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There are so many ways to track fat loss. Here is what I recommend paying attention to if your goal is to lose weight or increase your lean body mass.

Most people who exercise want to see results. Measuring these results is the only way to know if your exercise routine is right for you. To make the time you spend in the gym count, it is important to be critical of your exercise regimen. If your routine is tailored to match your goals, you should see some measurable results. With weight, BMI (body mass index), skin folds, body fat percentage and other measurements available. What is the best way to track fat loss?

Do you track fat loss on a scale?

What is wrong with that?Weight Scale, fat loss, weight loss, pounds, kilograms

This is the most common way people measure their progress. There are a couple errors with weighing yourself on a scale. First of all, if you measure body weight alone, you are not differentiating between lean mass and body fat. If your goal is to be leaner, losing body fat is important, losing weight may not be. Improvements in muscle tone and hydration will increase your number on the scale. However, they are celebrated gains that will likely come along with a loss in body fatness. Full article on why bodyweight doesn’t matter.

Why the size of your pants is the best thing to track.

Your waist circumference, similar to belt size, is the best thing to pay attention to. This is a measurement for abdominal fat or belly fat. In addition to not looking great, this is strongly linked to disease and illness. Because of the errors with weight measurement mentioned above, waist circumference has become the go to measurement to predict disease risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

If you want to measure yourself, hold a measuring tape around your abdomen at about the line of your belly button. Or, pull your belt up to just over your belly button. Belt size can be a great way to track real fat loss.

Here is a page on the relationship between diabetes risk and waist circumference.

Technology and Measurement

The Float Tank

Have you seen videos of the people floating in the tank? Isn’t that the best way to do things? No, unfortunately this test isn’t very accurate. It is a simple concept, lean tissue is heavy and fat floats so weigh people underwater. Unfortunately we have gas inside our gastrointestinal tract. Different people have a different amount of gas on different days. So, there is a large degree of error with this fold caliper for measuring body fat percentage

Bioelectrical Impedance

Have you stepped on a scale that tells you your “body fat percentage”? Another test that has a large degree of error. These machines are simply not accurate. Also, the fat you have on your legs isn’t nearly as dangerous as belly fat. There are also hand held BEI machines. They can me an easy measurement to take. For that reason, you see them at a lot of gyms.

Skin folds

This is a pretty low tech way to measure body fat percentage. Skin folds can be a good data point to track (see my recommendations below). However, it simply won’t give you an accurate body fat percentage. A skin fold calliper (image above) is used to measure the thickness of the fat under your skin.

DEXA- the new best way to track body fat percentage.

This is the new gold standard in measurement. Research points to this being the way to go when determining body fat percentage (see a Pub Med abstract about this here). Clearly the latest and greatest measurement, the only downsides are cost and having to go get one done.

My recommendations

Measuring your progress is important. As you can see, you have a number of options and none of them are perfect. I have two big recommendations for tracking your weight loss.

#1 Use The Same System

Whatever you decide to use, use that same system when you retest yourself. The bioelectrical impedence machines have a lot of error built in. However, if you use the same machine 3 months later, you will likely still get an indication of your progress. The number may not be accurate, but the trend (losing/gaining) is likely accurate. You will also benefit from using the same time of day (morning/evening).

#2 Take a Few Measurements

For my clients, I use skin fold measurements, waist circumference and weight on the scale. This way, we have three easy to find data points to examine. Often, all three have improved. Now, we know for sure that there has been real and significant weight loss. I regularly see that weight hasn’t changed significantly but waist circumference and skin folds have improved. This is pretty normal for someone who is weightlifting and gaining lean muscle. They are losing fat, but not getting lighter. Good news!

Thank you so much for reading this. If you have any questions I would love to hear them. Post a comment, or fill out the contact form on the contact page.

Yours in fitness,

Tim Begley

No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.”

Eleanor Roosevelt


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