Thursday, July 23, 2009

Weight vs Body Composition

Did you know that you can lose weight, only to become a smaller version of the current you? Think about that for a minute. Look in the mirror. I'll bet you not only want to lose weight, but you want your body to be different in terms of shape too. You may even have a clear picture in your mind of the way you want to look. I'll also bet that mental picture is a happy, healthy, strong, vibrant you, whether you're male or female. If that's the case, what we must keep in mind is that weight loss is just one part of the picture, and this concept seems to hang us up on the journey.

I went through a period of my life in which I lost all my excess weight. At first it's motivating for the scale number to be down, to buy new clothes in smaller sizes and for people to comment on your weight loss and how small you look. The trouble was, I was just an overall smaller version of my old self. I still had the same soft spots and fat pads I had before, they were just smaller. I didn't feel any better in a bathing suit and I still couldn't find jeans that fit quite right. Truth is, I wasn't exercising while I was decreasing my calories. For some reason my smaller body and my mental picture weren't synching up.

Let's talk about weight loss and the scales, because those two things are usually come to mind when we become determined to make a change.

If you have a lot of weight to lose and it's just apparent, that may be the task at hand and the scales will be a helpful tool to you at first. Increasing activity and cleaning up eating habits can do wonders for jump starting your weight loss. (Please notice I didn't say anything about going on a diet. The word diet is a 4-letter word for a reason. We're moving away from the dieting mentality). Less calories eaten and more calories burned typically translates to a drop in the number on the scale. In this way, it's true that weight loss is a game of calorie balance.

Seems obvious, but keep this in mind:

  • The scale is one helpful tool when you have excess weight to lose
  • When the number goes down, your entire body weighs less (doesn't necessarily mean you've lost fat)
  • Unless you want to be the same shape only smaller, weight loss alone won't get you to your goal

I won't go into the dreaded plateau here, but I will say that during the time I had lost weight and gotten to my magic number on the scale, I still had too much fat and not enough lean mass. I was consuming a ridiculously low amount of calories a day and couldn't go any lower. I'd lost weight, but my body composition was still undesirable. I soon discovered there is much more detail than the scale number once excess weight has decreased.

If you want to really change your physique you need to improve your body composition. This means you want more lean mass and less fat. This is how your shape changes, and to do it, exercise and clean eating must be a part of the picture. The goal should shift from a focus on weight loss and becomes one of losing fat and either preserving or building muscle.

A few more things to keep in mind:

  • A change in body composition (increased lean mass, decreased fat) is what changes your body shape.
  • Exercise is an essential tool in decreasing body fat and preserving or building muscle
  • Eating habits can make or break your efforts toward a body composition improvement

Josh Hillis, a personal trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine, has said: "Scale weight tells me how many calories someone ate vs. how many calories they burned. Body fat percentage tells me the quality of the food you ate and the quality of your workouts. To get where you are going, you may need to change both."

Very well said, I couldn't agree more. Decreasing your body fat percentage is about keeping your metabolism firing, burning calories, working with intensity when you exercise, and eating high quality foods your body can use as clean fuel to keep stoking the fire. This is what will spark the changes in your body that are the most likely to get you to that mental picture of yourself, regardless of what number is on the scale. Your body will be strong, your shape will begin to change and you won't even care anymore what the scale says!

I'd love to hear more about where you are on your own journey, and your thoughts about weight loss, fat loss and body composition.

Related Posts:

Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss Part I

Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss Part II


Greenteagirl said...

We are so defined by numbers it's scary! I too was obsessed with numbers. Scale, clothing, calories etc. Since I've let all of that go, I am finally starting to change my body composition. These are the changes I've been after all those years!

Hope said...

I absolutely LOVE your blog and this article! Women are too tied to that number that is our weight.


Kelley Moore said...

Greenteagirl - It is amazing how we can be slave to numbers of all kinds just like you mention. It's so liberating to get that out of the way!

Kelley Moore said...

Hope - thanks so much for visiting my blog and commenting! I'm so glad you like it. You are very right about being too tied to the number! Looking forward to more communication with you! k