Numbers to Know on Your Weight Loss Journey
Losing weight is like math class—there are a lot of numbers you become familiar with on your journey. But what do they all mean, and just how much should you pay attention to them?
Below, we explore some measurements and lingo you may encounter on your journey (and how to use them for success).
Body Mass Index (BMI)
Your Body Mass Index (BMI) number is an important one to know on your weight loss journey and is commonly used by healthcare providers to help determine if someone should medically lose weight. BMI takes into consideration a person’s height and weight in order to categorize them as underweight, healthy weight, overweight, or obese. You can learn your BMI from your healthcare provider or use an online calculator for a quick estimate.
BMI can be also used to determine if a prescription weight loss medication could be a good fit for someone. For example, someone would need a BMI of 30 kg/m2 (or 27 kg/m2 with at least one weight-related medical issue) to be prescribed CONTRAVE by their healthcare provider.
Side note: The American Medical Association has recently gone public acknowledging the limitations of the BMI scale; namely, that the BMI scale may not always account for differences across ethnicities, sex, and age. It also doesn't account for fat versus muscle mass. It’s important to note that BMI is just one of many measurements and numbers you may come across.
Starting Weight (SW), Current Weight (CW), and Goal Weight (GW)
A person’s starting and goal weights are the weight they weigh when they first begin their weight loss journey and the weight they want to be at, respectively. Knowing these two numbers can help someone, along with their healthcare provider, plan how much weight they should aim to safely lose over a specific amount of time.
These are both deeply personal numbers that can be informed by many different factors. If you’re active in any online weight loss communities, you may see people use these numbers (along with the abbreviations SW//GW) when giving updates about their journey. Current Weight (CW) is also used to set context. You can also use starting weight and goal weight to connect with people in a similar place on the weight loss journey.
Wrapping a tape measure around your waist isn’t just something you do when getting clothes fitted—it can be an additional measurement of weight loss and health progress. Waist circumference is used by healthcare providers to estimate the amount of excess visceral fat on the body.
This specific kind of belly fat is associated with more adverse health effects, such as insulin resistance and high blood pressure. This belly fat is often the first to go when someone begins significantly losing weight, leading some people to see bigger initial changes in their waist size measurement than what the scale says (especially if you’ve been exercising and gaining muscle).
Body Fat Percentage
Another weight loss measurement alternative to pounds lost is the change in body fat percentage. All bodies, even the most healthy and/or athletic, have some level of fat. Fat is essential to cushioning our bodies and protecting our organs, but too much of it can have adverse effects on health. In this way, it’s almost more important to lose fat than just pounds.
You can measure body fat percentage using a specific type of caliper, through a specialty body scan, or using an online calculator. Once you have your body fat measurements, your healthcare provider can offer up more information on how much body fat you can (or should) aim to lose.
CICO (Calories In, Calories Out) and Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)
The classic method of weight loss is to track the number of calories you consume (Calories In) versus the calories you burn off through exercise (Calories Out)—and when the “calories in” is less than the “calories out,” you should be able to lose weight. But say you’re aiming on eating 1600 calories a day. Does that mean you need to exercise off 1700 calories?
That’s where the concept of total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) comes in. TDEE is the number of calories you burn each day that takes into consideration not just any regular exercise you’re doing, but also your basal metabolic rate (or the amount of energy it takes your body to do the things it needs to survive, such as breathing, muscle contractions, and digesting food). Using an online TDEE calculator, you and your healthcare provider can see recommended calorie intakes and adjust your eating plan based on that information.
Keeping track of your progress using any of the above concepts can help show you a new perspective on your weight loss journey. The ways to think about success aren’t always found on the scale, and there’s so much that a weight loss journey can teach you about your body. These measurements are just the beginning!