Many people dread stepping onto the bathroom scale.
It can be very frustrating to exercise and eat a healthy diet only to see the number on the scale stay the same.
However, just because your body weight isn’t changing doesn’t mean that your hard work isn’t paying off.
What is Body Composition?
While the scale will tell you how much you weigh, it doesn’t tell you what your body is made or composed of.
Body composition refers to everything in your body, split up into different compartments. Two compartments are commonly used: fat mass and fat-free mass. Fat mass refers to all the fat tissue in your body. Fat-free mass is everything else, including muscle, organs, bone and fluids.
If both change at once, you might not see any changes in body weight. For example, if you start exercising, you may re-gain two pounds of lost muscle in the first month. At the same time, you may lose two pounds of stored body fat due to burning more calories through exercise and hopefully changes in your diet.
Since your fat-free mass increased by the same amount as your fat mass decreased, your body weight that registers on your home scale won’t change. In fact, if you only focus on the number on the scale, you may become discouraged or frustrated because on the surface it is telling you that your program “isn’t working.” This is one example of why knowing your body composition is much more useful than knowing just your body weight.
How Can You Assess It?
There are several methods to assess your body composition. Some are very simple and easy to use, while others are advanced and complicated. The most accurate methods are usually expensive and only used in research or medical centers. This includes DEXA Scan and hydrostatic underwater weighing.
However, there are some simpler and less expensive methods you can get access to that can be very accurate and give you an idea about whether your body composition is improving. This includes a technology we use at BodyPedia called bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA).
BIA sends small micro-electrical currents through your body to see how much your body resists the current. The various tissues in your body (fat, muscle, bone, organ, etc.) allow the current to pass at various speeds. This information is then used in a mathematical algorithm to determine your body composition and specifically your body fat percentage.
The BodyPedia smart scale has proven to be the first accurate smart scale that can be used at home. More than 10,000 tests comparing with medical devices show BodyPedia Smart Scales have around 97% correlation to the Gold Standard method (DXA).
How to Improve Your Body Composition
Since your body composition is made up of fat mass and fat-free mass, you can improve it by decreasing your body fat, restoring lost muscle mass or both. Any of these changes will lead to a decrease in your body fat percentage, which is viewed as a single number that describes your body composition.
Most people know that diet and exercise can affect body weight and body composition. However, their impact isn’t always simple. Nonetheless, a good place to start is with maximizing both your nutrition and physical exercise.
Eating To Maximize Body Composition
First, you should consider the number and types of calories you are eating. Although they aren’t the only thing that matters, the number and type of calories you eat are the foundation.
In simple terms, if you consistently eat more calories than your body uses, you will gain weight — typically as fat. Likewise, if you consistently eat fewer calories than your body uses, you will lose weight.
It can also be helpful to think about the types of food you tend to overeat. Often, they are processed foods, such as ice cream, pizza and chips, that are highly rewarding to the brain. These foods contain many calories and don’t usually keep you satisfied. This is partly due to their low protein and fiber content.
After considering how many calories you eat, think about whether you are eating enough protein and fiber. Protein is important for everyone, but you may need more if you are active or trying to restore lost muscle or lose fat.
Keeping your calories, protein and fiber in check is a good place to start if you want to improve your body composition and health.
Physical Activity versus Exercise
People often confuse physical activity with exercise. Physical activity is the movement of your body when you perform things like walking, lifting the groceries out of your car, and standing while you make dinner. The confusing part comes in when the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 3-5 hours per week of “physical activity”. Yet, by definition, this does NOT mean 3-5 hours per week of exercise.
Exercise, on the other hand, differs from physical activity because it is designed to make a change in your body that is sustainable. That’s why our exercise program at BodyPedia is designed in such a way to bring about a measurable improvement in your body composition and in the process leave you with a leaner and healthier body.
In fact, if your exercise is going to be effective in making a change in your body overall, your muscles need to be challenged by the exercise and yet be allowed to rest and recover between exercise sessions in order to encourage your body to improve. That’s why you actually need less “exercise” than most people think to lose weight and make improvements in your body composition.
Additional factors beyond nutrition and exercise may affect body composition. There is some evidence that people who have poorer sleep quality have worse body composition than those with good sleep quality.
Alcohol consumption is another potential component of body composition. Not only does alcohol contain calories, but it also temporarily lowers your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) for up to 4 days after consumption, both leading to fat gain.
And finally, there are some factors that affect body composition that you simply cannot change. For example, both age and genetics impact body composition. However, since you cannot control these factors, it is probably best to focus on what you can control, like nutrition, exercise and sleep.
The Bottom Line
Stepping on the scale will only tell you how much you weigh. You can get a more accurate picture by taking into account your body composition, or your fat mass and muscle mass.
This is why we recommend our clients to check and analyze their body composition so that they stay on track with their goals and maintain a positive body composition for easier weight management.