I have worked hard to stay fit and understand the complex relationship between aging, nutrition, and exercise.
Measuring Fat Percentage Instead of Just Weight
Recent trends in fitness and weight loss have focused much more on body composition that on body weight. Advances in Bluetooth technology have made it possible to track the amount of fat, muscle, water, and bone that you have in your body at any given time; this new level of precision means that losing fat and retaining muscle is the new holy grail in fitness.
There are essentially two ways to measure how much fat you have, and how much fat you're losing on your fitness or diet plan: precision calipers, and bio-impedence "smart scales." Both of these methods have their good and not-so-good qualities. This guide will focus on high-precision calipers, but along the way we will look at Blue tooth smart scale technology as a possible alternative method. Which one you choose depends on your budget, goals, and comfort with high-tech devices.
Chicken fat, beef fat, fish fat, fried foods - these are the foods that fuel our fat genes by giving them raw materials for building body fat.
— Neal Barnard
Precision Body-Fat Calipers
Your Fat Measurement Options
One way to measure your fat percentage -- the relative amount of your body weight that's fat, as opposed to muscle, water, and bone -- is with a special scale. These scales, called smart scales or fat scales, are high-tech devices that can link to your iPhone, tablet, or computer. The other option is much less high-tech, and much easier to use. They're also a lot less expensive. This option is a precision fat caliper. It's really just a set of pincers that measure a pinch of skin at various points on your body. Using these measurements, the caliper calculates your fat percentage.
Doctors still often use calipers to measure a patient's fat percentage. The technology is simple, time-tested, and surprisingly accurate.
A Good, Affordable Fat Caliper
Your Fat Percentage is More Important Than Your Weight
Those of us who are trying to lose weight, look and feel better, and improve our health, often focus on one number: how many pounds we weigh. Our sense of achievement, or backsliding, tends to come from this one bit of data.
We want to lose fat and keep or gain muscle. But a regular bathroom scale won't tell you what you need to know about your fat and muscle percentages. A regular bathroom scale won't tell you if you're losing fat or muscle. So how does a regular, health-conscious person like you or me tell if we're losing fat instead of muscle?
The Importance of Trying to Stay Lean
Our society values lean bodies. That's not to say that people with some extra fat on their bodies are bad people or lesser members of society! Lean and muscular is a generally accepted ideal that many of us decide to pursue.
Unlocking the complex solution to losing fat has taken me years, and the project is still going. I have learned a lot about how my body responds to whole foods versus processed foods, and which kinds of exercises actually work for me. Everyone has a slightly different set of solutions to the fitness puzzle, but some things will always be true. One of them is that fat can be burned through cutting calories and staying as active as possible. Another truth about cutting fat and keeping muscle is that it takes time -- sometimes several years to make real, lasting progress. Any diet program that promises that you will lose fat in a matter of days or weeks is simply lying. They're manipulating our need for quick change and the fact that in the first few days and weeks of a calorie and carb-restricted diet, most people lose a considerable amount of water weight. This is NOT fat, but it is weight, and people new to the process often think that they're making real progress.
But a fat scale can't be fooled. Calipers and scales designed to determine fat percentage will reveal the truth. For me, this is reason enough to understand and use fat-assessment technology -- avoid the scammers, save your money, and make real, lasting change in your life.
Every year, the average American eats as much as 33 pounds of cheese. That's up to 60,000 calories and 3,100 grams of saturated fat. So why do we eat so much cheese? Mainly it's because the government is in cahoots with the processed food industry.
— Michael Moss
Another Benefit: Less Regret!
Scales and calipers are not only good for when you lose weight -- I have actually valued them more when I seem to suddenly GAIN weight, and start to stress over packing on new fat. More often than not, the gain is simply water, but I would never have known it without a fat measuring system to reassure me. There's nothing worse than stepping on a regular scale and seeing that you've gained a few pounds, and then feeling angry and frustrated all day. Calipers and smart scales save me the agony by reassuring me that the weight I've gained is water, which it usually is. Fat, when you gain it, creeps up over weeks and months. It doesn't just show up one morning: "Hello, you ate a cupcake yesterday, and now you have just gained three pounds of fat." That makes no sense, of course, but without my scale or calipers I'm susceptible to believing it.
High-Tech Fat Calipers
These calipers take the basic principle of measuring a fold of skin at various places around the body and add a digital readout feature. The process is the same, with the difference being that the digital may be easier to see and read than traditional scale-type calipers. I myself have not used these calipers, but providing the measurement is accurate, they should work as well as any non-digital calipers.
- Accurate and dependable
- Good repeatability
- Quick reading
- Hold function
- Displays measured value in both mm & inch conversion
- Large LCD display for easy reading
The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you'd rather not.
— Mark Twain
Body Fat Smart Scales
I mentioned the other basic option for measuring fat -- a smart scale. I have used both calipers and a smart scale, and while the results not perfect with either method, both give me a baseline for figuring out whether I'm losing fat or muscle. Smart scales, also called fat scales, work by sending a weak electrical charge through your body. It's very weak, a fraction of a battery, and you don't feel it. These scales are often called "bio-impedence scales," because they measure the amount of impedence that the weak current encounters as it goes through your body. Fat, muscle, and water all conduct electricity differently, so the scale analyzes the way the current goes out and returns, and gives me a read-out. The scale I have, the Weight Gurus bluetooth smart scale, has a nice bright read-out and comes on automatically when I step on it. I have used this scale for awhile and I really like the benefits of knowing more or less precisely how much fat, bone, muscle, and water I'm made of.
My Smart Scale
There is no quick and easy way to fat loss!
Diets that promise quick results are typically capitalizing on water weight loss or, much worse, loss of muscle as your body begins to consume it's own tissues for calories (when this happens, you're in a catabolic state and will be burning fat and muscle tissue to survive). Knowledge is power, and once you see the game these people are playing, you can side-step the whole thing and focus on consistent, slow, meaningful fat loss, with minimal loss of muscle tissue on the process. Remember -- if losing fat was as easy as all of these hucksters and charlatans claim, then everyone would be walking around with a six-pack!
The following sources were used for this guide:
Melanson, et al. "Exercise improves fat metabolism in muscle but does not increase 24-h fat oxidation." Exerc Sport Sci Rev. PMC 2010 Jun 15.
Boutcher, Stephen H. "High Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss." Journal of Obesit,. Published online 2010 Nov 24.
"How to use body fat calipers and make them more reliable." sport-fitness-advisor.com/bodyfatcalipers
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.