Updated: Oct 25
Measuring fat loss is a crucial part of any exercise or healthy lifestyle improvement program. By measuring fat loss you are provided with feedback on the effectiveness of lifestyle interventions. For example, if you embarked on the Hungry4Fitness 21-Day Weight-Loss Challenge, measuring fat loss would provide you with an indication of whether you are making progress. This information is an indispensable part of the weight loss process.
But measuring fat loss is important for other reasons as well. For many people fat loss measurements provide insight into body compositional changes. Depending on which way the scales tip, determines if it’s time to cut back on cake input and start increasing exercise output.
For those preparing to undertake an exercise or lifestyle program, or those purely interested in keeping an eye on their weight, this article provides you with 4 easy methods of measuring fat loss.
In addition, you will find plenty of links to fat-loss programs, weight-loss workouts, low-fat recipes and the best technology and devices for measuring fat loss.
Before we review those 4 methods, let’s take a look at a couple of common frequently asked questions concern fat!
Why measure fat loss?
Taking regular body compositional measurements enables you to assess body fat percentage fluctuations. A person’s body fat percentage is a key predictor of health. The higher the percentage the greater the health risk.
Being overweight has been linked to a range of illnesses and diseases. Medical institutions regard an unhealthy body fat percentage as a dangerous risk factor. For example, the NHS state that it is ‘very important to take steps to tackle obesity.’¹ The reason?
Because people who are overweight or obese are more susceptible to develop many serious illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and many different types of cancer (NHS – 2021). As Dr T. Collin Campbell says in his seminal work, The China Study, ‘people who are overweight also are highly likely to face a host of medical problems’ not least of which include ‘elevated cholesterol levels . . . glucose intolerance . . . [and] sleep apnoea.’
Another reason why regularly measuring body fat is a good habit to get into is because it can provide insight into other lifestyle factors. By this I mean, if after weighing yourself the scales show and an increase in weight, this could be an indicator of a poor diet or lack of exercise . . . or both!
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This information, though rarely welcomed, could compel you to take necessary action to improve your diet and start an exercise programme. In addition, the measurements could then be used to monitor progress after you’ve made the lifestyle changes. Such feedback is not only gratifying, but it also acts as a powerful source of motivation.
What are the benefits of measuring fat loss?
As well as shedding light on other key lifestyle factors, the most important reason why we should regularly measure body fat is to check that we’re not getting, well, fat. Obviously!
The thing with weight gain, much like chronic stress, is that it accumulates at an imperceptible rate. Consequently, the fact that you are piling on the pounds, slips beneath the radar. Because fat increase occurs so slowly, you remain blissfully ignorant while you become ever unhealthier.
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It’s usually not until a friend you haven’t seen for years says ‘God, you’ve put on some weight!’ or you catch a side-eye of your bulging belly in the mirror, that you realise: I’ve gotten fat!
But measuring body fat can bring our attention to the burgeoning bulge. When those few extra centimetres creep on the tape, or a few extra pounds slip on the scales, that lets us know fat is amassing. And with that information, we can take decisive action.
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4 Easy Methods of Measuring Fat Loss
Measure fat loss with the Body Mass Index (BMI)
What is measured: Height and weight for assessing body composition
Equipment needed: The two measurements health and weight BMI calculator
Purpose of test: To get an indication of physical dimension
The BMI is a value derived from a person’s height and weight. Though the test is generic in scope it is easy to perform and provides an untrained individual with an insight into how they measure up against the National Institute of Health’s weight categorisation system.
However, we mustn’t forget that BMI is a very generalised measure and consequently cannot account for body types that reside outside the norm. As Diabetes Canada says, the ‘BMI is not used for muscle builders, long-distance athletes, pregnant women, the elderly or young children. This is because BMI does not take into account whether the weight is carried as muscle or fat’.
bmi calculator under fire
This has led to the rise in criticism by health professionals regarding the accuracy of BMI readings. For example, a study cited in the excellent book Healthy Psychology (2017) demonstrated that 52% of BMI readings were inaccurate. And what was more concerning was that the readings were informing participants that their weight (read ‘fat percentage’) was lower than it in fact was when researchers put the participants through a far more accurate health assessment.
But don’t write the BMI off completely. It is a useful body fat measure for the average Joe who merely wants a rough and ready insight. The BMI is best used with other, more accurate measures, such as the girth measurements and skinfold callipers.
How to perform a bmi measurement
Firstly, you need to measure your height. To do so: stand with heels against a wall, feet unshod, eyes looking straight ahead. Take a pencil and mark a line from the top of your head. Now measure from the floor to the pencil line. For accuracy, it’s best to solicit assistance.
Secondly, you need to take your body weight. To do so follow the procedure outlined in the section that covers weigh scales measurement.
If you fancy a bit of mental exercise you can calculate the BMI manually based off the above readings. To help you the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention have been so kind as to explain the method: calculate BMI by dividing weight in pounds (lb) by height in inches (in) squared and multiplying by a conversion factor of 703. Confused?
Alternatively, to make life super simple, just follow the link to the NHS BMI calculator.
Measure weight-loss with Bioimpedance (Body Composition)
What is measured: Subcutaneous adipose tissue (body fat)
Equipment needed: Body Stat Monitor
Purpose of measure: To give an indication of body composition. Though not as accurate as the skin fold measurement as it is easier to
The bioelectrical impedance analysis is a commonly used method of estimating a person’s body composition, in particular their fat and muscle mass ratios.
The machine works by emitting a weak electrical current that passes through the body. The voltage of the current is measured and used to calculate body composition.
How to perform a bioimpedance measurement
Because hydration state can influence bioimpedance readings, it’s best to conduct this measure first thing on waking.
After setting the device, grip the electrodes and wait until the reading flashes on the screen.
Repeat three times and take the average reading.
Conduct this measure at the end of each week on the same day and at the same time.
Measure fat-loss with Girth Measurements (waist / hip ratio)
What is measured: Body shape; waist to hip ratio
Equipment needed: Measuring tape, pen and paper
Purpose of measure: When used with or without height and weight and skinfold measurements, girth measurements can be a useful indicator of changes in body shape and of CHD risks.
Girth measurements are used as body composition indicators. The readings can either be compared against normative data or used as a means of measuring weight loss (or gain) during health and exercise programmes.
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Though considered intrusive the girt measurement test is easy to conduct and it provides instant and reliable feedback. Also, the equipment need is both inexpensive and easy to procure. All you need to conduct girth measurements is a measuring tape.
How to perform girth measurements
When taking girt measurements consistency is key. Applying the tape to different anatomical positions, say slightly higher or lower, can result in a deviation of the readings. This can corrupt the validity and accuracy of the measurement.
There are multiple locations where you can apply the tape; they include: chest, bicep, stomach, hip and thighs. To get the most comprehensive picture of how much fat you have lost, select a minimum of two locations. Of course, once selected stick with the same positions for however long you plan to measure body fat.
As previously stated, ensure to apply the tape at the same position every time. When applying the tape relax; avoid tensing or sucking in as this will distort the readings.
Measure fat-loss with weight scales
What is measured: Total body weight
Equipment needed: Weight scales
Purpose of measure: To provide you with a total body mass metric.
As measuring fat loss goes, few methods are as simple as jumping on a pair of scales. So long as they are accurately calibrated, you can weigh yourself in seconds. And the best thing about scales is that they provide you with instant feedback – feedback that requires no further calculations to comprehend. The same cannot be said of the BMI or skinfold callipers.
In addition to the above attributes, scales are comparatively inexpensive. A pair that comes with a plethora of innovative features, such as the RENPHO Smart Scales, can be purchased for under £30. In fact, many of the modern scales have built-in bioimpedance electrodes. Combining multiple measures in one device enables you to gather a more accurate reading of fat loss.
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Weight scales limitations
Scales are more effective when they are used as part of a weight-loss programme that involves dietary changes and light cardio exercises. The reason being is that dietary changes and CV do not promote muscle growth.
However, if scales are used to monitor fat loss as part of an intensive exercise plan, one that is centred on weight training, they could give a false reading. How?
Because of the increased exercise, you would lose fat for sure. But you would also increase lean muscle mass. Muscle weighs twice as much as fat. So, even though you are losing fat, the scales may show an increase in weight because of the additional muscle gain.
It’s for this reason why, when embarking on a lifestyle programme, you should use two or more different methods of measuring fat loss.
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How to perform a weight scales measurement
Weighing yourself on the scales is not as straightforward as you might think. Our body weight fluctuates throughout the day, depending on how hydrated we are or how big the last meal was. Also, the clothes we wear can affect the reading on the scales causing disparities between measurements.
Follow the procedure below for the most accurate outcome.
Only weigh yourself once a week – preferably the same day and time.
Always weigh yourself on waking – make this the first thing you do (or directly after you’ve relieved yourself).
Weigh yourself in your birthday suit – aka naked!
Ensure the scales are accurately calibrated.
Weigh yourself three times and, if there is a slight variation in the readings, take the mean average: add the three readings together then divide by three.