The results will help you choose the best strat­e­gy for los­ing weight.

When you begin to con­trol your weight, it is impor­tant to mon­i­tor more than just the num­ber on the scale. The per­cent­age of body fat is an equal­ly impor­tant indi­ca­tor, because when you lose weight, you can lose not sub­cu­ta­neous deposits, but mus­cles.

Don’t self-med­icate! In our arti­cles, we col­lect the lat­est sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence and opin­ions from respect­ed health experts. But remem­ber: only a doc­tor can make a diag­no­sis and pre­scribe treat­ment.

1. Caliperometry (measuring the thickness of skin folds)

Skin­fold mea­sure­ments have been used to assess body fat for over 50 years. A caliper is used to mea­sure the thick­ness of sub­cu­ta­neous fat—the fat under the skin—in spe­cif­ic parts of the body. Mea­sure­ments are tak­en in sev­er­al dif­fer­ent areas of the body. Next, using spe­cial tables, the per­cent­age of body fat is deter­mined from the data obtained.

Advan­tages: The calipers are very afford­able and mea­sure­ments can be tak­en quick­ly.

Flaws: the method requires prac­tice and basic knowl­edge of anato­my. In addi­tion, the mea­sure­ment pro­ce­dure itself may be unpleas­ant for some peo­ple.

Accu­ra­cy: The skill of the per­son mea­sur­ing skin­fold thick­ness may vary, affect­ing accu­ra­cy. Mea­sure­ment errors may range from 3.5 to 5 per­cent fat.

2. Body circumference measurements

Body shape varies from per­son to per­son, and your body shape pro­vides infor­ma­tion about the amount of fat in your body. Mea­sur­ing the cir­cum­fer­ence of spe­cif­ic parts of the body is a sim­ple method of esti­mat­ing body fat. For exam­ple, the US Army uses a body fat count that sim­ply requires age, height and a few body cir­cum­fer­ence mea­sure­ments. For men, this equa­tion uses neck and waist cir­cum­fer­ences.

Advan­tages: This method is sim­ple and acces­si­ble. All you need is a mea­sur­ing tape and a cal­cu­la­tor.

Flaws: Body cir­cum­fer­ence equa­tions may not be accu­rate for all peo­ple due to dif­fer­ences in body type and fat dis­tri­b­u­tion.

Accu­ra­cy: accu­ra­cy can vary wide­ly depend­ing on your sim­i­lar­i­ty to the peo­ple used to devel­op the equa­tions. The mar­gin of error is only 2.5 to 4.5 per­cent body fat, but can be much high­er.

(Read also: Why does a beer bel­ly grow and how to get rid of it?)

3. Dual-energy X‑ray absorptiometry (DEXA)

As the name sug­gests, DEXA uses two dif­fer­ent ener­gies of X‑rays to esti­mate your body fat per­cent­age. Dur­ing a DEXA scan, you lie on your back for about 10 min­utes while an X‑ray machine scans you. The amount of radi­a­tion from a DEXA scan is very low. This is about the same as you get in three hours of nor­mal life. DEXA is also used to assess bone den­si­ty and pro­vides detailed infor­ma­tion about bone, lean mass and adi­pose tis­sue in spe­cif­ic parts of the body (arms, legs and tor­so).

Advan­tages: this method pro­vides accu­rate and detailed infor­ma­tion, includ­ing a break­down of dif­fer­ent areas of the body and bone den­si­ty read­ings.

Flaws: DEXA is often inac­ces­si­ble to the major­i­ty of the pop­u­la­tion, expen­sive and asso­ci­at­ed with addi­tion­al radi­a­tion.

Accu­ra­cy: DEXA pro­duces more con­sis­tent results than some oth­er meth­ods. The error may be 2.5–3.5% fat.

4. Hydrostatic weighing

This method, also known as under­wa­ter weigh­ing or hydro­sta­t­ic den­sit­o­m­e­try, esti­mates your body com­po­si­tion based on its den­si­ty. In this method, you are weighed as you sub­merge under­wa­ter after exhal­ing as much air as pos­si­ble from your lungs. You are also then weighed while you are on land, and the amount of air remain­ing in your lungs after exhal­ing is esti­mat­ed or mea­sured. All this infor­ma­tion is fed into equa­tions to deter­mine your body den­si­ty. Your body den­si­ty is then used to pre­dict your body fat per­cent­age.

Advan­tages: it is accu­rate and rel­a­tive­ly fast.

Flaws: Some peo­ple find it dif­fi­cult or impos­si­ble to go com­plete­ly under­wa­ter. The method requires you to exhale as much air as pos­si­ble and then hold your breath under­wa­ter. Hydro­sta­t­ic weigh­ing is usu­al­ly only avail­able in uni­ver­si­ties, med­ical facil­i­ties or cer­tain fit­ness cen­ters.

Accu­ra­cy: if test­ing is done per­fect­ly, this device may have an error of as lit­tle as 2 per­cent fat.

(Read also: Can obese peo­ple be healthy: study.)

5. Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA)

BIA devices detect how your body reacts to small elec­tri­cal cur­rents. This is done by plac­ing elec­trodes on the skin. Some elec­trodes send cur­rent through your body, while oth­ers receive the sig­nal after it has passed through your body tis­sue. Because mus­cle has a high­er water con­tent, elec­tri­cal cur­rents pass through it more eas­i­ly than through fat. The BIA device auto­mat­i­cal­ly inputs your body’s response to elec­tri­cal cur­rents into an equa­tion that cal­cu­lates your body com­po­si­tion. There are many dif­fer­ent BIA devices that vary wide­ly in cost, com­plex­i­ty, and accu­ra­cy.

Advan­tages: BIA is quick and easy, and many devices can be pur­chased by users them­selves.

Flaws: Accu­ra­cy varies wide­ly and may be high­ly depen­dent on food and flu­id intake. Although many devices are avail­able to con­sumers, they are often less accu­rate than expen­sive devices used in med­ical or research set­tings.

Accu­ra­cy: Accu­ra­cy varies, with an accu­ra­cy of 3.8–5 per­cent body fat, but may be high­er or low­er depend­ing on the device used.

6. Bioimpedance spectroscopy (BIS)

BIS is sim­i­lar to BIA in that both meth­ods mea­sure the body’s response to small elec­tri­cal cur­rents. But these devices use dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies. BIS uses a much larg­er num­ber of elec­tri­cal cur­rents than BIA to math­e­mat­i­cal­ly pre­dict the amount of flu­id in the body. BIS also ana­lyzes infor­ma­tion dif­fer­ent­ly, and some researchers believe that BIS is more accu­rate than BIA. The accu­ra­cy of both of these meth­ods depends on how sim­i­lar you are to the peo­ple for whom the equa­tions were devel­oped.

Advan­tages: BIS is fast and easy.

Flaws: Unlike BIA, con­sumer grade BIS devices are not cur­rent­ly avail­able. BIS is usu­al­ly only avail­able at uni­ver­si­ties, med­ical insti­tu­tions or cer­tain fit­ness cen­ters.

Accu­ra­cy: BIS is more accu­rate than con­sumer-grade BIA devices, but has the same uncer­tain­ty as more advanced BIA mod­els (3–5 per­cent fat).

(Read also: 6 signs your diet isn’t right for you

Which method is best for you?

Decid­ing which method of esti­mat­ing body fat per­cent­age is best is not easy. Much depends on your goals, the required accu­ra­cy, fre­quen­cy of use, avail­abil­i­ty and price.

Some meth­ods, such as skin­fold mea­sure­ments, cir­cum­fer­ence mea­sure­ments, and portable BIA devices, are inex­pen­sive, acces­si­ble, and allow you to take mea­sure­ments in your own home as often as you like. Although these meth­ods are not high­ly accu­rate, they may be a bet­ter choice. Most of them can­not be used at home with the high­est accu­ra­cy. If you want a more accu­rate esti­mate and are will­ing to pay for it, you can use a method with good accu­ra­cy (such as hydro­sta­t­ic weigh­ing or DEXA).

What­ev­er method you use, it is impor­tant to use the same one con­sis­tent­ly. Eval­u­at­ing your­self in the same way each time will reduce mis­takes and make it eas­i­er to mea­sure progress. It is almost always bet­ter to take mea­sure­ments in the morn­ing on an emp­ty stom­ach after going to the toi­let. How­ev­er, you need to inter­pret the results with cau­tion: even the most con­ve­nient meth­ods are not per­fect and pro­vide only a rough esti­mate.

(Read also: 3 tips on how to lose weight by los­ing fat, not mus­cle mass.)

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