Losing weight is a difficult and frustrating journey. Diets can feel restrictive, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to hit the gym, and after weeks of struggle, the scale says you’ve only lost a pound or two. While you knew going in that there would be no instant gratification, you were expecting a little bit more progress than that! These kinds of results (or lack of) are what make it so easy to go off a weight loss program shortly after it begins.
But what if the problem is with the scale, and not your program? Are your clothes fitting loser? Have you noticed that your belly sticks out a little less? Then why aren’t these obvious victories being reflected by the number on the scale? Simply, a scale reflects only how much you weigh, but not what makes up that weight. A more meaningful way to track your weight loss is to track your body fat percentage.
What is Body Fat Percentage?
Body fat percentage is the percentage of your whole body weight that is made up of fat. Your body weight can be split into two major categories: fat mass, and lean mass. Fat mass is all your fatty tissue, and lean mass is everything else, including bones, organs, and most importantly for our purposes, muscle.
Muscle is important because, if you’re using any kind of strength or resistance training as part of your weight loss program, there is a good chance that as you are melting away your excess fat, you are also putting on muscle. This new muscle may be what’s contributing to the frustratingly slow decline on the scale.
A simple bathroom scale has no way to tell that you’ve lost fat mass and accumulated some lean muscle, only exactly how much all of you weighs. To get a better reading on your progress, ditch the scale and try focusing on your changing body composition and declining body fat percentage.
How to Measure Body Fat Percentage
There are several ways you can measure your body fat percentage. The most accurate methods include large and expensive machines that are usually only found in medical research and university facilities. These methods include hydrostatic weighing, or water displacement, and dual energy x-ray absorption (DXA). However, there are three popular methods that are cheap and accurate enough for use at home:
- – Skinfold Calipers
Skinfold calipers measure the thickness of fat beneath the skin in specific spots. Skin fold measurements are taken in either 3 or 7 spots, and the location of the measurements will depend on if you’re male or female. For women using 3 points, measurements are taken from just above the hip bone, the triceps and the thigh. For men, measurements are taken from the abdomen, chest, and thigh.
While skinfold calipers are easy to find and affordable, their accuracy depends on the skill of the person taking the measurement. However, what is more important than accuracy is using the same method each time to measure your progress. Whether or not the measurements accurately reflect your body fat percentage, if you use the same method and technique for measuring, you will still be able to see if your body fat percentage has gone up or down.
2 – Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA)
As the name suggests, bioelectrical impedance analysis uses electrical impulses to determine your body fat percentage. While this may sound alarming, the amount of current used is harmless and hardly noticeable. The principal behind this method is that due to water content, electric currents can travel more easily through muscle than fat. The more resistance a current meets while moving from one receptor to the other, the more fat you’re carrying on your frame.
BIA machines are easily found and not very expensive. However, the less expensive models made available for regular consumers are not as accurate as the more expensive ones used by researchers and medical professionals. It’s also important to remember that BIA readings can be affected by food and water intake throughout the day, so it’s important to take measurements at the same time each time you measure to mimic the same conditions.
Just like with skin calipers, the accuracy of how much body fat you’re carrying is not as important as using a consistent form of measurement to gauge your progress. If your first body fat percentage measurement is taken with a BIA unit at 8am before you have breakfast, you’ll get the best reading on your progress if your next measurement is taken under the same conditions.
3 – Body Circumference Measurements
This is one of the easiest ways to track your body fat percentage and requires no special equipment. This method uses your age, height, and measurements around specific body parts to determine how much of your weight is made up of fat. Just like with skinfold calipers, gender will dictate where these measurements are taken. For men, the circumference of the neck and waist is used. For women, measurements are taken from around the neck and waist, as well as the hips.
Even without the plugging the numbers into the formula, body circumference measurements are a great way to measure your real fat loss progress. Muscle is much denser than fat, and therefore takes up much less room per pound. As you lose fat and gain muscle, while the number on the scale may not be changing, how much of you stick out will as more of your denser lean mass takes up less space.
Like the other forms of body fat measurement, the accuracy of circumference measurements depends on the skill of the person taking the measurements. However, like the other forms, what is more important is the consistency of the method to help you track your progress.
Why You Should Focus on a Healthy Body Composition
Maintaining a healthy body composition is about more than looking and feeling great. By keeping your body fat percentage relatively low and your lean body mass higher, you help keep your body in peak physical condition.
Lowering your fat mass can help protect you from many diseases often associated with aging, such as high cholesterol, cardiovascular diseases, and even some cancers. As an added bonus, once you get your body composition under control, your lean muscle helps to keep it that way, as muscle tissue takes more calories to maintain than fat.
Balanced body composition also helps maintain balanced hormone levels. Testosterone levels suffer when body fat percentages are too high, but lean muscle mass helps keep these levels in check. For men especially, try pairing a diet and strength training routine with supplements like HexoFire Labs Delta Prime testo support, which help support the body’s natural production of testosterone.
By focusing on your body composition instead and fat loss instead of general weight loss, you can achieve more meaningful and healthy weight loss.