58: Body Composition: How to Assess It and Why It Matters

Mar 25, 2024

Most of us have been there when trying to lose weight…following a diet to the T, only to get discouraged when the scale refuses to budge. But the truth is, weight can’t tell us everything about our health and can even be detrimental to our own body image. I know if I had let the traditional scale determine my own success, I would have stopped years ago.

While the diet and fitness world continue to be overly obsessed with weight, today we’re exploring why body composition, i.e. the breakdown of fat, bone, and muscle in your body, is actually a much better and more useful indicator of overall health. 

Body Composition Scales

If you're looking to track your body composition, I always recommend the InBody scale for my patients. It's a bioimpedance scale, meaning it can analyze your body composition by measuring factors like fat mass, muscle mass, and water weight.

Why does this matter? Well, many of us are fixated on the number on the traditional scale, but that number doesn't tell the whole story. Losing weight too quickly can lead to muscle loss, which is detrimental to our overall health. But with a body composition scale, you can see exactly what's happening inside your body as you progress on your health journey.

Maintaining muscle mass is crucial for your metabolism. Even at rest, your muscles burn calories, so preserving muscle is key to sustaining long-term weight loss. And body composition testing is a useful tool to help keep an eye on your muscle mass so that you can maintain this as much as possible while losing weight.

Body Measurements

While the InBody scale is my top recommendation, I understand it can be pricey. And so the other eway you can track body composition is through doing body measurements. 

The one that I would always prioritize is the abdominal circumference. measured at the iliac crest. Ideally, you would do these measurements once a month, not to be obsessive, but to allow you to see progress with time. For example, a patient recently reported normalized blood sugar and cholesterol levels, alongside reduced abdominal inches, indicating improved cardiometabolic health.

Monitoring inches lost, especially around the abdomen, offers a more holistic view of health progress. Even if the scale doesn't show a significant change, if the inches are going down, that would suggest fat loss and potential muscle gain, and therefore a healthier body composition.

Interpreting Body Composition Reports

If you do choose to invest in a scale, it's essential to know how to interpret the data from body composition reports. Tracking these numbers monthly can provide valuable insights into your progress. 

One important aspect to monitor is your muscle mass. Ideally, you want to ensure that you're maintaining your muscle mass, or at the very least, not losing more than 10 percent.

If you find that you are losing muscle, it's crucial to make adjustments to your nutrition plan or rate of weight loss. For example, increasing your protein and carbohydrate intake or upping your calorie consumption can help remedy the situation. Additionally, incorporating strength training into your routine can help preserve muscle mass.

This is particularly important for older adults, as they are at increased risk of conditions like sarcopenia, or muscle loss. Sarcopenic obesity, which occurs when muscle loss is accompanied by an increase in fat mass, can significantly impact functionality and overall health.

Maintaining muscle mass is not just about aesthetics; it's vital for metabolic health and functional independence, especially as we age. By prioritizing muscle preservation, you can enhance your metabolism, support healthy blood sugar levels, and maintain physical strength for everyday tasks.

If you notice significant muscle loss in your monthly body composition report, it's essential to take action. It might be a sign that you need to slow down your pace of weight loss and ensure you’re getting adequate protein to avoid any further loss of muscle mass.

Thinning Beyond Traditional Metrics

The scale often takes center stage in people's health journeys. But there is so much more to the story than just a number on a scale.

For example, BMI is a common metric for determining health based solely on weight and height. But it is far from a perfect measure of health and a recent example of this proves just how inadequate BMI can be in assessing true health.

My husband, who’s slim and has a BMI of around 22, recently stepped on our InBody scale to understand his skeletal muscle mass. And when I compared his results to a patient of mine, who was over 100 lbs heavier than him, the results were eye-opening.

This patient actually had double the muscle mass of my husband and the same body fat composition. if I only went on the number on a traditional scale, I would just think this person needed to lose another 100 lbs. But you can't make decisions based on that alone. You have to base it on what the muscle mass is compared to what the fat mass is. 

Some people genetically have a lot more muscle compared to others. And the reality is, if you're sitting there with a ton of muscle you keep thinking that you want this lower scale number just so that you can fit into an artificial BMI category, you could end up losing a lot of muscle, which can wreak havoc on your metabolism and overall well-being.

Empowering Yourself Through Body Composition Testing

As someone that has always fallen into the camp of “losing weight slower”, realizing that my body was actually gaining muscle while losing weight was a game-changer for me. 

It made me appreciate the process more and stop judging myself solely based on the number on the scale. And looking back at my journey over the past three months, I've seen remarkable changes. Despite the scale showing only a five-pound loss, I've also gained three pounds of muscle. 

Understanding this has shifted my perspective entirely. Instead of fixating on the scale number, I now look at the bigger picture of what's happening inside my body. It's not just about weight loss; it's about losing fat and gaining muscle, which is a significant achievement.

By embracing this approach, I've found a rhythm that works for me. I'm not overly obsessed with the numbers, but rather with how my body feels and performs. And the results speak for themselves. I'm healthier, stronger, and more confident than ever before.

If you are struggling with the traditional approach to weight loss, I’d encourage you to see if this is a tool that you and your clinician can incorporate into your journey, as it provides valuable insights into your progress and helps you make more informed decisions about your health. Remember, it's not just about the number on the scale; it's about creating a healthier and more resilient body for the long term.

If you are using body composition testing and aren’t sure how to interpret your results, this  is something that I have a bonus section for within my course, Optimizing Fat Loss and Maintaining Muscle on a GLP 1.