One of the top reasons people exercise is to lose weight. It’s not really weight that people want to lose though, it’s fat. It’s common to have an unrealistic view of how much weight you need to lose. A 500 gms of fat fits inside an 250 ml coffee mug. If you want to lose 2.5 kgs, line up five coffee mugs and decide if that seems right to you. It might be less or more than what you perceive.
Why isn’t the number on the scale changing?
It’s healthy to lose about 500 gms – 1 Kg of fat per week, but using a scale is not the best way to measure this progress. Women retain water during their cycle and some men fluctuate in their weight from morning to night and day to day. If you want to weigh yourself to stay on track, do it once a week upon waking. This way it’s consistent and you don’t become obsessed with weighing yourself. It’s not good to be overly focused on fat loss and it can be discouraging if there isn’t any change happening day to day.
An easy method to monitor fat loss
A tape measure is a better method to monitor fat loss than the scale. Get a flexible tape measure, like one that comes in a sewing kit. Wrap it around your waist and move it up and down until you find the smallest section. Record that number with the date as your “waist” measurement. Then, place the tape measure around you so it’s over your belly button. Make sure the tape measure is even all the way around your body. It’s a common mistake to have it higher in the back than the front. Consider having someone help you. Record that number as your “belly button” measurement. Record the time of day also. Re-check this in a month.
If you’re a female who is pre-menopause, record what part of your cycle you’re in: pre-menstrual, ovulation, post-menstrual, menses. These measurements can fluctuate during the month, which is why it’s good to measure once a month at the same time, ideally upon waking up in the morning.
Keeping track of your waist and belly button measurements is a good way to monitor fat loss, but doesn’t account for muscle gain. Many people gain muscle when exercising. Muscle is more dense than fat, meaning a pound of it would not fill up the entire coffee mug the way fat does. It would take up less space even though it weighs the same. If you’re exercising consistently you will likely increase muscle mass as you lose fat, which makes the number you see on the scale and the tape measure stay the same. This is discouraging! If you lose 1 kg of fat, but gain 1 kg of muscle it will read the same on the scale, but might show up as a difference with the tape measure, as the muscle takes up less space.
What’s the best way to monitor fat loss?
If you’re working hard to lose fat and don’t see a change on the scale or tape measure, skin fold calipers are the way to go. You might be losing fat in your arms or legs and not know it. It’s also surprising how many people only need to lose a few pounds to be healthier, when they think they need to lose 10 Kgs. Getting a skin fold caliper test done will let you know what your percentage of body fat is and if it falls in a normal range. Often times people think they are “fat” and they are actually in a healthy range. Women need a minimum of 10-13% fat on their body and men need 2-5% at the minimum. Your brain needs fat to function. Other times people think they are healthy, but their body fat is above average.
Put your fat to the test
Many fitness centers or gyms will have a pair of skin fold calipers and can measure you. It’s well worth the cost. The calipers are used to pinch the fat away from the muscle in three places; the arm, the stomach and the thigh. This tells you where you carry your fat and how much there is in each area. Having this measurement done once a month is the best and least expensive way to see if you’re getting results from your fitness efforts.
If you want to get more specific, you can have seven or 12 sites measured also. The BioSignature method is one of the most accurate skin fold caliper tests. The most accurate way to measure body fat is with hydrostatic weighing, but these giant tanks of water are hard to come by and expensive.
Keep exercising and make sure what you’re doing is paying off by measuring the changes!