In your pursuit of a leaner body, you know you have utilized a bathroom scale to chronicle your progress. However, you may have been doing yourself a grave disservice. As you know, a scale measures how much weight you have lost, but it will never tell you where this weight was lost from. This is where the problem lies. When dieting, your combined weight loss could potentially come from fat loss, water loss, or muscle loss. Obviously, the former is what we all want to achieve, and the latter two are what we need to try and avoid whenever dieting. Unfortunately, many of the fad diets claiming rapid weight loss are often achieving this at the expense of water loss and/or muscle loss. Generally speaking, if you are losing greater than two pounds per week you are likely losing muscle as well.
The best way to monitor your progress when embarking on a new diet is to measure your body fat percentage and your lean body mass. Lean body mass is your weight excluding fat. Lean body mass includes bone, muscle, and other fat-free tissues with the majority of this being muscle. By measuring these two items, you will be able to determine how much fat you are losing and whether or not you are losing any muscle. The simplest way to measure your body fat percentage is through skinfold testing. If you know a personal trainer or another fitness professional in your area, they will likely be able to take these measurements for you. However, self skinfold testing is available with the use of the “Accu-Measure”, which can be found easily online.
Once you have determined your body fat percentage, you are ready to calculate your fat weight and lean body mass. To calculate your fat weight, multiply your total weight by your body fat percentage. Remember to convert your body fat percentage to decimal form before multiplying. I.e. 11% body fat would be converted to. 11 Once you have calculated your pounds of fat, subtract your pounds of fat from your total weight in pounds, which will give you your lean body mass.
Armed with these simple equations, you will be able to track your weight loss much more accurately than by simply using a scale alone. You will know exactly where your weight loss is coming from, so you can quickly make adjustments to your caloric intake to maximize your results. For example, if your lean body mass decreases and your body fat decreases, this should tell you there is too much of a calorie deficit and you should increase your daily calorie intake slightly to prevent the loss in lean body mass. Whenever you’re on a calorie-restricted diet, some loss in lean body mass and therefore muscle is hard to avoid. However, this loss in lean body mass should be limited to a few tenths of a pound per week. Initially, when first starting a diet program, you will likely notice a larger drop in lean body mass due to water loss. Don’t get alarmed by this. An obvious downward trend in your lean body mass over time is definitely a concern.
It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss proper nutrition and how to calculate daily caloric needs for weight loss; however, I will mention a simple formula that can be utilized to get you in the ballpark if you have an average or better body fat percentages. To calculate your total daily calories needed for fat loss, multiply your total weight by 12-13. This will give you a good starting point. I will also mention that spreading your calories out over 5-6 meals per day with each meal consisting of approximately 55% complex carbohydrate, 30% lean protein, and 15% fat will give you the best chance of permanent fat loss. Obviously, these percentages may not work for everyone, but they are a great place to start. If you want to maintain your hard-earned muscle, it is also imperative you maintain a weight lifting routine, while dieting.
I hope this information will help you achieve all your weight loss goals and help you understand exactly how your nutrition and diet program is affecting your body. There is certainly still a place for the bathroom scale, but unless you’re also measuring the items above, you will never fully realize the effect of your diet program, and reaching your full potential may be difficult. I wish you the best of luck.