You’re excited to start hitting the gym to burn off all those fats you’ve gained over last Christmas. You step on the weighing scale, and decide that you’re going to lose a few pounds by training hard for a month. A month passed, you’ve diligently worked out everyday for a month, keeping up to the cardio and resistance exercise plan your trainer wrote for you, without daring to even think about skipping a day to rest. As the days goes by you feel stronger, you’re running faster and you somehow find all the exercises becoming easier and you know your clothes are getting a little looser but there’s only one slight problem: Your weight is still the same!
“I’m still fat!” You exclaimed, feeling stressed. That must be true… or is it?
This seemingly familiar scene might relate well to you, and perhaps it’s because of the weight you saw on your weighing scale that made you decide that you’re never going to be able to lose weight no matter how hard to you try, but here’s the thing: Using the weighing scale alone to determine whether you’re losing fat is pretty flawed, and for two rather simple reasons.
1. The body is made up of many substances
When you’re measuring total body weight, what you really are measuring is the total make up of your body. This includes in majority your bones, muscles, fats, organs, blood, cells, body fluid and every other organic compound within the body. As you exercise hoping to kill some fats, your body reacts accordingly, which brings me to my next point.
2. Your body composition can change without changing your weight
As your body reacts to the change in your bodily environment, loss in fats mass and gains in muscle mass often tends to happen, which thus keeps your weight at where it is. This doesn’t mean you’re not losing fat, it just means that you might be gaining a good amount of lean mass.
Does that mean I should just throw my weighing scale away?
Sounds about right. However, what’s not measured cannot be managed. The weighing scale is definitely helpful when you’re trying to track success in terms of total body weight loss, but since the priority for many of us is to lose fats in order to look good, here are 2 practical methods everyone can use in conjunction with the weighing scale to create a more objective progress.
We look at ourselves on a daily basis and thus our naked eyes may not be the best in telling us that we’ve actually changed when we really have. Taking pictures gives you visual information on how you look like on a more objective level.
Tips to keep picture measurements as accurate as possible:
- Ensure that the distance between you and the camera is always the same for every measurement
- Ensure that the height of the camera is always the same for every measurement
Using this method with the weighing scale gives you a more objective way to know what’s going on. If you look smaller, you’re losing off some fats.
This is one of my favorite ways to measure because it’s easy, reliable and gives you a whole lot of information. Using a tape measure allows you to track the progress of your body and all you need to perform this is a measuring tape which is possibly some of the cheapest measuring tools around.
Here’s how you do it:
Tips to keep tape measurements as accurate as possible:
- Remember the areas you’re measuring. Use objective markers so that when you measure the same area next time.
- For chest area, I measure across the nipples and keep them as my markers
- For the abdomen, I measure across the belly button
- For hips, shoulders and calves, I always measure the widest area
- For upper arm and thighs, I’ll measure the height between the highest and lowest joint and measure at middle
- Eg. Length of hip joint to knee joint = 30cm
- Area of thigh to measure: 15cm
Other things to consider to keep the accuracy of measurement
Time of day
Your body weight fluctuates throughout the day due to your activity levels, food intake, energy output, hormonal activities and various other biological factors. The best time to perform body composition assessments is in the morning. However, it’s not a must. If you can’t do your measurements in the morning, try to keep measurements at a constant timing throughout. For example, if your first measurement was taken at 2pm, your next measurement should also be taken at 2pm.
Since your body weight fluctuates throughout the day, everything you do would affect how your body reacts. Thus, to keep the accuracy of the measurement consistent, keeping your behavior consistent before each measurement definitely helps.
Berardi, J., & Andrews, R. (2014). The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition (2nd ed.).
McArdle, W., Katch, F., & Katch, V. (2010). Exercise physiology (7th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Powers, S., & Howley, E. (2012). Exercise physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance (8th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.