women retain water during menstrual cycles, which is another thing that can make that number change.
    • Food. Weighing yourself after a meal isn't the best idea simply because food adds weight. When you eat it, your body will add that weight as well. It doesn't mean you've gained weight, it simply means that you've added something to your body (something that will be eliminated through digestion over the next several hours).
    • Muscle. Muscle is more dense than fat and it takes up less space, so adding muscle could increase your scale weight, even though you're slimming down.

    That doesn't mean the scale is useless. In fact, it's a wonderful tool when you combine it with your body fat percentage. Knowing both of these numbers will tell you whether you're losing the right kind of weight...fat.

    Simply multiply your weight by your body fat percentage. For example, a person who weighs 150 lbs with 21% body fat has 31 lbs of fat and 118 lbs of lean tissue (150 x .21 = 31.5 lbs of fat, 150 - 31.5 = 118 lean tissue). Keeping track of these numbers on a weekly or monthly basis will help you see what you're losing and/or what you're gaining.

    Next: How to Take Your Measurements

    Try these tricks to make weighing yourself a useful and more positive experience:

    • Weigh yourself first thing in the morning before you eat or drink anything.
    • Weigh yourself once a month instead of daily or weekly to give your body time to respond to your weight loss program. The scale won't reflect small changes happening in your body composition.
    • Remember, the scale weighs everything. Just because your scale weight hasn't changed doesn't mean you aren't making progress.
    • Use scale weight along with body fat percentage for a more accurate view of your progress

    If the scale freaks you out and body fat testing isn't an option, your next best choice is taking your measurements.

    Take Your Measurements

    This is one of my favorite ways of tracking progress because it doesn't require any fancy equipment and anyone can do it. Taking your measurements at certain areas can give you an idea of where you're losing fat, which is important since we all lose fat in different areas and in a different order. Taking your measurements can help reassure you that things are happening--even if you're not losing fat exactly where you want just yet.

    Start by wearing tight fitting clothing (or no clothing) and make a note of what you're wearing so you know to wear the same clothes the next time you measure. Here's how to do it:

    • Bust: Measure around the chest right at the nipple line, but don't pull the tape too tight.
    • Chest: Measure just under your bust
    • Waist: Measure a half-inch above your belly button or at the smallest part of your waist
    • Hips: Place tape measure around the biggest part of your hips
    • Thighs: Measure around the biggest part of each thigh
    • Calves: Measure around the largest part of each calf
    • Upper arm: Measure around the largest part of each arm above the elbow
    • Forearm: Measure around the largest part of the arm below the elbow.

    You can use this Progress Chart to record your measurements. Take them again once a week or once a month to see if you're losing inches.

    Use Your Clothes

    It may seem obvious, but don't overlook one of the simplest ways to track progress--how your clothes fit. You may want to take a picture of yourself wearing a bathing suit and keep it in your weight loss journal. Each month, take a new picture...you'll be surprised at how many changes you notice in a picture as opposed to just seeing yourself in the mirror. You can also use your clothes to keep track of your progress. Choose a pair of pants that are a little tight and try them on every 4 weeks to see how they fit.  Make a note of where they feel loose, where they feel tight and how you feel wearing them.  Whatever the scale says?  Your pants will never lie.

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