Blog: Body Fat Measurement (Your Scale is Not Enough!)

This is the second post in a three-part series to help guide those who made New Years Resolutions to lose some "weight" (read: "fat").

This post is the second in a three-part series for those who adopted a New Years Resolution to lose some fat. And, at the risk of repetition, it is fat we want to lose, not “weight.”

If you are now in the fat-loss business, in addition to the process of losing fat, you should know how to measure your success/progress in this business. If you can’t measure it, you can’t achieve it.

Our bathroom scale will tell us when we have lost/gained “something,” but cannot tell us just what it is that we lost or gained. The only two meaningful long-term variables in this lost/gained process are fat and muscle. Most of us certainly do not want to lose our precious muscle tissue. This post will discuss the methodologies available to provide us with information as to what it is that we have lost/gained and what to do with this information. The next post in this series for fat-loss questors will discuss how we might adjust our fat-loss process based on the empirical evidence we are provided by our body composition measurement and tracking system.

In keeping with our goal of providing coaching to enable wellness questors to do everything at home by themselves, we will eliminate most body fat percentage (BF%) testing methods because they are too expensive and not doable by oneself. Plus, we are not after close accuracy. We are after reliable consistency of measurement so we can chart our fat-loss, muscle-maintenance progress. That’s the only purpose of body fat testing; to measure progress. BTW, we first test for BF% and then determine what is happening to our muscle by subtracting our body fat weight from our total weight. This difference represents not only our muscle, but also everything else in our body except fat. This mass is called “Lean Body Mass” (LBM) and is comprised of our muscle, bones, connective tissue, water, blood and every other not-fat element in our body.

Other than our muscle and water content, the other elements of our LBM makeup evidence little fluctuation in their mass. Change in water content is minimal compared to the change in muscle mass and is usually prevalent only in the early stages of a fat-loss program, particularly in those with substantial fat to lose.

As to do-it-yourself body fat measurement methodologies, we are essentially left with two sources; the one-site skin-fold testing method and the U.S, Navy method. The one-site skin-fold method works best for those with lower body fat percentage ranges-below say 25%, or so. Our default measurement methodology is the U.S. Navy method, known in military parlance as, “rope and choke.”

The Navy method uses only a measuring tape as the measuring equipment. Men make two measurements; one around the waist and the other around the neck; women add a third measurement, around the hips. Information on how to measure and calculate your body fat percentage by the Navy method can be found by Googling “US Navy body fat calculation. This is not a particularly accurate measurement method, but can be consistent and it is free.

We should care less about where we are in body fat percentage and more about the direction in which we are headed. Hence, consistency in measurement is more important than accuracy.  Especially when using the Navy measurement system, we suggest you weight yourself only at two week intervals. In the intervening time, hide your bathroom scale! There is an old saying that goes, “watched pots don’t boil.” That saying is a good fit here.

By itself, body fat percentage has no meaning, except to either shock you into action, or let you brag to your friends about what good shape you are in. The real value in this number is that it allows us to divide our total weight into fat and LBM, so we can chart change in terms of total weight, fat weight, LBM and body fat percentage.

You can create a chart to track the progress of your total weight change, your body fat change and your LBM change. This is vital to the fat-loss process as it will allow us to make any necessary adjustments to the nutrition and exercise protocol we are following.

If you would like, I can email you a chart to track your fat-loss progress and an example of how to calculate the weight you will be when you achieve your BF% goal. Email me and I’ll email you back these two items.  Best of good fortune in your fat loss quest! Our next post will take on the process of how to adjust our fat-loss nutritional and exercise protocols if we are not obtaining the results we desire.

You can contact Ron Ringlien at rcringlien@attglobal.net

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