In the last blog we covered why you may not be losing weight from dieting and exercise, if you missed it click here. This blog is about tracking fat loss, but before we get started there is a couple of things that are worth mentioning.
It is important that we look at fat loss, and not just gross weight loss. When we attempt to lose weight drastically, this may result in losing muscle mass and bone density amongst other risks, all of which you should hold onto for your overall health. In relation to this, body composition is a method of describing what the body is made of by taking into account percentages of your bone, muscle, fat, and water stores. Using this, we can more accurately track where our weight loss is coming from (you do not want to be losing all your muscle mass but holding onto fat).
Okay, so how can we track the right type of weight loss?
- Using BMI (body mass index).
BMI or body mass index uses your height, weight, age and gender (some take into account ethnicity and activity level) and works out if you are a healthy weight. It is great for a rough indicator especially in untrained people. HOWEVER, in trained and/or muscular people it can be inaccurate as it does not consider muscle/fat just weight. For most adults, the BMI you should be aiming for is between 18.5 to 24.9. Calculator can be found all over the place including the NHS website. As a general guide it is good to use but it has its limitations.
2. Using calipers.
If you have not heard of calipers before, they are a measuring device that measures your skin folds. The more it can pinch, the more fat you have. Using calipers is a great way of tracking fat, however its only downside is that you cannot measure your visceral fat (fat around your organs). Another limitation is the skill of the person using them. You may find it difficult to reach certain areas yourself. To use calipers you want to pull out a fold of skin, then place the jaws of the caliper around the area you have pinched – this should give you a reading. For more accuracy you can measure more sites around your body such as backs of the arms, stomach, calves etc. The important part is finding a system and sticking with it (what I mean is using the same locations). Below is a link to calipers available from amazon.
3. Using tape measures.
Like calipers, using a tape measure can be limited by the user (for example measuring to different places on the upper arm). Also, like the BMI using the tape measure is a gross measurement meaning it does not tell you how much fat or muscle is underneath. It is worth using as a rough guide, but I would equally just use a pair of pants that do not quite fit well! This could be an easier way to measure progress.
4. Using a mirror.
Another simple method that most should have access too. The limitation of this is being honest with yourself, we all have those special mirrors that make us look good (mine are mainly at the circus). Try to keep the lighting the same and try to look once per week as looking in the mirror all the time is a bad habit and you will not notice much change if you are constantly doing it! I think a better method is taking progress pictures at the same time (e.g the 1st of every month, first thing in the morning). Other things to keep the same is the lighting, what you are wearing, how you have done your hair, the distance of the camera and so on.
5. Using scales.
The standard bathroom scale is what most of us commonly have access to. This is another way of measuring yourself in gross. When you lose weight on a scale you do not always know where it is coming from. Body fat scales are a new fad that may one day be perfected but for now remain inaccurate and inconsistent. Body fat scales work like normal scales measuring your weight but also send a light electrical current through your body. The electrical current moves quickly through water. Your fat cells contain less water so the current moves more slowly through these areas. The time is measured for the current to move though one leg to the other and your body fat is calculated from that. Furthermore, body fat scales tend to use one part of the body (the foot scales will run up one leg and down another). Also, if you drink water or exercise you can change the outcome of the scale which means body fat scales are not as accurate or consistent as they are made out to be.
So, what do I recommend?
For most people who are just looking to lose a few pounds I think the ill-fitting pants is the best bet! If you are looking to lose more fat or are taking it more seriously, then taking progress pictures (keeping all the standards the same) once a month is good. If you are serious or have a deadline, use pictures, scales and use the calipers and get better at using them as they are the cheapest and most accurate way to determine your body fat when used correctly.
I hope you found this helpful, let me know if it did and best of luck with your weight loss journey.