Measuring Fat Loss vs Weight Loss – Scales Are Misleading

Bathroom Scale

The scene: a fine afternoon training session with a client whose goal was weight loss. During the warmup (my advice: always warmup!), I asked her how she was feeling with the progress that she was making.

She looked disappointedly at me. After three weeks of training her body was adjusting to regular exercising. Recovering after training sessions was easier and overall she felt she had more energy. She was taking tape measurements of four locations on her body, which were showing lower readings each week. “But the scales haven’t moved!”

Muscle weighs more than fat, so the tape measurement changes and the reading from the scales were together indicating that she was losing fat and gaining muscle. But my client was unhappy because she was using the scales as the ultimate judge of her progress. The problem with this is that scales measure weight loss rather than fat loss. (And no, I don’t put any trust in scales which give you a reading for body fat percentage.)

It’s very common when starting a training program to see the reading on the scales staying around the same mark as fat (or as I refer to it, stored energy) is burnt and muscle is added. However if you stick with it past four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks, it’s also very common to see the reading on the scales start to move downwards from this point onwards.

I’m not training my clients to compete in bodybuilding competitions 🙂 Instead we add functional strength to support good posture and help them in their everyday activities. It is helpful to have additional muscle on your frame (in conjunction with good diet) to achieve fat loss (as opposed to weight loss) goals, as that extra muscle needs more energy to maintain even when you’re resting.

Don’t believe me? In a recent article in Elle magazine, the first of 5 training tips from personal trainer Kirk Myers (personal trainer to 25 Victoria’s Secret models and many other celebrities) is to “Throw Away Your Scale”. This is consistent with the advice to use a tape measure in the book Lose Weight Here by Drs Jade and Keoni Teta.

The moral of the story? It can be misleading to measure your progress using only the scales, as they don’t tell you how much weight is from muscle vs how much is from fat. The best way to measure progress is by the changes in your shape, which you can measure using good old-fashioned tape. Or by noticing how the clothes you wear now feel different on you.

Image by Dwight Burdette (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons