Measuring progress without the scales
In my article problems with using the weighing scales I outlined how it is a very poor method for charting progress when trying to get into shape. If you are not using the scales then what other options do you have? What are the pros and cons of these? (Article continues below video if prefer to read it).
This is the true measure of what most people are trying to achieve when they say they are looking to lose weight. Body fat can be measured either through calipers or via a body fat measurement machine. I personally use this method with all of my clients. It is much more effective than the scales because changes in body fat are exactly what you are looking to achieve.
Some problems with body fat measurements are difficulty in using the calipers on your own person as well as variability between testers and measurement sites. The electronic scales are affected by hydration levels. Therefore they can give some variable results depending upon how much you have or have not drunk that day.
While body fat represents the changes most people are trying to create it is actually looking good in the clothes (and/or naked) that is the ultimate goal. Therefore by using your clothes, progress can be charted in relation to what you are actually trying to achieve. It is far more motivating to wear clothes that did not fit just a few weeks ago than to see you have lost a kilogram on the scales.
It is important when using clothes as a measurement tool to use specific clothes you have in your cupboard rather than general sizes which can change from shop to shop and vary with different styles. The specific clothes should also cover a variety of different parts of the body so progress can be charted from different areas, e.g. only measuring progress on a pair of trousers would miss information about upper body fat losses etc.
Progress should not just be about changes on the outside of the body but also what is on the inside as well. For this you can use various health trait measurements. Some of the more favourable to use would be
Body temperature - You body temperature upon waking and before meals give you a glimpse of your overall metabolism (all other factors being equal).
Sex drive - A stressed and tired body has better things to be doing than thinking about reproducing. Therefore, as your progress internally your sex drive should also increase.
Energy - Your energy levels day to day should increase as you progress allowing you to do more things in life and have less need to rest.
Mental clarity and emotions - This should also increase as you progress with a better ability to concentrate and you should feel happier.
Your fitness levels should be on the increase as you do any health and fitness plan. You could take a full cross section of your fitness like in my fitness profile test or you could take some simple measurements. Some people simply can take note of what they can or cant do now, e.g. pick up the grand kids, walk up the hill by the house and then monitor progress over time.
Problems with all testing methods
Almost all measurement systems have some drawbacks. This is especially true when you try to compare your measurement with another person, e.g. comparing body fat levels, one person with 20% body fat may look very different to another person at 20% body fat. This is no different to how one person weighing 70kg can look much different to another. The main element of importance is consistency of measurement and ensuring it charts changes in what you are trying to achieve over comparisons to other people.
What should you use?
I would encourage you to use clothes as your primary measurement system. To this you can add in body fat measurements if possible as well as some of the none body fat traits such as health and fitness. Ensure you use a variety of clothes and then progress should be accurately recorded and thus you can decide whether you need to continue, edit or go deeper into your plan of action.