“I want to be 10% body fat”….. “I want to lose 15 lbs”… “I want to gain lean muscle mass”
Believe me when I say, I hear this upon initial assessments as a dietitian EVERY DAY. Far too often do people weight themselves too often, and only focus on the number on the scale and not their overall health.
There are many facors that can play into someone’s body weight/composition: medication, food intake, activity level, compromised physiological systems, etc.
Now, I am not going to write that losing weight isn’t important or that weight loss goals don’t matter. But what I would like to shed some light on is the “why” of these desired outcomes.
First let’s talk about body weight, and what compromises it.
Our body’s composition when read on a scale that can differentiate the type of weight are separated into three categories: lean body mass (LBM), body water (BW), and body fat (BF). Lean body mass includes muscle tissue, organs, bones, and water. You cannot reduce the amount or the place of where your adipose tissue (fat cells) reside, but we can try to control how much they are “filled”. Ever wonder why you put fat on first in certain areas and find it harder to lose in certain areas? This is based on genetics and you cannot control where you lose fat (unless you resolve to surgery). However, you can control where you put lean mass (muscle) on (bicep curls for days! Haha, just kidding!).
We can calculate fluctuations in your lean tissue mass fluctuations by subtracting your BW and BF from your LBM. Different advanced devices such as bioelectric impedance analyzers (BIA), Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), skinfold, bod pod, etc can measure these parameters. Assuring your use of a high end and properly calibrated device will assure accurate results.
So now that we understand what compromises our body weight, let’s learn more about healthy targets that will reduce our risk of adverse health outcomes in later stages of life. Below we can visualize an infographic sharing some healthy ranges based on your age/gender.
Carrying around extra body fat can put you at risk for greater joint problems, cardio vascular risk, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and more. Through activity and sound nutrition you can significantly reduce your body fat. While being overweight with unwanted fat carried around, the opposite end of the spectrum isn’t healthy either. Severely underweight individuals can also put themselves at increased health risks. I mostly counsel and support populations that are overweight so I will keep the topic of this post tailored to those people.
So, what can you do to help reduce your body fat and be in a healthy range?
Create a healthy and sustainable strategy. Can you see yourself eating this way for the next 5 years or are you looking for a quick fix?
What in my nutrition am I willing to change right now? Reducing the amount and type or condiments added to foods (you would be very surprised to know how many calories and salt they can pack on).
Decreasing your alcohol intake. Believe it or not, it’s not just about the calories that some alcoholic beverages add to your intake. Alcohol increases your cortisol levels, a stress hormone, and increases your abdominal fat retention. Alcohol can also decrease your testosterone levels which is the building block of lean tissue (muscle). Lean tissue is metabolically active, meaning that it helps burn fat!
Drink more water. Sometimes we can mistake hunger for thirst and not recognize or acknowledge that our bodies are screaming at us for hydration. Drink a big glass of water before going for a snack and listen to your body. Now, I am not saying to ignore when you feel hungry, rather, mindfully and intuitively eat.
Going to a party? Have a bite to eat before you go, so that you are not left with only unhealthy options when you get there.
DON’T under eat. This is a very big misconception that severely restricting caloric intake will result in really big fat loss. Your body is a machine and if you do not fuel it appropriately, it will not do the work you demand. Our body’s are also very in tuned with energy preservation – in other words- if you do not fuel it enough, it will reserve energy (fat) it has to take care of primary organs. I’m sure you have heard it before, but this is another reason why fat loss is a slow and consistent process over time.
Sleep – not enough sleep can create a rise in cortisol (stress hormone) and not allow your body to repair the work we have done to it in the gym or in our day to day lives.
Manage your stress – by managing stress we can maange our food habits and keep our cortisol in check. A little bit of stress is healthy and can ignite the motivation to get work done, but too much stress can be overwhelming.
Balance is key. Exercise you enjoy, dining out from time to time, and taking a rest day from the gym are all parts of balance that will lead you into long term success.
So, WHY do you want your body composition in a specific range and is this realistic and maintainable for you? Think about these questions and reflect on the work that needs to be done to get there and justify if it is worth the outcome. If you have more questions regarding this topic, please send me an email to email@example.com.