For many people trying to ‘lean-out', what the mirror, the scales and the measuring tape say can be confusing and often contradictory. The purpose for most people on a weight-loss diet is to lose fat not weight, so they should actually be called fat-loss diets. After all, when you take your clothes off at the beach, nobody knows how much you weigh, but they can definitely see how much body fat you're carrying.
As with all diet and exercise programs, consistency and dedication are key. You need to make sure you follow good fat-loss principles consistently, and use whatever tools are at your disposal to measure your results. Here's how to tell if you are losing body fat:
This is one of the best tools to gauge fat loss. If you look at the mirror without clothes on, and you look leaner, chances are you've lost fat. Of course, there are different types of mirrors, lighting, times of the day etc. but at the most basic level, the mirror is an excellent tool to gauge your fat loss.
Be sure to stand in the same position with the same lighting at the same time of the day to get an accurate measurement. Taking a photo is often a good way to gauge progress as you can compare photos over a long period of time.
One of the biggest issues with using the mirror, though, especially in the morning, is when you're retaining water. After a large carbohydrate or sodium load, or for women during menstruation, water tends to be held under the skin, giving a soft, puffy look. Take this into account when using the mirror, and don't get too worried if you look a little bloated during these times.
There are quite a few body-fat measurement machines out there now, including bathroom scales, hand-held body fat scanners and high-grade medical body scanning equipment. Hands down, the Duel-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) scan is the most widely trusted and most accurate. The problem is that these scans are often quite costly and inconvenient for most people. If you can get a DEXA scan every few months then you have clear and accurate data to measure your fat loss.
For most people, though, they'll have to rely on other machines. The problem is that these machines are extremely unreliable, particularly hand-held body fat scanners and bathroom scales with body fat readings. Drinking a litre of water can skew results by as much as 5% instantly, so use these tools with an open mind. Or don't use them at all.
Most people who are on weight loss diets use scales as their measurement tool of choice. They're cheap, convenient and give you a solid number to follow. The issue with scales, though, is that we're measuring body weight and not body fat. Take a professional rugby player who is 180cm tall and weighs 100kg, and compare him to an average couch potato who is the same height and weight (and BMI by the way!). They both weigh the same, but the professional athlete probably carries 20kg less body fat than the couch potato, and is at a much lower risk of many serious illnesses (not to mention looks better with his shirt off). Can you see the problem with relying on scales for fat loss measurement?
Scales are definitely a useful tool, though. For example, if you're looking leaner in the mirror and the scales say you've lost 3 kilos, chances are you've lost a good amount of fat.
Tapes and Calipers
Measuring tapes are a great tool to check whether you are losing body fat. Just make sure you are measuring the right areas! The two places that store body fat in the majority of people are the stomach and the hips, so take your measurements at the waist (where your pants sit) and at your hips (around your belly button). If these two measurements go down over time, guess what? You've lost fat.
Body fat calipers are another tool used to measure body fat, and give excellent data to follow when used properly. The main issue with body fat calipers is that there's a high user error percentage. If you can, get your body fat measured by someone trained to use body fat calipers for best results.
With these tools in your arsenal, you'll be able to accurately measure fat loss and tailor your diet and exercise accordingly. As a rule, the more tools that tell you you're losing fat, the higher the chances are that you're doing just that! Don't forget to take in to account the opinions of friends and family (especially if they haven't seen you for a long time) - if they notice you're looking leaner, then you probably are!
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