If you haven’t been paying attention to my obnoxious Instagram updates on my current training and diet plan, for the past 10 weeks I have been doing a cut and trying to lose some body fat. During this time I’ve been weighing myself consistently, but also for the first time in my life have been keeping a close eye on my body fat percentage as another measurement of my progress.
Measuring your body fat percentage can be a good way of tracking progress for a lot of fitness and health related goals. There are lots of ways you can measure body fat percentage, and each of these methods vary in accuracy. If you’re interested, I’ve written a blog on how to measure body fat % and the most accurate methods – but I thought it would be just as important to discuss why on earth one would even want to know what percentage of them is made up of fat in the first place (because that’s pretty depressing, isn’t it?).
So, yeah – why not just weigh yourself? There are several reasons:
Evaluating your health
A lot of doctors go by BMI to measure general health, which is a calculation used to determine whether a person is in a healthy weight range for their height.
It’s flawed and inaccurate for many reasons; one being that it doesn’t take into consideration things like bone density, muscle mass (which is heavier than fat) or fat content. If a person has a lot of muscle, they could potentially show up as overweight on the BMI scale even if they don’t have much body fat – and a person with less muscle could show up in the healthy weight range, but still have a high body fat content. I personally have been told I was ‘overweight’ by a doctor using this test, despite being physically healthy. I was a lot heavier then, but that doctor was a prick regardless.
Bottom line: by measuring your body fat percentage, it can provide a more accurate and realistic representation of your health than a BMI calculator would.
You want to track fat loss / gain
People often say they want to lose weight, when they really mean they want to lose fat. If decreasing the number on the scales was the main priority, you may as well chop off a limb for instant results. (I do have days where I’d probably rather chop off an arm than continue my diet – but I’m sorry about that joke. Please don’t try this at home, folks, or I’ll have a law suit on my one hand that I have left.)
Standing on a scale isn’t going to tell you why your weight has changes – and there are loads of factors that could be the reason for this other than fat gain / loss. Weight can fluctuate so much in a day – you might have had a massive meal, maybe you’re retaining water because you had a lot of salt or more carbs than usual; or maybe you need to take a long break on the toilet with a Harry Potter book. I had some extra carbs at the weekend and gained 2kg – I know that spike was only temporary, but others might see the scales going up like that as a big setback. These type of factors make your weight vary, so going by weight alone isn’t always going to be the most reliable way of tracking.
While I’m on the subject – when you’re trying to lose fat, you want to try to keep as much muscle as possible. If a person is on a crazy diet with a major calorie deficit, not eating enough protein and doing nothing but cardio, their weight on the scales is going to go down – but that’s not necessarily a positive thing if they’re losing substantial muscle mass as well as fat. Muscle burns more calories than fat – so the less muscle you have, the less calories your body burns, meaning fat loss becomes more and more of a chore as your muscle diminishes. What’s more – once you stop the diet, the required calorie consumption in order to maintain your weight will have lowered because of the decrease in muscle. Boo – less food.
Bottom line: you want to keep track of fat loss rather than just overall weight loss if you:
- Aren’t sick in the head and enjoy being able to eat as many calories as possible for weight maintenance
- Want to maintain as much muscle as possible during a fat loss phase and not look like shit
Body composition information
You might be prepping, bulking or cutting as a bodybuilder (or fitness enthusiast like myself hehe) and want to know more detail on where you’re storing fat, which areas you’re losing it from, and if you’re gaining / losing muscle. There are body fat tests such as DEXA scans that can show this level of detail and help you track progress efficiently – I’ll be writing another blog on this later.
If you’re tracking body fat – be mindful
Tracking your body fat percentage is a more accurate way of tracking progress than using the scales alone – yes – but that doesn’t mean that everybody has to do it. If you do choose to measure your body fat – I believe you should see the results in the same way as you see your weight. So, don’t care so much about the actual number – unless your health is in danger, or you’re prepping for a bodybuilding competition or something. Use your body fat percentage as a benchmark to track progress rather than obsessing over hitting a certain target. Regardless of what it is, seeing it go up or down means you know you’re making changes, and what actions to take going forward.
And if the whole body fat thing isn’t your cup of tea – don’t bother with it. Just go by how your clothes fit, take photos, ask your friends; whatever works for you.