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Measure Your Weight Loss Progress

Harry Mills, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 10th 2016

up and down graphMake plans to measure your weight loss progress. Regular measurement of weight is the only way to know when you have completed milestone goals, and also helps to motivate by providing a way to visualize your progress.

  • Weight Scales. Most people's weight actually varies across the day by as much as several pounds based on what they eat and eliminate. Just drinking a couple glasses of water can make the numbers on the scale go up. To minimize time of day problems, pick a particular time of day when you will weigh yourself and stick to it. Early morning, before breakfast, is usually the best time of day to weigh. Weigh yourself frequently during your preparation phase to understand your average baseline weight. After the assessment period weigh only about once a week at the same time as your baseline measure.
  • Food Diaries. Keeping a food diary is also a good idea. A food diary is a notebook in which you record absolutely everything you eat or drink over a period of time. Start your diary during the preparation phase and make sure it covers at least three weekdays and a weekend before you launch into your diet (many people eat differently over the weekend than during the week). The important thing is to be ABSOLUTELY honest about what you are eating. No one else needs to see this notebook but you, but you need to keep track of the truth. In addition to the items and their quantities, be sure and record where you ate the food and how you felt. Records of what you are eating while dieting will help you to become aware of hidden calories you might otherwise miss. Using the diary makes it possible to spot eating behaviors that would otherwise go unnoticed, such as eating the untouched half of sandwich your child left behind while you are loading the dishwasher, or realizing that that wonderful bag of trail mix you ate and thought was 150 calories for the bag actually contained eight servings at 150 calories each!

If you really want to get technical about your weight loss, you can pursue additional measurements and statistics as well.

  • Body Mass Index. The current "gold standard" for determining healthy weight is the body mass index (BMI). Your body mass index is determined by dividing weight in kg by height in meters, squared (or by dividing weight in pounds by height in inches, squared) and then multiplying the result by the number 703. In general BMIs above 30 indicate obesity, and BMIs between 25 and 29 indicate that someone is overweight. A BMI table and accompanying comments are available as part of the Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2015). These guidelines may be read on line, printed out in PDF format or ordered at
  • Circumference Measures. The waist to hip ratio (WTH) compares the narrowest point on the waistline with the broadest point at the hip. Higher WTH ratios (which occur when fat is stored on the belly or stomach) are associated with greater health risks than lower WTH ratios which occur when fat is stored elsewhere. A waist circumference of 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women is cause for concern.

    In addition to your waist and hips, it is also helpful to measure thighs, upper arms, chest, neck and anywhere else you are concerned about reducing. Since muscle weighs more than fat the scales may not be completely reliable witnesses to the changes going on during a weight loss/exercise program. A periodic check of circumference measurements may well show a decrease in size even if the scales do not indicate much change. Muscle takes up less space than fat and will often result in your dimensions decreasing even if the scales are not so cooperative.

  • Body Fat. A baseline estimate of your body composition (body fat mass vs. lean body mass) also provides informative health information. Body fat proportionality can be determined using skin fold caliper measurements (which should be made by medical or fitness professionals) or by weighting one's self on a bio-electric impedance scale. Bio-electric impedance analysis is a painless process in which a safe electric current is based through the body. The body's fatty tissues are poor conductors of the signal, while muscles conduct it well. The bio-electric scale is able to come up with an estimate of body fat content based on how much resistance it encountered. Both home and commercial models are available.

    Another helpful measurement is wrist circumference or a measurement of the width of the elbow, the space between the opposing bony protrusions on either side of the bent elbow. The elbow measurement is most accurately taken with calipers. These measurements provide ways of estimating the size of your body frame which is part of the calculation in determining just how much you should weigh. A small boned person should weigh less than a big boned person and likewise it is not realistic for a person with big bones to achieve the weight goals of a smaller boned person of the same height.

Picking a partner

If you are someone who responds well to social reinforcement, use your preparation period to build yourself a support system of people who care about you and will encourage you in your weight loss efforts. Having told one or more people about your weight loss plan, you will have additional motivation to honor your commitment, or face their teasing you. As an added bonus, one or more of the people you approach may decide to lose weight with you, furthering your motivation and reinforcement. Often, the best partners to recruit for weight loss support are other family members. This is especially true if family members are willing to help you by working with you to remove temptation foods from the house. Lifestyle changes will be much easier to achieve and maintain if the entire household becomes involved in working them.

Setting Goals

Once you have picked out a reducing diet to follow, you can begin the work of formulating a plan, setting milestone goals and writing these plans and goals into a weight loss contract. For example you may decide to eat at least one piece of fresh fruit a day in place of your usual handful of cookies. You also may decide to switch from a sugar sweetened breakfast cereal to one of the newer high fiber cereals which are tasty and also a rich sources of soluble and insoluble fiber. Writing these decisions in specific detail into your weight loss contract makes them more likely to happen. When you're done thinking about dietary changes, start thinking about exercise changes. Plan an exercise program and write into your contract what and how much exercise you will accomplish. Walking is a simple option, and even 20 minutes of it a day will help.

Your contract should have a defined start date, and should end no more than one or two weeks later. They should also specify non-food rewards that you will grant yourself if you meet the terms of the contract. You don't have to specify perfect performance. Allow yourself to be rewarded if you have met the terms of your contract more often than not (say, 10 days out of 14).

Evaluate your progress after each two week contract is completed. Have your goals proven to be realistic? Are you feeling more energetic from the increased exercise? Is the substitute you picked for your sugar sweetened soda a good one or would something else be better? Are you ready to be more aggressive with changes? Then make a new plan based on what you have learned and write a new contract based on that plan. If you find yourself sneaking too many sweet foods, for instance, then figure out why you are having the need to sneak those sweets, generate alternative behaviors you can substitute, and write them into your next contract. Perhaps you are sneaking ice cream because you are stressed out. If so, you might consider planing to consciously prepare a healthy snack (some cut-up fresh fruit perhaps) in place of the ice cream, or, alternatively, join a yoga class. While yoga does not burn huge numbers of calories it does help relieve stress. If you practice a few yoga poses when you are upset (perhaps while listening to soothing music) you might find you don't need that ice cream after all.


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