When you’re morbidly obese and trying to trim down, you need to measure your progress. It’s a great way to keep yourself motivated.
However, when you’re trying to drop fat while maintaining lean body mass–something some morbidly obese people don’t care about–then you need other metrics. In particular, you need body fat measurements.
And on that, I can’t help but believe that my scale has been letting me down.
You see, several years ago, I purchased a digital scale that would measure body fat from Amazon. The scale had decent reviews and while I knew the body fat measurements wouldn’t be particularly accurate, but I figured they’d at least be consistent.
You see, when you start out at over 36 percent body fat, you don’t really need accuracy. You need consistency of measurement. That way, you can really tell if your body fat is decreasing or not.
Back in April, when I started Starting Strength, I hopped on the scale and got my numbers. Then I started training.
When neither number was going down, I adjusted my diet. I took over cooking responsibilities here at home and started fixing the kind of food I prefer to eat, which happens to be healthier food. I started tracking what I ate and adopted the flexible dieting model.
And weight started to drop. So did body fat.
At least, the two were consistently together until mid-August. That’s when the two started to diverge.
You see, I get on the scale to check my weight almost every day, though I don’t let fluctuations bother me. Some days it’s up, some days it’s down. The day I pay attention to is Sunday, generally. (If I’m going to eat a lot on Saturday for some reason, I’ll weigh then, but otherwise, it’s generally Sunday.)
On August 19th, though, my body fat went up almost half a percent despite my body weight going down. I remember that day, and I remember the depression that fell over me. I was lifting weights and getting stronger. I was getting good amounts of protein. I was taking creatine. I was doing everything I could to maintain lean body mass, and I gained body fat percentage?
The next week, it was down again, but that was the anomaly. For the next three weeks, the body fat percentage increased. At least on the week after my birthday, I understood it. I’d kind of gorged myself since everyone thinks going out to eat is the preferred way to celebrate anything for me (pro tip: it isn’t), so I’d actually gained a couple pounds that week. I got it.
But then the next week, I’d recorded my third highest weight loss week of this whole journey and still gained 1.3 percent body fat supposedly. Hell, I lost 3.8 lbs one week–way too much, but I’d been sick–and still gained .6 percent body fat.
The kicker for me, though, was this week’s measurements. I’d dropped 2.9 percent body fat. Now, this is good right?
Well, yeah, except that for things to have been consistent, it would have meant I gained 6 lbs of lean body mass in a week. Sorry, but it’s not possible.
The problem is that the scales measure all kinds of things, not exclusively body fat. Like I said, they’re not particularly accurate.
However, for my own sake, I’ve tried to minimize the potential for inconsistencies. I weight first thing in the morning after I’ve my morning head call. I strip down to my underwear to reduce any impact made by clothing variance and hop on the scale. I’ve done all I can to make things consistent on my end.
But my scale keeps giving me odd numbers.
Don’t get me wrong, the scale function itself seems to work fine. There’s variance with other scales, but that’s to be expected. Clothing, calibration, and any number of other things play a role in such things, so I still trust it to measure my weight.
Just not body fat.
Luckily for me, there are other options for measuring body fat. I can use a tape measure or I can use calibers. Neither are super accurate either, mind you, but I suspect they’ll be far more consistent, and that’s the name of the game.
However, I’m considering doing both going forward simply because I suspect the two will provide a bit of a check on each other. In other words, if the two are consistently moving in the same direction, then suddenly, it’s not any longer, that can serve as a warning signal that something is wrong.
Also, calipers aren’t exactly expensive and neither are tape measures. It’s not like I’ll be breaking the bank using both of these.
Why bother measuring at all?
I’d considered just not measuring it. After all, I’m doing all I can to hold onto lean body mass as it is. There’s not really anything else I can do without going for performance enhancing drugs or something.
But there’s a quote I heard one time about how you can’t change what you don’t measure. It makes sense, after all.
Plus, I like seeing what kind of weight I need to lose to hit my goals. It helps me understand the very nature of what I’m trying to accomplish healthwise. It helps me envision where I’m at and where I need to go.
Plus, let’s be honest here. I’m in a position where my health is at risk. By measuring my body fat, I’m gauging not just how long until I reach my goals, but also how long until I’m at least healthy.
That said, it’s not the only potential marker for health. However, it’s a big one, in my mind.
Finally, one reason to measure body fat is that a decrease in body fat with no other movement on the scale can still represent a move forward. If the scale doesn’t budge, but you drop a couple of percent body fat over several weeks, then you’re leaner than you were. You’re just replacing fat with a like amount of muscle.
That’s kind of the dream, truth be told.
However, the biggest reason I’m going to measure it is that I want to. I’m a grown adult who wants to check as many potential metrics for success as I possibly can, just because it amuses me.
But I’m damn sure not going to trust my scale to be remotely consistent on this kind of thing anymore.