You’re working hard at losing weight and using your bathroom scale to monitor your progress. After all, it’s the best judge of how well you’re doing, right? Not so fast. There’s a more effective way to assess weight loss. Stephen P. Gullo, PhD, a health psychologist who has specialized in weight control for four decades, calls it the “new scale,” and it’s the only barometer that gives you an early warning sign of where the bathroom scale will be tomorrow.

Why is your scale (and even a glance in the mirror) no longer enough? People have become poor judges of what a healthy weight looks like—we tend to underestimate our own and other people’s weight. You might also rationalize that seeing an extra pound or two on the scale isn’t significant…but then the next time you step on it, it’s turned into five or 10 pounds. So how can you stay on track?

GETTING ON THE NEW “SCALE”

Rather than trying to achieve diet success by monitoring your weight only, the new scale “weighs” 10 measures of healthy behavior. You can know right away whether you’re on the right track or need to make adjustments. Think of it this way—your behavior today can predict what you’ll see on the scale tomorrow. Bonus: This approach can also help you break a weight plateau.

Simply go through this list of questions. If you spot any mistake you’re making, adjust your behavior, pronto. Do this once a week whether you’re trying to lose weight or maintain. If you start slipping, meaning there are two or more red flags among your answers, do it every day.

  1. Do I have a plan? Trying to lose weight on willpower alone is a losing battle. That’s where meal planning and strategy come into play. Having a strategy beats out willpower every time, so whether you choose intermittent fasting or intermittent dieting or any other diet, follow your dieting blueprint.
  2. Am I eating trigger foods? People gain back the same 10 pounds with the same foods again and again. One potato chip can have 1,000 calories if you know you can’t stop eating after just one. You know what triggers overeating in you, so you know what to stay away from.
  3. Are there problem foods in my kitchen? The best way to avoid trigger foods such as ice cream or chips is to avoid bringing them home. Most people won’t make a special trip to buy them if they’re not already in the house.
  4. Am I overindulging in healthy foods? Even when it comes to very healthy choices, such as fruit and nuts, going overboard can result in weight gain—fruit is high in sugar, even if it’s natural sugar, and nuts are high in fat, even though it’s healthy fat, and both contain calories, which count toward your daily limits. This is one reason that commercial weight-loss plans that designate some foods as having zero value on a points or portion system—even though they don’t have zero calories—aren’t as effective as you might think.
  5. Am I mindlessly nibbling? A bowl of candy or even celery sticks set out on a counter is an invitation to put those foods into your mouth without thought. Before you take that first bite, do a quick check—are you really hungry or simply nudgy (in which case, pop a piece of sugar-free gum in your mouth).
  6. Am I going longer than four hours without eating? Structure helps you take control of out-of-control eating habits. When you’re too hungry, you’re more likely to fall victim to overeating. Keep your appetite satisfied by eating on a schedule.
  7. Are my moods dictating my foods? A lot of eating has nothing to do with hunger. Break the pattern of eating out of boredom, loneliness, anxiety, sadness or even happiness. Here are tips to try when stress is to blame.
  8. Are my clothes tight? A waistband that pinches is often the first red flag of weight gain. Start wearing form-fitting clothes and get rid of your fat pants. You’ll be able to tell if you gain a couple of pounds just by how easily your jeans slide on.
  9. Am I exercising frequently? Exercise alone won’t have a huge impact on weight loss (what you eat, or don’t eat, is most important), but a regular exercise routine gives you structure and makes you more likely to make other healthy choices. What’s more, studies have found that people who exercise regularly keep weight off more easily.
  10. Am I guarding my weight ceiling? People who win at weight loss don’t let themselves gain even five pounds. Do get on the bathroom scale to monitor your weight—just once a week if you’re losing weight, but every day or two if you’re maintaining. If you see the number creep up, alarm bells should go off to get back on track.

MORE WAYS TO MEASURE PROGRESS

There’s one more thing to think about when it comes to your weight and health—how much fat you have compared to muscle and where that fat is located. Belly fat, for instance, can raise your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other conditions. These three measurements can do a better job than your scale at letting you know whether you’re overfat.

Body mass index or BMI. You can get a rough idea of how much body fat you have by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters, and then dividing that number by your height again—or by using this calculator that does the math for you. A healthy BMI falls in the range of 18.5 to 24.9.

Waist circumference. Wrap a measuring tape just above your hips. Men should aim for 40 inches or less and women should aim for 35 inches or less.

Waist-to-hip ratio. Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement in inches. A healthy ratio is less than 0.95 for men and 0.85 for women.