Taking body measurements doesn't require anything fancy - just a cloth measuring tape you can buy at any craft shop or any store that sells craft and sewing supplies. You can choose inches or centimeters, whichever you prefer.
Two good parts of your body to measure are your waist and your hips -- that's because both your waist measurement and your waist to hip ratio can be used to assess your risk of chronic diseases. If your belly is getting too big, it's probably fat, and abdominal obesity is associated with a higher risk cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some types of cancer and arthritis.
How to Measure Your Waist and Hips
Stand straight, but relaxed, in front of a mirror. Wear thin clothing or none at all. Place the measuring tape around your waist, close to your belly button. To measure your hips, place the measuring tape around the widest portion of your hips.
What Should the Tape Tell You?
Men who have a waist circumference of more than 40 inches (102 centimeters) and women who have a waist measurement of more than 35 inches (88 centimeters) may have an increased risk of obesity-related diseases.
The waist measurement can also be used along with the hips to determine your waist to hip ratio. Divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference to determine this ratio. Women who have a ratio above 0.8 and men who have a ratio above 0.95 may have an increased risk of obesity-related diseases.
What About Clothing Size?
Clothing size is determined by several body measurements, and it changes as you gain or lose weight. When you lose weight, your clothes start to feel loose and depending on how much weight you lose, they may not fit at all any more. Or the opposite happens -- you gain weight and your clothes become too tight, then with more pounds, you go up a size. Or two or even more.
You can use the tape measure to take several different measurements such as chest, waist and hips and compare them to size charts to determine your size.
Using your clothes as an indicator can be quite motivating. It feels great to slide into those skinny jeans again, and you can see in the mirror how the fit of your clothes changes. But don't get too attached to a number. Clothing sizes vary greatly from one style of clothing to another and even from one brand to another.
Additional Ways to Monitor Body Composition
It's best to combine two or more types of body composition measurements. A regular bathroom scale is all you need to weigh yourself and you can use a fancier scale to measure your body fat percentage. You can also combine your height and your weight to determine your Body Mass Index.
American Heart Association. "Abdominal Fat Distribution Predicts Heart Disease." Accessed May 10, 2010. http://americanheart.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=43&item=182.
American Heart Association. "Body Composition Tests." Accessed May 10, 2010. http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4489.
National Institutes of Health. "Classification of Overweight and Obesity by BMI, Waist Circumference, and Associated Disease Risks." Accessed May 10, 2010. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/lose_wt/bmi_dis.htm.