Trim the Fat, Tip the Scales

bodyfat-chartI feel it may be somewhat pretentious to do so, but I apologize for not posting so frequently over the past several months.  The apology would be under the somewhat pretentious assumption that if I don’t post frequently it creates a void in your life. Regardless, I like the feel of an inflated sense of self-importance so please accept my apology.  Hopefully the ensuing information will be of benefit and will make up for your loss.

I have often been disappointed with the scale as a measure of success in weight loss.  Body weight can fluctuate to surprising levels from week to week, day to day, and even hour to hour.  There are so many factors that make up your weight that it is hard to use it as a consistent marker of health.  If you are very overweight, following the scale generally works very well.  If the pounds are coming off life is good.  But what if the pounds are not coming off?  Alternatively, what if you are coming close to your goal and the small changes are not as perceptible?

scaleIn reality, the goal really should not be to lose weight but to lose excess body fat.  The fat is the real problem.  The problem of using weight as your goal is compounded by the fact that muscle weighs more than fat.  This creates a situation where you may lose fat and gain muscle leading to no weight loss or even a net gain in weight in spite of an improvement in overall health.  I have discussed this in the past and came up with the adage – it’s better to lose waist than weight (click here and here to read more).  Feel free to use that if you would like (although a link back is always appreciated).  If your getting leaner and your waist is shrinking but your not losing weight you’re still getting healthier and should both feel good about your progress and continue on the path that led to this success.

Since too much body fat increases your risk of issues such as diabetes and heart disease the American College of Sports Medicine recommends a body-fat percentage of 10 to 22 percent for men and 20 to 32 percent for women. So how do you really measure your fat? There are two ways that are inexpensive and able to be done by commonfolk such as ourselves, calipers and bioimpedance.

Caliper Technique

body-fat-calipersCalipers measure the fat located directly under your skin, by lightly pinching fat folds at different body sites and measuring the size of the folds.  The measurements are added up and charts have been developed to estimate body fat percentage based on age and gender.  This is a relatively accurate (although not perfect) means of estimating body fat.  It can be accurate to +/- 3.5% which is good enough for government work.  The great advantage of this technique is that it is super cheap.  I just bought a set of calipers for about $13.  I plan on making some diet changes and using a change in body fat percentage to assess the effectiveness rather than the scale.  As a caveat, calipers may not be the best for very obese individuals.  They should start using the scale and, as the weight gets close to normal, switch to body fat percentage.


bioimpedanceBioelectrical impedance scales send a small (you can’t feel it) electrical current through your feet to measure your body’s amount of lean mass, water and fat. Electricity doesn’t travel through fat so the characteristics of the transfer of electricity can be used to estimate body fat.  These types of scales are widely available and easier to use than calipers but more expensive.  Further, results can vary depending on hydration leading to inaccuracies.

There are other techniques that are available but require you to go to a place that have big and expensive equipment.  They are more accurate but not as widely available and more expensive.  For my money, or what’s left of it after my kids drain the accounts, using a combination of the scale and calipers to create an overall measure of how your weight and body composition is changing is the best way to measure your success with weight loss.  If you only use the scale you may become disappointed if the pounds don’t come off even though your body composition is changing to be more healthy.

So trim the fat and tip the scales.  Good luck!

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