When it comes to health a great deal of emphasis is put on Body Weight and Body Mass Index (BMI), when in actual fact these only make up a fraction the story. What really counts is body composition, or more specifically how much of your weight is fat, muscle, bone and water. You see, two people of the same height might weigh exactly the same, but their body composition could be vastly different, and these differences can have a significant impact on current and future health, fitness and how you might be feeling in your own skin.
For example, given that muscle weighs more than a fat, a person with a higher percentage of muscle may appear slimmer than someone weighing exactly the same but instead has a higher percentage of body fat. Having more muscle also increases your metabolic rate (how many calories your body requires at rest) which can impact on how much food you are able to consume before you start storing fat!
I use a Tanita Body Composition Analyzer with many of my clients and it has been really insightful. Some individuals who appear to be relatively trim may in fact have low muscle mass but above the recommended amount of body fat, potentially putting them at greater risk of developing health conditions longer term. In contrast other clients who have a BMI which is above the “healthy range” may be healthier because much of their “excess weight” is actually muscle and their body fat is relatively normal.
The great news is, if you aren’t happy with your measurements you can change your body composition. Yes, your genes play a part on overall body shape and your tendencies toward building muscle or storing fat, but there is a lot you can do to shift things in the right direction. For example, changes in diet alongside physical exercise can help to increase muscle mass or maintain it if you are trying to lose weight (a key factor in healthy weight loss which will be covered in more detail in a future post). Cutting back on refined carbohydrates and finding ways of managing stress can help reduce visceral fat, the stuff around our middles associated with increased risk of things like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, and if you want to help protect bone mass make sure you are meeting your recommended intake of certain minerals and watch your alcohol and caffeine intake.
I personally think this is exciting stuff and a very good reason for a shift in thinking when it comes to body weight and health; stop focusing on cutting calories and losing weight and concentrate on building and maintaining healthy bone and muscle, whilst gradually reducing body fat.
If you would like to learn more about body composition and how to improve yours, please join my Facebook group The Body Composition Diet.