When trying to lose weight, most people monitor body weight. That just makes sense, right? Well, not always. When you undertake a nutrition and exercise program to get in shape, what you’re attempting to do is to “re-shape” your body. This often is accompanied by an actual loss of body weight, but sometimes not. Although body weight is a common means of tracking progress, it is not necessarily the best measurement.
Body Composition vs. Body Weight
Ideally, you actually want to monitor body composition (the amount of body fat and muscle that you have), not body weight. If you have been inactive in the past and are starting an exercise program, you may actually see an increase in body weight due to an increase in your muscle mass and body water. That is a very good thing! The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate. Translation: the higher your metabolic rate, the more calories your body burns.
Contrary to popular belief, the key to long-term weight loss is not necessarily burning a lot of calories by exercising, but exercising to become more fit. Your body can then, in turn, burn more calories all day long and through the night. Bodies that are more fit use more calories than bodies that are less fit. You see an increase in body weight as you gain muscle because muscle is more dense than fat. Another way to interpret this is that pound for pound, muscle takes up less area or space than fat.
For instance, if you replace five pounds of fat with five pounds of muscle, you will look leaner and will have lost inches in your circumference measurements, even though your body weight stays the same. If you see an initial increase in body weight with the start of an exercise program, don’t worry. With proper diet and exercise, your body, with the aid of that increased muscle mass, will eventually burn any excess fat stores that it harbors.
Adios Adipose! Two Examples of Successful Body Fat Monitoring
Here are Mercy, I recently challenged our employees to say goodbye to some adipose (fat) tissue. Called “Adios Adipose,” this 12-week program required participants to get their body fat checked four times to track their progress and keep them motivated. At the conclusion of Adios Adipose, the two winners were the male and the female participant who lost the most body fat.
Their stories are excellent examples of how much of a difference less body fat can make.
Lost 5.1% of Body Fat I didn’t have any problems with my weight until I was in my late 30’s. I was considered on the low end of being overweight. In my mid-40’s, I started to add on extra weight. I went back for my master’s degree in nursing and started a new job a little over two years ago. My lifestyle changed to more sedentary, and I was selecting poor food choices. Last year I was at the top of my weight, and my cholesterol was borderline high. I started a diet but didn’t have time to exercise, because I was still in school and working fulltime. I lost 15 pounds and then plateaued. I had some slip-ups and then totally derailed my diet.
At the beginning of the year, I was ready for a change. Before the contest (Adios Adipose), I started making lifestyle changes and started to exercise daily. I joined the challenge to help me stay motivated. If I didn’t have my fat percentage measured, I probably would have become discouraged because I wasn’t seeing much change in my weight. I have lost several dress sizes, and my cholesterol level is back in the normal range. I also learned through this process to be patient; long-term weight loss takes time. I’ve learned that reading food labels is very important. I didn’t count calories. I watched my portion sizes and used the guides I picked up in the wellness center. To keep motivated, I will continue with what I am doing and have my body fat measured monthly.
Lost 6.5% of Body Fat
I was motivated to start the challenge because I wanted a healthier life style. I had noticed a rise in my blood pressure and lab levels over a period of time. During the challenge, I utilized the MyFitnessPal app and treated it like a game. I was able to create a friends list with other staff that were in the challenge, and we held each other accountable through messaging and conversation. We were honest in our food diaries, and I could see who was eating right and exercising.
My eating habits had become unhealthy over the years. Like many health care workers, I work crazy hours and eat at odd times. I struggled with skipping meals and portion control. During the challenge, I learned how to make changes with regards to when I eat, my food choices and portions. I take the time to eat, instead of skipping meals and becoming overly hungry. Making better food choices has required some preplanning. It has included packing my lunch and keeping healthy snacks in my work area. I still struggle with portion sizes but continue to monitor it. And I continue to use the calorie counting on the app as a guideline.
I congratulate Gerald and Kathy on their successful reduction of body fat! Monitoring body composition is a different way to approach health and getting in shape, but, in the long run, it’s a better measurement than pounds lost.
If you need help saying adios to your adipose, contact Mercy Weight Management. We can help you on your journey to better health!