Getting Off the Scale

Originally Featured on 5/8/2013

If you're like many people trying to lose weight, you might regularly check in with the scale to gauge your progress. If results are slow, or the numbers don't reflect your hard work, frustration can follow. Preoccupation with these numbers and allowing the scale to dictate your mood can become typical. However, there are some things the scale doesn't show you. It doesn't indicate the composition of the weight you're losing. Is it water, muscle, or fat? The numbers on the scale also don't reflect your confidence, self-respect, or character, so don't let it beat you up! Here are four alternate methods to use when charting fat loss progress.

1. Body Circumference Measurements: Use a soft tape to measure around the following body parts, without clothes, on a weekly basis under the same conditions at each measurement (time of day, day of week, etc).
- Navel: Directly around the belly button
- Hips: Around the widest part of your derriere
- Thigh: Measure around the leg at the halfway point between the crease in your hips and the kneecap
- Chest: Right around the nipple line

2. Clothing size: Did you go down a size in your pants or tops? Are your clothes fitting better now or becoming loose? This can be a great sign of progress, even if your weight stays the same.

3. Physical Well Being: Sometimes it can be helpful to focus on the many other benefits to eating well and exercising besides just fat loss. Did your doctor report any changes in cholesterol, blood pressure, or blood sugar management? Are you in a better mood, handling stress more successfully, or feeling an increase in energy? Are you able to run around with your children or grandchildren without becoming winded? These can all be signs of the impactful effects of diet and exercise that are taking place inside your body.

4. Body Fat Percentage: This measurement reports the percentage of fat relative to the percent of lean mass (muscle, bone, etc) that makes up your body weight. If some of the weight you're losing is muscle, achieving a defined or sculpted look will be difficult. To achieve this look, you want to preserve lean body mass while decreasing body fat. Calculating body fat percentage can help you assess these numbers. There are many options to pick from, and here are two of the most widely available and affordable.

A qualified personal trainer will be able to use basic skin-fold calipers to give you an estimate. Ensure that the same person takes them each time under the same conditions. 
Another option would be a bioelectrical impedance device, either handheld or standing. These send an undetectable electrical current through the body, and estimate the percentage based on how quickly the current is conducted through the body (travels faster through water than through fat). Because the test is hydration based, the results can be swayed based on water consumption.

A DEXA scan or a Bod Pod measurement would be even more accurate; however, these can be expensive and harder to come by.

So next time you get on that scale, just remember, there are other ways to measure your progress! It doesn't have to all boil down to one tool!