Your Scale Is A Liar: How To Truly Gauge Your Fat Loss Progress

22 03 2013
If you are weight training, this is actually correct.

If you are weight training, this is actually correct.

Last night I overheard a lady at the gym complaining about how she was having trouble losing weight. She couldn’t figure it out, because she was “eating right” and at the gym “all the time” (I see her there at least 2x per week, so I feel like she is most likely actually putting in an honest effort). Now, this lady is barely overweight. For a middle-aged woman, she is doing quite well for herself. Like most people though, she is using her bathroom scale as her fat-loss gauge. If she was simply doing hours upon hours of cardio, the scale would be a better tool, as her weight-loss would be at least somewhat linear and consistent. However, as someone who frequents the weights section of a gym, her scale simply becomes more and more misleading each day. As I mentioned in my back-up post of Cardio vs. Weight Training last week:

In a straight-up weight loss challenge, it’s very possible that cardio will outdo any kind of weight training. However, this is because the cardio group will lose significantly more muscle mass (which weighs more than fat mass) whereas the weight training group will gain muscle mass. If you are using a weight scale to measure your progress, PLEASE STOP. This is nothing but misleading. Use a mirror/photos or girth measurements if you want to track your results. Just remember: Cardio = muscle loss and fat loss whereas Weight Training = muscle gain and fat loss (and a far greater rate of fat loss in a resting state, which is the majority of your life).

My advice for weight loss? Eat clean, hit the weights, and throw away your scale! Instead, trust your hard work, trust the human body, and know that you’re doing as much as possible to improve your long-term health and achieve your body composition goals. I understand that it is very difficult to avoid using a scale (our culture is obsessed with “weight”), but this is a topic that drives me crazy, so I’m going to try to make things easier for everyone. Here are some visual comparison charts of body fat percentages, courtesy of





Before going any further, let me just say that I understand that everyone has a unique body shape and that height, age, fat distribution, etc. are all variables that can cloud photo comparisons.  This is not an exact science, but it is a way to give you an idea of what certain body fat percentages resemble.

What body fat percentage should you shoot for?

We all have different ideas about what body type is most attractive, so I’m not going tell you what kind of body to shoot for. However, I will give you some information regarding body fat percentage. NOTE: I’m not using BMI because it does not do a good job of accounting for lean body mass. Use your eyes and trust the process!

First and foremost, the baseline level of essential body fat for women is round 8-10%, whereas in men it is 2%. Ladies, you NEED more fat on your bodies to maintain an acceptable level of health. Men can cut right down and still be very healthy, women cannot. Please keep this in mind. With that being said, here are some guidelines for men and women:

For men:

Below 7%: Typically only achieved by bodybuilders and fitness models (ie, aesthetic professionals)

8-15%: The “cut” look that many guys shoot for; not overboard, but lean and healthy looking.

16-25%: I would say that most guys fall into this range (here in Canada anyway). An “average” 5’10”man who weighing 175 lbs will have roughly 20% body fat.

NOTE: For men, you are generally overfat and at an elevated risk for health problems if you are over 20%. Younger men should strive to be under 20%; older men under 25%.

25%+: Being over 25% means you are at or close to being obese. Obesity is something that we should all try to avoid, as it comes with numerous health benefits and will take years off your life.

For women:

Below 12%: This is still extremely low for women and typically only achieved by bodybuilders; menstruation is not possible at these levels.

13-17%: This is similar to the 6-7% range for men; still very low for women and generally only achieved by fitness models; menstruation is possible, but compromised at these levels.

18-22%: Typical of female athletes. Considered to be a very fit and healthy range.

23-35%: This is the range that I would say most women fall into. An “average” 5’4” women who weighs 130 lbs will typically have about 25% body fat.

35-40%: Women in this range are overfat and at the risk of health problems.

40%+: Being over 40% means you are at or close to being obese. Again, obesity is something that we should all try to avoid, as it comes with numerous health benefits and will take years off your life.

Again, I realize this isn’t an exact science, but at least it gives you a good way to gauge your fat loss progress, as opposed to misleading weight loss. If you’d like an additional marker, use a measuring tape to measure the girth of your stomach, chest, arms, thighs and caboose. I encourage you to take these measurements, along with photos, every week- you’ll be amazed at the progress you’re making, even if your jerk of a scale tells you otherwise!

For more information on fat loss strategies, don’t hesitate to drop me a line!

Happy Friday!