You’ve been working out consistently, and being diligent about your diet. You’re dropping sizes, but it isn’t reflecting on the scales. How frustrating is that?
But don’t despair – when trying to get fit, dropping numbers on the scale is only part of the picture.
Our body weight is made up of things like muscle tissue and water in addition to fat. When we lose muscle or water it can show up as “weight loss” on the scale, but that can actually be bad for our body. If the scales show your lean mass percentage has declined, that generally means you are losing muscle or water, instead of fat. This can actually make it more difficult for your body to burn fat in the future, leading you to quickly gain back all that weight you lost.
Getting fit actually means lowering your body fat percentage, which is the portion of our body made up of fat cells. Lean mass percentage is everything else: muscle, organs, bones, water, etc. Together, they add up to 100% of your body composition. People can lose muscle and therefore weigh less, but unless the body fat also changes, the body fat percentage increases.
Your body fat percentage is calculated by taking your age, height and weight, gender and waist measurement into account. The ideal body fat percentage is different for everyone, but I recommend that my clients target the “Athlete” or “Fitness” ranges developed by the American Council on Exercise. For women this is 14 – 24% body fat and for men it is 6 – 17%.
There are several ways to measure body fat, ranging from rudimentary calipers, where skin from the arms, legs and waist is pinched and measured to the more elaborate systems found in most gyms, including Bioelectrical Impedance scales (which could be a normal scale with electrodes under each foot or a scale that has handholds with additional electrodes) or a DEXA scan (Participants lie still on a table while a machine arm passes over their entire body, emitting a high- and a low-energy X-ray beam that measures bone mineral density alongside body composition).
So instead of scowling at the scales, what you should be aiming for is to make sustainable changes in body health and appearance by burning fat and building muscle. In addition to tracking your weight on a scale, be sure to track both body fat percentage and lean mass percentage with a tool. Once you have determined your body fat percentage, you can set healthy and realistic weight loss goals.
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