What the scale does not tell you

You’re feeling strong, your clothes feel a bit looser, and you’ve probably been receiving a few compliments from friends. You may even look leaner, but when you eventually stepped on the scale your world crumbled.

 It’s not uncommon for women to become disheartened and fall off the weight-loss wagon when they don’t see the number on the scale move in the right direction. It’s at this point that many of us ask ourselves, “how could this be?”

However misguided this may be, we’ve all allowed the scale to dictate our mood, and have used it as a barometer of our progress. So what happened? 

Discernible differences

This confusion stems from the fact that weight loss and fat loss are not the same things.

Although they are commonly used interchangeably, decreased body fat does not necessarily correlate with a decrease in weight, and vice versa.

When you step on the scale you’re measuring your total body weight, which includes your lean muscle mass, fat mass, bone mass, all your organs, and your water weight. The scale is not capable of discerning between the different types of tissue in your body, the combination of which contribute to your total weight. Accordingly, using the scale to track your body composition can be very counterproductive to your progress.

Tracking fat loss

The best way to measure the actual change in the composition of your body, while discerning between changes in fat mass and lean mass, is to use skinfold callipers. By measuring specific skinfold sites, you’re measuring the thickness of your skin, including the layer of subcutaneous fat underneath it. Since the thickness of your skin typically does not change much, a net decrease in your skinfold measurement is a strong indicator of a reduction in body fat, irrespective of weight loss, or gain.

You can also input your skinfold measurements and weight into special formulas to get your overall body fat percentage. Then, with some simple math, you will know exactly how your body is changing in terms of muscle and fat mass. 

These numbers allow you to paint a more complete picture of your body composition, and how it is changing over time. This approach will empower you to judge your progress more accurately. By monitoring your overall body composition, as opposed to just your weight, you will gain meaningful insights into the success of your training programme, and your nutrition. This will ensure you don’t waste months going in the wrong direction, as you can make immediate changes based on the numbers. You’ll also become less attached to the number on the scale, and won’t allow it to control your emotions as much. 

Losing body fat

The key to successfully losing body fat is consistency. A healthy range of fat loss for women is 0.2-0,4kg of fat mass per week, which is the equivalent to a decrease of 0.25-0.5 percent body fat.

This, of course varies depending on your starting point. There may be times when you see no change at all or even regression, but don’t worry, it happens to all of us and is part of the process. What you want to look for is an overall trend of decreased body fat, and increased lean muscle.

Other methods to track your progress include:

  • Girth measurements
  • Before and after pictures
  • How your clothes fit 

So when you get on that scale and the numbers aren’t decreasing as you’d wish, just remember – you could still be losing fat. Remember to use other ways to track your fat loss to measure your progress as accurately as possible. If you’re doing everything right, but you’re not losing weight, this could be why. 

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Author: Tanja Schmitz

Founder and Editor of Fitness Magazine. You’ll find her behind her computer or on her bike, dreaming up new ways to improve or create content for you.

Founder and Editor of Fitness Magazine. You'll find her behind her computer or on her bike, dreaming up new ways to improve or create content for you.

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