4 Ways to Track Your Weight Loss Progress

Scale
Scale. Tetra Images/Getty Images

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?

Maybe it's time to find 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 Expert notes in Body Composition vs. Body Fat:

"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."

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:

    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.

    The Right Way to Use the Scale

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

    For that reason, scales (when used alone) aren't the best way to track what's really going on inside your body.

    Another reason to dislike scales is the emotional nature of weighing ourselves. Stepping on a scale doesn't just give us a number, it can determine how we feel about ourselves and affect body image

    The problem with body weight scales is that they measure everything--fat, muscle, bones, organs and even that sip of water or bite of food you've 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.

    Why Your Weight Fluctuates

    • Water weight gain. 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 weight gain. 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 gain. 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.

    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 a great option for 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 one 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.

    Whichever method you choose to track your progress, by patient with yourself. It takes months for many of us to see significant changes and, even then, you'll probably notice the weight fluctuating as your eating habits and workouts change.

    We can't be perfect all the time, so use these numbers as guideposts, not something that decides whether you're a good person or not.

    Continue Reading