If you're trying to achieve a healthy weight, you've probably formed a close relationship with your scale. You know what you weigh today, what you weighed yesterday, and what you hope to weigh tomorrow.
This numbers game is an integral part of most weight-loss programs. Some experts, however, wonder whether the scale is the only—or even the best—way to measure your success.
The scale is not always the best indicator of progress. It does tell you whether or not you are gaining or losing weight, but that is it.
By focusing only on weight, the scale can also lull you into a false sense of progress, experts say. Counting pounds doesn't tell you whether you're losing muscle or fat.
Instead of being a slave to the scale, focus on your health. Monitor your weight-loss program with a variety of measures that can give you a more complete picture of what's actually happening to your body.
Here are some alternative ways to make sure your weight-control program is working:
You can find out a lot by using a tape measure. Changes can show up quickly in the places where you store excess weight—hips for women, the waist for men. The health benefits are evident with small changes, such as a one-inch reduction in waist size.
It's also easy to monitor your performance in two areas that form the core of a weight-control program: diet and exercise. Compare what you eat with standards in the federal government's dietary guidelines, which illustrate a balanced diet high in fiber and low in fats and refined sugar. Aim for about 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. The CDC recommends that regardless of weight, individuals should exercise about 150 minutes a week, incorporating a combination of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.
Behaviors that help control weight can also decrease your relative risk for developing weight-related diseases, such as diabetes, cancers of the liver, kidney, breast, prostate, and colon, and heart disease. Blood pressure, resting heart rate, blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides are good objective ways to track progress.
Lean muscle mass keeps you fit and strong while it stokes your fat-burning capability. Healthy weight control aims to reduce fat while preserving or increasing lean muscle mass. Body composition is hard to measure and is usually done by your health care provider using Body Mass Index (BMI) calculations. Still, if you're following a fad diet that burns muscle as well as fat, monitoring your body composition can help you judge the safety of your results.