The Best Ways to Measure Your Progress (Especially if Weight Loss is Your Goal)

Mom Podcast
by megan dahlman
January 17, 2023

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If you have some goals right now for your body, how do you know if you’re on track to reach those goals? What are the best ways to measure your progress? Is it BMI? The scale? Some other form of measurement? Let’s take a look…

I recently received a question from a listener that I felt deserved a bit more of a discussion than just our short Ask Megan episodes on Friday. When she sent it to me, I instantly realized there’s a lot more going on with this question and its answer than I initially thought. And I feel like this is a really important conversation to have at the beginning of the year, especially if you have some weight loss goals this year.

Jen’s question was this: “I'm wondering if Body Mass Index (BMI) is a good indicator of having healthy body fat levels or not? All my adult life, I feel like one of my goals has been to be at a healthy BMI. Can it be possible to be healthy & fit, but still not quite fit into the "healthy" BMI standards? I know non-scale victories are super important, but I also know excess body fat can cause health problems.”

You may or may not already have an opinion about the BMI, and I’ll get into that, but I think the bigger question here is how should you measure your progress? What are the best markers to look at to make sure you’re moving in the direction of being your healthiest self? And are you there yet?

A quick story…

When I was in college in the Exercise Science program, we had one quarter where we learned all sorts of different measurement protocols. We learned how to measure performance a hundred different ways from box step tests, to hand dynamometers for grip strength, to the sit and reach tests, to even VO2max tests on the treadmill (which, let me tell you is a miserable experience).

We also learned pretty much every single method out there for measuring body composition. Speaking of miserable experiences, if you’ve ever measured your body fat by doing underwater weighing, it’s awful. You sit on a little swing in a cold tank of water, blow all the air out of your lungs, then dunk under long enough for all the half-paying-attention students in the room to mark down the numbers. Needless to say, I’ve been through just about every measuring method out there.

And BMI was certainly on the list.

So what’s the best? And what should you be looking at to make sure you’re on track to reach your goals?

Now why is this important for you?

It’s really good to have a goal, to have something you’re aiming for in your health and fitness. We talked about setting goals - specifically about common mistakes people make when setting goals - a couple weeks ago. Now today is all about how to measure your progress toward those goals. Because when you’ve got a goal, you need to have measurable markers of progress along the way.

  • This is going to give you clarity around what you’re doing, and it provides you with feedback about whether or not you’re on the right track.
  • I know this sounds ridiculous, but if your goal is to become a faster runner, but you never time yourself to see how fast you’re actually running, how do you know if what you’re doing is working?
  • So, if you have a goal, you need to have a way to measure your progress towards that goal.

What should you be measuring if weight loss is your goal?

You may be listening right now and know that in order for you to be the healthiest version of yourself, you feel like you have some weight to lose.

Let’s first make this weight loss goal of yours have a bit more distinction:

  • Instead of saying weight loss, I suggest saying fat loss. Because this is probably what you mean. You don’t just want to lose weight at all cost, right? You don’t want to lose water, bone density, nutrients like glycogen, and you definitely don’t want to lose muscle mass, right?
  • So we need to change the vocabulary you use, which is going to change the way that you measure
  • Because if all you cared about was pure weight loss, then just go step on the scale to see how much you weigh or measure your BMI

What is BMI? It’s a measure of health based on height and weight. So you enter your height and weight and it spits out a number that places you in one of 4 categories: underweight, normal, overweight or obese.

I took the measurements of a trainer I know that’s in crazy good shape… she’s about 5’7”, and weighs about 155-160 pounds. (overweight)

What are you measuring when you step on a scale? You are literally weighing every single thing in your body. Bones, organs, muscle, fat, blood, everything. A woman who is doing all the right things and getting in better shape will get heavier muscles, heavier bones, heavier blood, heavier packets of energy all over her body in the form of glycogen. (Story about 8 pounds of weight loss in the first two weeks of doing Keto.)

So when you’re working really hard to train more and eat better, the scale doesn’t really give you an accurate picture of what’s going on in your body. And neither does BMI.

So then… if fat loss is your goal, you need to throw out BMI and the scale as valid measurements of progress.

What should you measure instead to see if you’re actually losing body fat?

  • Body fat test - caliper test, scan
  • Girth measurements - measuring tape around key body areas (thigh, waist, arm, etc.); Don’t just measure your problem area!
  • The way your clothes fit - this is my favorite method. Pick a favorite pair of jeans or a shirt that you feel are a little tight right now, and periodically try them on.
  • Keep in mind! If you’re doing any of my programs, you WILL be building muscle mass in your glutes, quads, shoulders. Your body will kind of change shape. The waist of your jeans might be getting looser while the bum might be getting tighter.

But, what measures of progress are even more important to pay attention to?

I need you to hear me right now:

Something that we really have come to believe in modern culture is that being small is better. And nothing could be further from the truth, especially when you begin to appreciate the wide array of designs that God created for our bodies. We have endomorphs, and mesomorphs, and ectomorphs, and all sorts of hybrids in between.

And if you happen to be an endomorph or an endo hybrid, being small is simply not healthy for you. You were meant to be powerful and take up space. Sure, it’s important to make sure you’re not carrying excess body fat for your health, but if you spend your life fixated on making your body smaller than it was ever designed to be, you will exhaust yourself and miss out on the blessing of who YOU are.

So for you, I would much rather you pay attention to these non-scale, or non-size, measurements of progress (and as I say these, I want you to pick a couple that you will use to measure your progress):

  • Lifting heavier weights
  • Feeling stronger and more muscular in certain areas of your body
  • Experiencing your chronic aches and pains disappear
  • Having more energy all day long
  • Sleeping better at night
  • Becoming more flexible and having better balance
  • Feeling faster, more agile, and having greater body awareness in general, like an athlete
  • Being able to confidently do an exercise that you’ve always struggled with (like pullups or push-ups)
  • Lowering your blood pressure or cholesterol and getting off certain medications
  • And I could go on

All of these things are PROOF - hard evidence - that what you are doing is working and you should keep going.

So often, women that come through my Jumpstart series of programs don’t lose a ton of weight. Yes, weight loss often happens, but we really don’t talk about it that much cause we’re so focused on how everything else is changing and improving in their bodies. One of my trainees said one time, “I can’t believe this Megan… I now have so much energy all day long, I feel strong, I finally feel healthy, my clothes fit better and I’m even sleeping better at night!” And then casually, later on she mentioned how she lost 10 pounds - at that point it was such an afterthought because everything else had suddenly become far more important for her.

And as you get in better shape, my hope is that this same thing will happen for you, too.

The big idea here is that…

  • If weight loss has been your goal, change this to fat loss to be more distinct about what you’re trying to accomplish.
  • Don’t use the scale or your BMI to measure this. The easiest way is to feel how your clothes are fitting.
  • Even if fat loss is one of your goals, make sure you ALSO have a few of these other measures of progress in place to keep you going.
  • Often body fat loss can be one of the last things to change, so if you’re not measuring something else - something that gives you proof that what you’re doing is working - you’ll probably give up.
  • Being able to taste victory keeps you motivated and keeps you going

Action steps?

Take your goals that you’ve created and decide how you’re going to measure your progress. And then I want to know! Message me on FB or on IG, or send me an email and tell me what you’re going to track to see how you’re doing.

More Resources

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Trainer, nutrition coach, and Christian mom — in a culture that’s obsessed with “gym-selfies” and a number on the scale, I’m passionate about helping moms discover what it feels like to actually love their bodies and thrive in them.
Read More About Megan
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Self-Care Simplified is for Christian moms that want to be equipped and encouraged to take simple steps towards the healthy life you want for yourself and the people you love.
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Trainer, nutrition coach, and Christian mom — in a culture that’s obsessed with “gym-selfies” and a number on the scale, I’m passionate about helping moms discover what it feels like to actually love their bodies and thrive in them.
Read More About Megan
Hi! I’m Megan.
take the quiz
Self-Care Simplified is for Christian moms that want to be equipped and encouraged to take simple steps towards the healthy life you want for yourself and the people you love.
Be sure to subscribe to Self-Care Simplified wherever you listen to your favorite podcast.
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