When it comes to weight loss, most people tend to focus on one metric: the number on the scale. Most of us have an idea of what our “perfect” body weight is, whether it’s what we weighed during college or just ten pounds less than our current weight.
The problem with focusing on body weight is that it doesn’t take into account other important factors, such as body composition or actual body fat percentage. It also isn’t a true indicator of health: someone can be very thin and yet eat a poor diet that puts them at risk of serious health conditions.
That’s why when you’re trying to lose weight, it’s always a good idea to take body measurements to help you track your progress. It’s not uncommon for people to notice that their clothes are fitting better and that they have more energy, even if the number on the scale isn’t changing as quickly as they may like.
It’s also important to remember that weight loss is not a linear process. It’s normal for your weight to fluctuate for a variety of reasons — such as hormonal changes or water retention — sometimes even over the course of a single day. It’s easy to become dismayed if your weight loss stalls or you even gain a little weight back, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing anything wrong. By taking regular body measurements, you’ll be able to gain a clearer picture of your progress, even if your weight plateaus or creeps back up.
The best time to start taking measurements for weight loss is before you start a new diet plan, so that you have an accurate record of your progress. But even if you’ve already started a new weight-loss program, adding body measurements into your regular weigh-ins can help you stay motivated no matter what the scale says.
Plan to take your measurements first thing in the morning, before you eat and after a bowel movement, if possible. This helps produce the most accurate results since this is often when you’re at your lightest weight. Wear as little clothing as possible, and use a flexible tape measure.
When taking measurements, keep the tape measure level around your body and parallel to the floor. Avoid squeezing or depressing your skin at any time, since this can lead to inaccurate measurements. Use a designated spreadsheet or notebook for your body measurements so you can track them with each passing month.
Ask a fitness trainer or someone at home to help you with certain measurements that may be tough to do on your own. When measuring your arms and legs, measure the same side of your body every time. For example, if you’re right-handed, stick to measuring your limbs on the left side every month to maintain the accuracy of your measurements.
Measurements you need
- Weight. Stand on the scale to determine your weight on the same morning you’re taking measurements.
- Wrist. Measure around your wrist.
- Forearm. Measure the widest part of your arm below the elbow.
- Upper arm. Relax your arm by your side and measure the widest part of your arm above the elbow.
- Neck. Keep your head straight and level, and measure around your neck.
- Shoulders. Position the tape measure around your shoulders, then relax an arm by your side while holding the tape in your other hand to determine the measurement. Shoulders can be difficult to measure on your own, so consider getting someone to help if possible.
- Chest. Wrap the tape measure around your chest and under your armpits as high up under your breasts as possible, or around the fullest part of your chest if you’re a man.
- Bust. Wrap the tape measure under your armpits and over your nipples.
- Hip. Wrap the tape measure around the widest part of your hip bones.
- Waist. Wrap the tape measure around the narrowest part of your waist and position the tape above your navel.
- Calf. Rest your full weight on the leg you’re not measuring and relax your other leg. Wrap the tape around the fullest part of your leg below the knee.
- Quad. Rest your full weight on the leg you’re not measuring and relax your other leg. Wrap the tape around the fullest part of your leg above the knee.
Your weight-loss progress
Find an online body fat calculator and enter your measurements to find your body fat percentage. The average body fat percentage for women is between 25 and 31 percent, while for men, this percentage falls between 18 and 24.
Next, multiply your body fat percentage by your weight. This gives you the number of fat pounds. Then, subtract your fat pounds from your total weight to find your lean muscle mass. For example, if you weigh 175 pounds and have a body fat percentage of 29, you will have almost 51 pounds of fat and just over 124 pounds of lean muscle. Take your measurements at least once a month to get a better idea of how your weight-loss program is working.
Taking photos for weight loss
Photos are another excellent way to track your progress, as it’s difficult to notice small changes in body composition as they occur over time. It may be uncomfortable taking photos at first, but most people are glad to have them during their weight-loss journey to help them see how far they’ve come. Follow these tips for the best weight-loss photos:
- Take your photos at least once a month, ideally in the same location and wearing the same clothes.
- Wear as little clothing as possible to get a clear idea of your body shape and composition.
- Take both front-view and side-view photos. Get someone to help you if necessary, or use the timer on your camera.
- Check your surroundings. Try to eliminate anything in the background that is distracting or makes it difficult to determine your body shape.
- Use good lighting. Natural light is best. Avoid harsh lighting that casts shadows and makes it difficult to see your shape.
Need help reaching your weight-loss and wellness goals? LiveLight is a new path to weight loss and wellness designed by Stanford and Harvard physicians. Request a free consultation today to learn how we can provide breakthrough solutions that change your body and improve your health.