When beginning a your new diet / exercise / lifestyle program it is a good idea to get initial measurements of yourself. Doing this provides a clear starting point and can show you how far you’ve come and the direction you are going towards. Measurements can be physical (weight, body fat, pictures, girth, etc), internal (blood sugar, cholesterol, etc.) or behavioral (habits – diet, exercise, etc). We will discuss when, how, and why to use any or all of them.
Body Weight – Using body weight as a measurement is always standard for diet and exercise programs to track progress. Pros – Easy, accessible (most people have a scale). Cons - Daily fluctuations with water balance, doesn’t show body composition, many scales are inaccurate.
How to start – Buy a scale at the store (preferably digital) and test with a standard weight (some canned goods). The readings should come out within a pound of each other with the standard weights. Once you have proven the scale’s reliability and accuracy you can start weighing yourself.
Frequency – This is generally user preference but we would recommend at least once a week (some weigh everyday). The most important part is weighing yourself at the same time of the day (upon waking is always good!) due to water fluctuations during the day.
Body Fat – Since body weight alone cannot show us actual body composition, we like to measure body fat to get a better picture. Using body fat measurements can help better guide a diet an exercise plan to see if the weight being lost is mostly fat (good) or muscle (bad). There are a few methods of body fat testing such as underwater testing, dexa scan, bod pod, bio-impedance, and skin folds. We use skin folds because of accessibility, price, accuracy, and the ability to show problem areas. The only drawback to skin fold testing is that you need a partner to measure all areas.
How to start – Buy a set of calipers and find someone to help measure you. Click here for the Skin Fold Guide.
Frequency – Every 2 – 4 weeks.
Body Circumferences (Girth) – Another physical measurements we do are body circumference measurements aka girth measurements. There are several sites at which you can measure, but the if we had to measure only one then it would be the waist circumference since it is a predictor of cardiometabolic health. Measuring circumference gives another piece of the puzzle to tracking progress and getting initial data. Girth measurements alone won’t show body composition, but when used in conjunction with the skin folds and body weight, they can help give another perspective.
How to start – Get a tape measurer (use a cloth not metal. You can get it in the sewing section of the store). Consistency is key so make sure you use landmarks (e.g. tape directly over the nipples for a chest measurement. Click here for the Girth Guide.
Frequency – Every 2 -4 weeks.
Body Photographs – While not numerical measurement, body photos can be great for measuring progress for those who are more visual. While others might notice the change in how you look, you see yourself everyday and might not really see a difference. Taking body photos can surely be a humbling experience, but in the long run they are worth doing.
How to start – Find a clean wall for the background. For males – just a pair of gym shorts will do. For females – a swimsuit or small shorts and sports bra is fine. Consistency is key here as well so make sure you record the camera settings so you can duplicate the same scene. Take 4 photos – Front, back, and each side.
Frequency – Once a month.
Blood Pressure – As basic as it seems, studies keep showing that high blood pressure is one of the top gun causes of cardiometabolic disease. While we list blood pressure under the Internal category, it is not an invasive test. Measuring blood pressure also happens to be easy to do, cheap, and extremely accessible.
How to start – The doctor’s office is an obvious choice, but you can also check at the small stations in the pharmacy (be aware that the standard cuff size on the machine might not be right for your arm and may cause inaccuracies). You can also buy your own monitor, but be sure to bring it in to your doctor to check the accuracy.
Frequency – Once a year.
Blood Tests – Sometimes the outside doesn’t match the inside or vice versa – meaning – Your physical appearance can look healthy, but you can still have unhealthy internal chemistry (e.g. an extremely lean bodybuilder with a poor cardiovascular blood profile – high cholesterol etc.) or on the flip side have great internal blood chemistry and have a poor physique. We try to emphasize that it’s the inside that counts most and that by following our recommendations you will be rewarded with both healthy insides and a much improved outside. Just like the physical measurements it is a good idea to track the changes in your blood chemistry as well to see if other changes can be made. With that being said we have a few tests that we believe are essential for everyone and some that should only be done if you are having specific symptoms.
Habit Tracking – Tracking your daily habits can be especially useful in regards to sticking to or changing your current lifestyle program. For example, if your goal is to follow one or all of the dietary Lean Habits, you could track each day/meal you met the goal. This way you can compare your physical/internal measurements and decide whether you need to be more compliant with your program (follow the habits better) or add/change more habits. This is also a good way to keep you honest since it might seem like you are following the program when in reality you are not (e.g. a patient that says they have been eating a lot of vegetables when in reality it was just a few pieces of broccoli at dinner).
How to Start -Pick a habit and make a check list for everyday. Put a check mark each time you follow the habit. At the end of the month you can divide the number of days you followed the habit over the number of days in the month. For example if your goal were exercising at least 30 minutes everyday and you did it 26 days in the month of June – then your score would be 26/30 = about 87%. Good for a B+! We like to shoot for the A range (90 – 100%) for the program results to be optimized. You can also make the goal for meals as well. You would just need to pick a habit for each meal and then record how many meals you followed it. For example if you eat 5 meals a day that would be 150 meals per month. A 90% would be 135 meals that you followed your meal habit.
Frequency – Everyday
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