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How Much Body Fat Do You Have? 4 Essential Things to Track

by
author image Jess Barron
Jess Barron is head of editorial at LIVESTRONG.COM.She has appeared on MSNBC's "The Most," ABC News Now, and XM satellite radio. Barron's writing has appeared on Wired.com, Yahoo! and Poprocks.com.
Do you measure your progress regularly?
Do you measure your progress regularly? Photo Credit JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Getty Images

If you’re trying to lose fat (or gain muscle), how are you measuring your progress? Do you know what percentage of body fat you have? Are you weighing yourself daily (or at least weekly)? Are you tracking your measurements every 15 days? Are you taking monthly photos?

In the free LIVESTRONG.COM MyPlate Calorie Tracker, there are tools to help you keep track and chart your progress. But you won’t be able to see the handy charts unless you remember to regularly record your measurements.

Here Are 4 Ways to Measure Your Progress:

1. Weigh Yourself (daily or weekly) and Keep Track

Many people dread stepping onto the scale and say that they don’t want to see the number, but if you think about managing your weight loss and fitness the way a CEO would manage a company, you need to record and monitor metrics in order to work on improving them.

Would a CEO of a business ever say, I don’t even want to look at our revenue or expenditure this week (or this month)? No way! And this is precisely why you should keep track of your weight on a regular basis. You need to keep an eye on which direction things are heading, so that you can take action (either increase exercise or decrease food intake) to get the your weight headed in the right direction for you goal.

In MyPlate, there is a place in the left-hand side of the Dashboard where you can record your daily weight. It looks like this:

Weighing yourself daily can become a habitual routine, just like brushing your teeth or any other daily ritual.
Weighing yourself daily can become a habitual routine, just like brushing your teeth or any other daily ritual. Photo Credit LIVESTRONG.COM

As much as you may not want to, I highly recommend you weigh yourself each morning at the same time, preferably when you first wake up and have not yet eaten anything or had anything to drink.

Remember, the number on the scale is telling you the weight of your entire body (including muscle and bones), so don’t get discouraged if the number doesn’t move down or even if it moves up. If you are exercising, you could be building muscle as you slim down and lose inches, which brings us to why it’s equally important to be tracking the next metric…

2. Measure Yourself Every 15 Days: Here’s How to Take Your Measurements

Often you’ll lose inches from your waist and hips before you lose any weight on the scale. This is one major reason why tracking your measurements can help you from becoming discouraged with your progress. As an additional incentive, once you have your measurements, you can use our body fat calculator to find out your body-fat percentage. So grab a measuring tape and record your measurements!

What should you wear to take your measurements?
Wear form-fitting clothes or don’t wear any clothes when you are measuring yourself.

What/how should you measure? (NOTE: Measure in the same place each time.)
- Waist: Measure directly across your belly button.
- Hips: Place tape measure around the biggest part of your hips.
- Thighs: Use the tape measure to find the midpoint (halfway point) between your knee and the top of your thigh. Then, put the tape measure around your thigh at this point.
- Arms: Use the tape measure to find the midpoint (halfway point) between your elbow and the top of your shoulder. Then, put the tape measure around your arm at this point, and be sure to measure with your biceps flexed!
- Chest: Measure around your chest, going directly across your nipple line.
- Neck: Put the tape measure around your neck directly in the middle.

You should take your measurements again after 15 days have passed. And then, measure yourself again on day 30 and day 60. Write it all down and/or record it online on LIVESTRONG.COM.

There’s a place in the lower right-hand corner of the Progress tab in MyPlate where you can input your measurements and then view progress charts as they change over time when you update them.

It looks like this:

Keep track of your measurements using the Progress tab in MyPlate.
Keep track of your measurements using the Progress tab in MyPlate. Photo Credit LIVESTRONG.COM

3. Calculate Your Body Fat Monthly

Since your scale measures all the components in your body including fat, muscle, bones, water and food in your digestive tract, knowing your body fat percentage can give you a better idea of how much fat you really need to lose and even better, whether you’re making progress in your program. These are things that a regular scale alone can’t tell you.

You can calculate your body fat using one of these methods:

* Online body fat calculators* (used in conjunction with your weight and measurements). Not entirely accurate, but just provide an estimate.
Calipers
Bioelectrical impedance scales and devices such as the Withings Wi-Fi scale (which I have) or the Tanita, made famous on “The Biggest Loser” or handheld devices such as the Omron which are often seen in gyms. Only issue with these is that your reading will be inaccurate if you drink a huge glass of water beforehand.
Hydrostatic Bodyfat testing.** I did this when I was in a test group at Beachbody. You need to wear a swimsuit and get dunked underwater.
* DEXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry). This test is done in the doctor’s office and it is essentially a full body X-Ray, done primarily to check bone density.

How much body fat should you have?
According to the American Council on Exercise these are the ranges for body-fat percentage:

Women

Essential Fat: 10-12%
Athletes: 14-20%
Fitness: 21-24%
Acceptable: 25-31%
Obese: 32% plus

Men

Essential Fat: 2-4%
Athletes: 6-13%
Fitness: 14-17%
Acceptable: 18-25%
Obese: 26% plus

4. Take Your “Before” and Progress Photos Every Month

We understand that you may NOT want to smile in your “Before” pics. (I didn't smile in mine!) You may not feel happy with how you look. The “Before” photos can be a wake-up call that you are unhappy with what you see. Also, remember that you don’t need to show your “Before” photos to anyone. You can keep them just for yourself.

For men, take the photos wearing shorts or a swimsuit without a shirt on. For women, take the photos in a bikini or tight gym shorts and a sports bra. It’s important to see your stomach, and be sure not to suck that tummy in! You may see your most pronounced changes in the stomach area.

Here’s a video with more tips:

There’s a place in the lower left-hand corner of the Progress tab in MyPlate where you can upload your “Before” photos and your progress photos.

It looks like this:

Upload your "before" and "after" photos to track your progress more accurately.
Upload your "before" and "after" photos to track your progress more accurately. Photo Credit LIVESTRONG.COM

We hope that capturing and tracking these metrics will help you to stay on top of your progress.

Readers – Are you trying to lose weight? How have you been measuring your progress? Do you weight yourself daily? Did you take your measurements or “Before” and “After” photos? Leave a comment below and let us know.

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