Weight loss and fat burning are important for many people starting out on their fitness journeys. But if this is your goal, is body weight the only number you should be measuring? Health specialist Leanne Edermaniger considers what else you should take into account if you’re looking to slim down.
If weight loss is your goal, it’s easy to become obsessed with the number on the scales. However, as you start to burn fat and increase your muscle mass, you should track your progress using other numbers besides your weight.
There’s a common theory that constantly monitoring your weight can keep you motivated. The idea is that by weighing yourself daily, you’ll become more aware of your dietary and physical activity patterns and how these are affecting your body weight.
The problem with this is that your physical weight alone doesn’t really tell you much about your overall health or body composition. For instance, as you train, you’ll build lean muscle which is denser and therefore weighs more than fat.
So, in addition to doing regular weight check-ins, try tracking these important numbers too:
This is a good indicator of how your weight loss is going, especially for women, as the waist is where fat is often stored. Your waist measurement can also tell you a lot about your health. An increased waist circumference (over 35 in/89 cm in women and over 40 in/102 cm in men) can put you at a greater risk of heart disease and diabetes. So, as you lose weight or build muscle you should notice a change in your waist circumference.
This is an effective way of tracking weight, overall health and the extent to which you are at risk of developing serious health conditions. The waist-hip ratio takes into account differences in body structure, so two people can have very different bodies but a similar waist-hip ratio. A ratio above 0.90 for men and 0.85 for women shows that a person is overweight.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
This is another important figure to consider when it comes to losing weight. The BMI scale uses both your height and weight to determine if you are in a healthy weight range.
Your BMI will fall into one of the following categories:
- Less than 18.5 = underweight
- 18.5-24.9 = healthy weight
- 25-29.9 = overweight
- Over 30 = obese
You can calculate your BMI using the following formula: Weight (kg) / Height (m) ²
For example, if you weigh 70kg and are 1.7m tall, your BMI would be 70/1.7², or 24.2. You’re therefore in the healthy weight range.
For most adults, your BMI is considered a good estimate of your weight and the associated health risks. Try measuring your BMI at different intervals during your weight loss to get an idea of how your body is changing.
Body Fat Percentage
Body fat percentage is one of the most precise and reliable ways to track weight loss, but it can be expensive and doesn’t necessarily tell you everything. For one thing, it doesn’t indicate how much of your weight is fat and how much is muscle. It also doesn’t account for physiological changes that occur as we age. For example, women lose muscle and bone mass as they get older and tend to store more fat, whereas men lose muscle mass at a slower rate.
Body fat percentage, however, measures your excess fat and doesn’t include muscle mass. The gold standard method is to measure weight underwater, but this isn’t practical for everyone. A more accessible alternative is to use callipers. But note that this method relies on the skill of the person using the instrument to achieve an accurate result.
A healthy body fat percentage for women is generally between 21 and 24. For men, it can be from 14 to 17.
For many people, losing weight is a major fitness goal, but just measuring your body weight isn’t enough to determine if you’re actually on track. To really measure your progress, you should choose one of the methods above that works best for you and your lifestyle and stick to it.