The most common goal for someone starting a training and nutrition programme is weight loss. When a client tells me they want to lose weight and look better, I assume it is fat loss they want.
The terms weight loss and fat loss are interchangable, but they are not the same thing.
If you suddenly cut a load of calories from your diet and start doing hours of cardio, you will lose weight. If your body isn’t being fuelled properly, some of that weight is going to be taken from your muscles.
We need muscles under our skin to give us shape, and the more muscle you can preserve at the same time as losing the fat, the better you will look.
The bathroom scales are still the most common way fat loss aka weight loss is measured. Although the scales are a good tool to use, it is worthwhile using another method alongside them.
This is because by just using your scales you are not going to get the full picture. Your body is a very complex piece of machinery. There are things going in, coming out, transforming and dissolving all of the time. These ‘goings on’ can mean that your weight can fluctuate over the course of a 24-48 hour period.
Your weight at a precise moment in time will depend on what you have eaten, how much fluid you have taken in, if there was salt in your food, what you are wearing and what time of day you weighed yourself.
If you weigh yourself at the beginning and end of a workout, or in a morning and then in the evening, there will be a difference in weight for both scenarios.
If you are losing weight healthily (which is 1-2lbs per week), your motivation and success could be sabotaged by circumstances that falsify your statistics.
Imagine you were down three pounds since the previous week, but it was ‘treat’ day and you had a Chinese meal the night before. Then, the next morning you had your breakfast and a coffee but didn’t weigh yourself until the afternoon, when you were wearing your jeans. Absolute disaster! You have gained ONE POUND! Totally disheartened that all your hard work the week before has been for nothing you buy yourself a tub of ice cream and sit on the sofa to watch a whole boxset of Game of Thrones instead of going to the gym.
When you start to eat better and train properly it is very likely that you will be increasing your lean body mass (muscle) at the same time as losing body fat, and this means your scale weight may not initially decrease. Muscle is denser than fat and takes up less room, so you will LOOK BETTER but you won’t necessarily weigh any less.
I use all of the following methods with my clients.
It is hard to notice your own progress on a day to day basis because your progress is gradual.
If the numbers aren’t decreasing on the scale this is going to de-motivate you.
When you start to lose fat and increase muscle you are going to start looking different. Try to take pictures at regular internals to make your progress visible.
Make the pictures comparable. Take them at the same place and time of day, in the same clothes. Try and take them in similar lighting conditions.
Use a tape measure on key sites around the body to show how much fat you are losing as opposed to just weight.
Women tend to store more fat around the bum and thighs so these two areas are a must, with upper arms, neck and waist other areas to consider.
Measure at regular intervals, and if you think you might cheat, get someone else to measure you.
This one is easy. You know how your clothes feel. Choose your favourite jeans or a dress you like.
It’s very motivating to feel things fit better each time you try them on.
This is a really good way of measuring progress.
A non-invasive method is using Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis. You are attached to a small hand held machine via 4 electrodes to get your body composition reading. It is very quick and painless, and this is my go-to method for assessing body composition.
Another method is calliper testing. Up to 8 sites on the body are pinched to get a measurement in millimetres. Your body fat is then estimated using a calculation. This takes a little longer and is a bit more invasive.
The best way to use body fat % testing is to pick a method and stick with it, just compare previous readings with the current one, and don’t compare results from different methods as they are not comparable.
The take home message here is don’t get despondent when the scales seem to stick, especially in the early days of your plan. Fat loss is never linear. It is much better to track results over a period of time. Use some alternative methods and don’t just rely on your scales to monitor progress with your fat loss.