Are the scales the best and most accurate measure of your success?

Most people go into the weight loss process, well … wanting to lose weight. I believe I can make the assumption that when most people say they want to lose weight, what they really mean is they want to lose fat. When you have made the right decision to improve your body composition (lose fat and often times gain muscle), the scales may be the worst choice for tracking your progress. It may sound counter intuitive but the scales are better at maintaining your weight than they are to lose it. The reason? There are important changes happening within the body that the scales can’t measure or detect, which are imperative to your progress towards better health, better function, better performance or fitter looking.


When you first start a new exercise program there will be a developing change to your body composition. You will start to reduce your fat stores and increase your muscle mass. I’m sure you have heard the myth stating “muscle weighs more than fat”. The truth is, muscle does not weigh more than fat, any more than bricks weigh more than feathers. A kilo is a kilo. Where the misunderstanding often comes from is their compositions vary immensely. Muscle is much more dense than fat, so that, by volume, it seems to weigh more, thus a kilo of muscle occupies less space than a kilo of fat. This is often why you feel amazing after following a program, your clothes feel looser but the scales still hate on you. With this in mind, it often becomes a losing battle with the scales. We begin to feel disappointed, frustrated and in despair if we feel like the scales don’t reflect our hard work.


We live in a society that focuses on quick results which isn’t always the best course of action when measuring weight loss. Often rapid weight loss are attributed to a combination of fat, muscle and fluid reduction and hence isn’t always a good thing. Also the claim can be made that these rapid drastic changes to our lifestyles are extremely hard to maintain fostering lapses back to bad old habits. The good news is there are a variety of measures for weight loss progress that are more effective and none of them have to do with stepping on a scale.


If you decide to seek help from an accredited exercise physiologist that specialises in exercise prescription for weight management programs, they will take anthropometric measurements. These can include waist and hip circumference and skin fold measurements on top of weight alone. Changes in waist circumference and skin fold measurements can have a better indicator of overall health than weight on the scales. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, an increased waist circumference measurement places an individual at greater risk for hypertension, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and premature death. The recommendation is 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women. Even the slightest decrease in waist circumference can significantly reduce your risk of developing these diseases and will also have a better reflection in your weight loss efforts.


So while stepping on the scales definitely has its place in measuring weight loss the good news is there are perhaps less frustrating ways to track your progress and overall health.