Scale or not to scale? That is the question. A growing trend of ditching the scale as a means to track progress is sweeping the nation, but is it making a difference in whether or not people reach their goals? Unless you have another reliable means to track progress, you may not want to be so quick to trash your body mass measurements.
The scale can be tricky, it’s true. The scale measures body mass which constitutes everything that your body is made of: fat, muscle, bone, water, etc. That means a change in any part of your body will be reflected on the scale, so it’s not exclusively measuring fat loss or muscle gain. The scale, however, is one of the most accessible ways to track progress. Though not all of a loss in body weight will be fat, some of it might, so it can still be useful as a tool for tracking progress.
To decide whether or not you should use the scale to track progress, ask yourself how you respond to the scale on an emotional level. In a perfect world, we would all be able to separate our minds from the numerical data of our bodies, but that is rarely the case. If you drank tons of water yesterday and you are up a pound or two today, does it ruin your whole day? Does it make you want to quit working toward your goals? Often times, we allow the daily scale fluctuations to negatively impact our journeys. If you emotionally react to the scale, the scale is probably not the best progress-tracking tool for you.
If you are able to separate your emotions from the scale, however, it can be a helpful tool in terms of keeping your eating habits in check. If you are held accountable to stepping on the scale every morning, you might think twice about having a cheeseburger and fries for dinner. Or, if you weigh on Mondays, it could help you stay on track (or at least reduce your eating) over the weekend. Remember not to become a slave to the scale, however, it’s merely there for accountability when you need it!
Another option for progress tracking is to measure body fat percentage. You can have this done by a professional using skin fold calipers or by tracking down a BodPod or other system out there that you pay for a one-time measurement. Bioimpedence scales and handheld equipment have a higher margin of error, so you might find similar struggles as with the scale if you opt to use this method. Your best bet is to find a professional that can measure for you every 6-8 weeks. Bear in mind, though, that the reading is only as accurate as the professional doing the measurements, so choose wisely!
You may also opt to do circumference measurements with a measuring tape. While there are a variety of charts for specific measurements that you can find online, it’s best to measure the areas you’re looking to lose from. Chances are that those are the areas you carry the most fat, so by measuring those areas, you’re more accurately tracking fat loss. Circumference measurements can be done every 4-6 weeks.
The easiest, most convenient, and perhaps cheapest ways to track your fat loss progress, though, is by using your clothing and progress photos as measuring tools. Find a pair of pants that you can zip up and button, but that feel too tight to wear. A good 6-week goal is to be able to wear those pants comfortably as a part of your regular wardrobe. Once you’ve met that goal, find another pair of pants (or perhaps go out and buy another size down!) and continue the process until you’re happy with how your body feels. While there is no specific numerical data with this goal, it keeps you focused on how you’re feeling rather than what the numbers are saying about you. For most people, this puts their mind at ease and allows them to continue on their journey without feeling discouraged.
Progress photos allow you to see where exactly you’re losing fat or gaining muscle. We look at ourselves in the mirror every day, but we rarely see the truth of how our bodies are changing. Taking photos every 4-6 weeks standing normally (front, side, and back) or flexing will help you to see more clearly and compare how your body has changed. More often than not, you are able to see things in photos that you didn’t otherwise notice in the mirror!
Regardless of which method you choose to measure your progress, it’s important to actually measure your progress! If there is no way to track where you’re going or where you’ve come from, chances are that nothing has changed. So dig out your sausage pants or find an experienced fitness professional and get working toward your goals!