If you’re like most people who are trying to lose weight, you have a very close, yet very uncomfortable relationship with your bathroom scale. Most of the time, no matter how hard you work, it seems like your scale delights in making you miserable (and sometimes, you’d swear that it’s lying to you on purpose). But no matter how frustrated and demoralized you get, you step onto the scale every day, hoping against hope that the needle will move just a bit further to the left.
Sound familiar? If so, take a deep breath and step away from the scale. You may be placing entirely too much weight (pun intended) on the importance of this ubiquitous bathroom feature. Turns out, even the most accurate scales are not the best way to track your weight loss and fitness progress.
May I suggest that you throw those infuriating scales out with this week’s trash pick-up, or at least bury them at the back of your closet? While your scales do tell you how much you weigh on any given day, they usually don’t tell the whole story about your progress and health.
A scale measures only one thing: weight. This number reflects not only body fat, but also bone, ligaments, tendons, muscle, water, and undigested food. So just because you weigh 10 pounds less today than you did four weeks ago doesn’t mean you lost 10 pounds of fat! Three pounds of that lost weight might have been muscle and water, for example.
Alternately, think of a professional athlete and an individual who lives a sedentary lifestyle. These two individuals might very well have comparable heights and weights. However, the athlete might have less than 5 percent body fat and a significant amount of muscle tissue, while the sedentary individual’s body fat percentage might be 20 or 25 percent. In this case, the scale definitely doesn’t tell the whole story.
“Turns out, even the most accurate scales are not the best way to track your weight loss and fitness progress.”
If you’re serious about shedding fat, getting toned, and improving your appearance and health, there is a much better way to monitor your progress: the simple tape measure. It will give you a much more accurate assessment of what your real progress is and where you have improved. And honestly, do you really care what a number on a machine is so long as you are healthy, feel terrific, and love the way you look?
First, assemble your tools. Good news: This part is really easy. All you need is your body, a thin and pliable measuring tape, a means to record your results (a notepad, computer, or smartphone will do), and perhaps a mirror to help you position the measuring tape. I recommend taking your measurements every 30 days, at the same time of day (preferably in the morning before you’ve worked out or eaten breakfast).
Why every 30 days? You probably won’t see significant change on a week-to-week basis, and it’s important to keep your focus on making healthy, sustainable choices—not on driving the numbers down, which often leads to unhealthy weight loss methods.
Then measure your neck… This may be a part of your body you wouldn’t think to measure, but don’t skip it! Wrap the measuring tape gently around your neck and write down the number you see. You want the tape to be tight enough that you get an accurate reading, but it shouldn’t be painful.
Shoulders… Wrap the tape around your shoulders and record the number. It’s vital that you measure the same spot each time you take your measurements. It goes without saying that if you don’t measure the same area each time, your results won’t reflect the work you’ve put in. If it helps, use a freckle or mole as a point of reference.
Bust line… Be sure to stand up straight while measuring this particular area, and stay relaxed. Don’t flex any muscles, or puff out your chest while measuring. That’s cheating.
“This set of measurements may very well be the ones in which you’re most proud to see a difference.”
Waist… You’ll be measuring two different parts of your waist: the smallest part of your waist and about two inches below that. Many of us tend to hold our weight in this second area, and it can be extremely difficult to get rid of! This set of measurements may very well be the ones in which you’re most proud to see a difference.
Hips… Be sure to measure the widest part of your hips during this portion. I know it can be scary to see that number, but don’t be discouraged. If you stick with the healthy changes you’re making, it will only get smaller from here!
Thigh… You can measure both thighs or just one. If you choose to measure only one, be consistent. (In other words, don’t measure your right thigh one month and your left the next.) Make sure to wrap the tape around the upper-middle of your thigh for an accurate measuring point.
Calf… When measuring your calf, you have a few options. You can choose to measure with or without flexing, and you can choose whether you want to measure one calf or both. One advantage to measuring both legs, arms, etc. instead of only one is the ability to accurately assess symmetry.
…and Bicep. Be sure to flex your arm while you measure your bicep, even if that feels strange! You might not be used to flexing or like to do it, but it will be helpful for showing improvements moving forward. As you start toning your arms, you’ll probably lose some of that, well, extra jiggle at the bottom part of the arm.
I know that the bathroom scale may be comfortable for you, a tried-and-true companion that tells you what your total body weight is—but it’s time to move on. When you take your measurements, you’ll get a much more accurate picture of how your body is changing—where you’re gaining muscle and losing fat. And trust me, once you do succeed in reaching your goals, you’ll be glad you have a record of just how far you’ve come.
Warren Honeycutt is the author of "Get Lean for Life: 7 Keys to Lasting Weight Loss." An expert in weight loss, fitness, and nutrition, he is a championship bodybuilder who has been a Southern Classic Physique Champion, two-time Mr. Tennessee, and six-time Mr. America finalist. Now, at age 62, he enjoys perfect health without any prescription medications and a physique that is the envy of most 25-year-olds. Along with his partner, Soraya Bittencourt, Honeycutt is the cofounder of Get Honeycutt, Inc. This company supports Get Lean, a comprehensive weight loss and fitness program featuring personalized fitness routines, menus designed by registered dietitians, instructional videos, and motivational support. To learn more, please visit www.getlean.guru.