The alarm goes off. You begrudgingly get out of bed, go to the bathroom, disrobe, and then stand staring at it. What will it say today? Will your efforts be rewarded or will the indulgence of last night show? One pound up or down from yesterday. What will it be? This number will set the tone of your day. Why do we give this piece of equipment so much power, especially when it really doesn’t tell us the whole story?
We have all seen the pictures of five pounds of fat verses five pounds of muscle. The fat is lumpy and quite a bit larger than the muscle. Too many times people begin metabolic resistance training wanting to lose weight. After a month they become frustrated because the scale is not budging. However, their clothes are fitting better and they feel better. According to the scale this person did not achieve anything, but if they took measurements or better yet had their body fat percentage taken before and after, they would have seen what was actually happening. (Body fat percentage tells you how much of your weight is fat and how much is lean mass.) In this case, fat was being lost and muscle built. It’s unfortunate, but a majority of the time people choose to focus on the scale and become discouraged when in reality they are actually making progress.
When I first had my body fat percentage tested I had not worked out in a while and was at my lightest weight. A few months later I had my body fat tested again. This time I had been doing metabolic resistance training two to three times a week. I actually weighed more, but my body fat percentage was less. This means I had gained muscle and lost fat. If I had chosen to just look at the scale, I would have thought I was going in the wrong direction.
There are many methods of measuring body fat percentage. You may have seen the hand held machines, which use bioelectrical impedance. They are very accessible. However, hydration levels play a role in the results making accuracy and precision a question. Hydrostatic (under water) weighing is a little less accessible to the public, but more accurate. This method takes weight on dry land and then under water to compute body fat percentage. It does require you to be able to blow out as much as possible under water. Hydration status does not affect these results. If you have access to hydrostatic weighing this is definitely the method to choose.
I urge all of you who use the scale to measure your success to think about alternate methods. Body fat percentage is great, but if you can’t do that measurements, the way your clothes fit, and how you feel are good things to track. You can even measure success by reaching your weekly goals of working out x times per week, cooking healthy meals x times per week, paying attention to your hinger signals… Whatever you do, don’t let the scale be the only method you use to measure your success.