Shari Duncan

Mirrors don’t Lie… and the Scale don’t tell the Whole Truth.

by on Dec.27, 2009, under General HEALTH, General Nutrition, Motivation, Natural Bodybuilding, Weight Loss

Lose the Fat, NOT the Muscle!

a little tidbit about body composition.

Obtaining your best  physique requires monitoring your weight and body composition changes. It also requires documenting changes in strength and energy all while tracking nutrient ratios by counting calories and weighing foods. The amount of calories you need to achieve your desired goal is influenced by body composition. Your body is made up of water, protein (or muscle), fat, bone, carbohydrate, vitamins, and minerals. Body composition refers to the amount of lean body mass (muscle) and fat mass in the body.

The goal of your diet and weight loss plan should not be to lose weight, but to lose body fatwhile maintaining lean muscle.  Losing muscle results in a lower metabolism, and can ultimately cause your weight loss plan to fail.

Muscle is healthy, makes you look better, and burns calories. That is a good thing. But the scale doesn’t tell you whether

Don't judge your progress by weight alone!

Don't judge your progress by weight alone!

you are losing body fat or muscle, so you could be losing muscle and not realize it.

A scale also doesn’t tell you if you are gaining muscle.  Again, muscle is good. But when you are on a weight loss program, gaining muscle can be both confusing and discouraging if you don’t realize how it’s affecting your weight.

The solution is not to judge your progress by weight alone, but to calculate the percentage of your weight that is body fat and make it your goal to reduce that number, not just your weight.

So hard as it might be, DO NOT RELY ON THE SCALE as a sole measure of success (or failure). Mirrors don’t lie, and a mirror is actually a great way to see changes in your body. Clothes don’t lie either, and seeing how your clothes fit is a great way to observe the changes in your body. Or if you’d like to be a little more accurate and keep records of your progress, you can take measurements. Measure the circumferences of your upper arm (bicep), chest, waist, hips, and thighs using a flexible tape. Your goal with body tape measurements is consistency. Take them the same every time you take them and you will get an accurate view of your progress with each body part.

Use a flexible tape measure to monitor changes in body composition.

If you use the scale to monitor and document your progress, weigh yourself only once per week, the first thing in the morning. This is when your water content is most constant.

There are several methods available to determine your body composition, or percentage of body fat. The most accurate is called hydrostatic testing (immersion in water) but it is not practical as it is usually performed in a lab or hospital setting.  More practical options include Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) scales and skin fold measurements using calipers.

BIA scales are very convenient but do not give as accurate readings as calipers – unless the readings are done in a physician’s office.  The handheld body-fat analyzers that are often used in commercial gyms can often miscalculate the amount of fat you are carrying on your body. Results can be skewed by several factors because it has to factor in certain assumptions about the person and use those assumptions in the equations that are programmed. (Usually, height, weight, gender, age).

Skinfold Measurements measure the subcutaneous fat folds around specific body parts (triceps, waist, thigh, and back) with skin calipers and are available in either manual or digital formats. Either of these methods will enable you to monitor your progress at home.

An optimal body fat percentage for a non-athlete man is around 10-14%, while it is around 16-20% for a non-athlete woman. These percentages should provide a lean appearance. The difference between genders is due to the fact that men are naturally more muscular (lean) than women.

The American Council on Exercise provides the following ranges for men and women with classifications based on varying levels of body fat:

Classification Men Women
Essential Fat 2-5% 10-13%
Athlete 6-13% 14-20%
Fitness 14-17% 21-24%
Average 18-24% 25-31%
Obese 25% and above 32% and above

With proper nutrition and a healthy workout regimen, you will see those numbers get smaller as you burn fat.

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