Numbers on the scale often become the center of focus when trying to determine a healthy weight. Annual exams at the doctor’s office include a weigh in; weight loss centers determine success by a drop in pounds; and there is talk from time to time about Body Mass Index (BMI) in the media, which refers to your “appropriate” weight based on your height.
I think it’s interesting to note that the BMI comes from the work of Adolphe Quetelet, a statistician from Europe. In the 1830s, Quetelet sought to determine the “average man” through mathematics. This was revolutionary work that helped to create a gauge for appropriate body weights. However, our knowledge of the human body has progressed significantly over the last 150 plus years.
Don’t get me wrong. The BMI can be a helpful tool, but the numbers can also be very deceiving. Take three women, all the same height and each weighing 140 pounds. They may have very different body shapes and sizes. This is because their body compositions are different. Body composition takes into consideration lean body mass and fat mass.
5 pounds of muscle takes up less space than 5 pounds of fat
This is particularly important to consider for individuals who have substantial amounts of muscle. Muscle is more dense and compact, and body fat is more fluffy. As an example, my personal experience is that I weigh 10 pounds more than I did 15 years ago, but I wear the same size jeans. Basically, I’ve increased my muscle mass to help keep my metabolism revved and decreased my body fat — but I haven’t increased my overall size. This means that 5 pounds of muscle takes up much less space than 5 pounds of fat. You can imagine that someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger would have been considered obese on a BMI chart.
But you don’t have to be a bodybuilder to run into problems with this one-size-fits-all tool. If you want to track your progress more accurately, it would be beneficial to find an assessment tool that was specific to you. This is especially important if you just started lifting weights or recently kicked up the intensity of your lifting. As you increase your muscle mass, you may see a slight jump on the scale. Don’t let this frustrate you!
Other ways to track weight loss
An easy way to track weight loss or weight maintenance is to take notice of how your clothes are fitting. If you notice your clothes are looser, then you are moving in the right direction (if weight loss is the goal). Or, if you are more motivated by numbers, pull out a measuring tape and measure your waist, hips and chest. Write down the numbers and re-measure every month or so. This can be a really motivating technique because you can keep an ongoing total of the number of inches lost.
You can also check to see if your gym offers fitness assessments or body composition analysis for members. These can be great services to help you gauge your progress — without obsessing over the scale.
Whatever technique you use to track your progress, remember to approach your results without judgment. Coming down on yourself will just make the process more difficult and a lot less enjoyable. Congratulate yourself on the successes, and keep moving forward with confidence!
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