Let’s face it. Losing weight is a real pain in the butt. Monitoring your eating and exercising more is difficult. And then if you step on a scale every week and not see a change, it can be pretty de-motivating and frustrating. But it is important to recognize that losing weight and getting healthier are not necessarily the same thing. When people say they want to lose weight, what they really mean is that they want to lose fat. It is possible to trim fat, gain muscle, get fitter and look better and still see the same numbers on the scale. We think what people really want is to look in the mirror or at photographs, and feel proud of what they see. People want to feel and be healthy. Furthermore, weight can fluctuate wildly day to day or even week to week for reasons other than fat loss, the most common cause of daily fluctuations being changes in water weight retained in the body. So, all that said, here are some ways to meaningfully monitor your health and measure your weight without a scale.
One of the simplest methods is taking a weekly progress photo. As long as it’s at the same time of day, in the same outfit, and the same position and lighting, the series of pictures should give you an idea of the progress you’re making over time. It can highlight the changes you may not have noticed yourself day-to-day. Plus, it’s easy to Google pictures of men and women at different body fat percentages, to get a sense for where you currently stand.
Handheld BIA devices
Handheld BIA (Bioelectric Impedance Analysis) devices use an electrical current that measures the fat level of your body through the different levels of resistance the current meets as it moves through you. BIA devices are unfortunately not the most reliable method, due to the high variability that can come from your hour to hour hydration levels.
Calipers are another good measuring method. You (or more often another person) pinch your skin at different points on the body, and then use a formula to estimate your body fat percentage. I personally like this method for its ease and relative accuracy, but it’s worth investing in a higher quality pair of metal calipers, versus some of the less accurate, cheaper plastic models.
Hydrostatic weighing heavily ramps up the complexity and the accuracy of simply stepping on a scale. With this method, you jump into a special pool in a precise position, exhale as much as you can, and can then get the most accurate body fat measurements available. As you may imagine, this takes specialized equipment and expertise, typically only available at a university or a higher-end athletic training center. So, it’s a fantastic method in its precision, but not so much for its convenience.
Monitor how your clothes fit
Stepping back down to a simpler way of measuring your weight sans scale is seeing how well your clothes fit. This isn’t going to give you precise numbers, but it is highly intuitive and practical: do these jeans fit tighter, or looser than they did a month ago?
How do you feel?
Lastly, be mindful of how you feel as you keep up (or don’t) on good diet, exercise, and sleeping habits. Do you feel out of breath climbing that flight of stairs, or is it a breeze now? Do you feel lighter, more flexible, more free in your movements? Or do you feel perpetually drowsy and dour for no apparent reason? There are of course an almost infinite number of other life variables that come into play when evaluating how you physically and mentally feel. But diet and exercise are going to be major contributors to how you feel in any case. You’re not going to have the mathematical precision of a scale, but you’ll have a focus on the true end goals of losing body fat. And you can give yourself a pat on the back or a kick in the rear as you feel what your actions reap.
There you have it, six methods of measuring your weight, your body fat, and your overall fitness without a scale. While the scale can be useful, it can become more a hindrance than a boon if you check it too frequently. You can begin to obsess, fret, and beat yourself up over what that number says multiple times a day. Stepping back from the scale and checking other qualitative and quantitative metrics is a more holistic way of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.