Weighty Matters

Guest post by Paul Dunn, Personal Fitness Trainer at Pegasus

“I’ve been exercising for a long time, but I’m still the same weight. Why haven’t I seen any results?”

It’s a question I get asked fairly often and my response is almost always the same. “A scale doesn’t tell the whole story”, In fact your body is no doubt making small changes every day and you don’t even notice it. The bathroom scales can’t always be a reliable measure of these small changes. So if that’s the case, how do you know if you’re making progress?

Track Your Body Fat

Scale weight can be a useful number to know but, even better is knowing what your body fat percentage is. It is important because scale weight doesn’t always tell the whole story. An individual can be “over-weight” and not “over-fat.” An All Black rugby player, for example may be 8% body fat and yet at 120kg may be considered “over-weight” by a typical height-weight chart (BMI).

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.

A healthy body fat range is 25 – 31% for women and 18 – 25% for men. Keep in mind that most health clubs offer some type of body fat testing.

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 Fixation’ 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 what we really mean by that is fat loss.

Here are just a few things that can increase your weight, causing it to fluctuate as much as 2 kg 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 70kg with 21% body fat has 14.7kg of fat and 55.3kg of lean tissue (70 x .21 = 14.7kg of fat, 70 – 14.7 = 55.3kg 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
  • Make changes with nutrition and increase exercise for better results (you cant expect anything to change if you don’t change your habits.

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

Anyone can do it and its my favorite way of tracking progress because it doesn’t require any fancy equipment. 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.
  • 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
  • Upper arm: Measure around the largest part of each arm above the elbow

Picture It

It may seem obvious, but don’t overlook one of the simplest ways to track progress–how you look and how your clothes fit. You may want to take a picture of yourself wearing swimming togs and keep it in your weight loss diary. 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 pants, shorts and a shirt and try them on every week or month to see how they fit.

The bottom line

  • Use one or all of the methods above to keep track of how you’re doing
  • Set realistic goals (essential for your success)
  • It takes time to lose weight (don’t panic if you don’t drop 1kg in a week)
  • If you’re losing weight the right way, your progress will be slow and steady.
  • Make positive changes to the way you eat and exercise. 
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