Body Composition Vs The Scale: The best way to track your fat-loss results.

Is the scale or body composition testing best for tracking fat loss?

When it comes to tracking your health status in 2020 there are more options available to you now than ever before…

using smart tech to track fat loss
Smart tech for tracking health

You can synchronise your smart watch to track your gym and running sessions getting immediate feedback on your heart rate, pace and how many calories you’ve burnt.

Your Fitbit can link up with food tracking software to help you keep an eye on your daily calorie intake by simply scanning a barcode or searching for 1000’s of foods within a database.

And for those that really enjoy geeking out with health stats, there are apps that monitor your sleep quality throughout the night and give you a rating the following morning…

using smart tech to track sleep
Sleepscore tracks your sleep quality and quantity each night

Yet even with all this seemingly beneficial technology available, the age-old issue of losing weight and keeping it off is affecting more people than ever before.

short term diets often lead to future weight gain
short term diets often lead to future weight gain.

Most people will start their weight-loss journey by cautiously stepping onto the scales in their bathroom each morning…

Only to see a marginal change over the 365 days within a year. If any at all.

weighing scales don't show the full fat-loss picture.
Standing on the weighing scales doesn’t show the full picture.

You might even go to your doctor’s surgery for a check-up with the nurse and have your measurements taken to be given a Body Mass Index score (BMI).

But here’s the problem…

Both these methods only show you a snap shot of the bigger picture when it comes to your weight and health.

Standing on the scales may tell you what your overall weight is, but it fails to show the amount of fat tissue you’re carrying.

Whilst using a health score such as BMI helps to categorise your health status based on your weight and height, again missing out the breakdown of how much of your body mass is fat tissue and how much is muscle tissue.

Both of which are really important factors to consider.

Let’s explore a little deeper.

What is BMI?

Body Mass Index (BMI), is a term you’ll often hear quoted in news reports and scientific papers when referring to trends in our health status as individual countries or the population as a whole.

BMI is often used as a population wide health metric because it’s relatively easy to get the weight and height data for people across the UK (or globally) and come up with statistics on health factors such as being overweight and obese.

newspaper obesity problem headline
Newspaper headline outlining risk of obesity.

BMI is calculated as follows;

Weight (Kg) / Height (M2)

Your health status can then be categorised by matching your BMI to the scale shown below.

BMI scale gives overview of weight.

But remember…

BMI does not differentiate between weight and body composition.

BMI only gives you a brief overview of your health based on your weight and height.

Why the scales don’t always help…

The difference between overall weight and body composition is important because your body fat mass levels are a much stronger indicator of health status than your overall weight is.

To put this into perspective, we know that 1kg of fat weighs the same as 1kg of muscle.

After all, 1kg is 1kg.

But muscle tissue is also much denser than fat tissue, so 1kg of muscle will take up much less room in the body compared to 1kg of fat, as shown in the image below.

muscle tissue and fat tissue have different metabolic rates
Note – this image is used for descriptive purposes only.

That’s why two people can weigh exactly the same on the scales, yet at the same time have completely different aesthetics when it comes to their body composition and body shape.

body composition differences at the same weight

So, when it comes to understanding your own personal health needs and tracking your weight-loss over time it makes sense to get a more in-depth insight into to start with.

That’s where body composition testing comes into the equation.

But what makes body composition testing so important?

What is Body Composition Testing?

Body Composition Testing provides a breakdown of how much fat mass, muscle tissue and water your body is currently made up of.

How do you measure body composition?

The process of body composition testing is often done by sending a small electrical impulse through the body and measuring how much impedance (resistance) it comes up against on its journey.

The different components of your body mass (fat tissue, muscle tissue, bone mass and water) all have different compositions and densities, which means that the electrical impulse will meet different levels of resistance as it passes through your body.

Based on the level of impedance the electrical impulse meets a calculation is then done to predict your body composition.

There are different levels of accuracy associated with body composition testing equipment;

Bathroom scales with body fat measurement

body composition weighing scales
body composition weighing scales show body fat measurements.

These provide a very low level of accuracy, the electrical impulse will always try to find the quickest route around your body, for these scales that means the impulse travels up one leg, across the pelvis and then back down the other leg.

Therefore, you only get a snapshot body composition of your lower body.

Handheld body composition test

Handheld body composition testing equipment is show to be inaccurate when compared to full body composition testing methods.

As with the bathroom scales mentioned above the small handheld devices only give a snapshot body composition of your upper body.

Skin fold calliper testing

Skin fold body composition testing is very much based on the skill level of the person carrying out the test and therefore has a level of inaccuracy associated to it.

Skin fold callipers involve ‘pinching’ different skin fold sites on the body then using a handheld calliper to measure the amount of external fat found at each site.

The level of accuracy is dependent on the number of sites measured on the body and also the skill level of the person carrying out the test.

This method is somewhat uncomfortable for the person being tested as they are subject to having their bodyfat pinched.

Full Body Electrical Impedance testing

Bodystat 1500 provides a high level of body composition testing accuracy due to a full body composition test being recorded.

Having electrodes connected to both your feet and hands allows for the electrical impulse to travel through the whole of the body giving a more detailed level of accuracy for full body fat mass, lean tissue mass and water.

You’ll find this medical grade method of testing equipment in some gyms / fitness facilities.

DEXA (Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry)

DEXA scans provide a high level of body composition accuracy but this type of equipment is often only found in a lab or hospital setting.

Using x-ray absorption levels across all parts of the body allows for a high level of accuracy to be assumed showing the different densities of fat tissue, lean tissue, water and bone too.

The problem here is that DEXA is a medical grade assessment which will not be accessible to most people outside of a hospital or research lab facility.

Air-Displacement Plethysmography

The Bod Pod provides a high level of body composition testing accuracy but if often only found in a laboratory environment.

Using a machine often known as a ‘Bod Pod’ air-displacement levels can be measured when the individual is sat in the machine vs when the machine is empty.

The level of air displacement is then used to calculate body composition.

Although this method is seen as the gold standard for body composition testing you’ll likely only find this equipment within a university or laboratory setting.

Why does body composition matter for weight-loss?

When it comes to figuring out how much food and drink (energy) you should be consuming each day to lose weight you first need to consider your body composition.

Body composition is important because the amount of lean tissue and fat tissue your body contains will directly impact your metabolic rate, or the requirement of energy your body needs.

The number of calories you need to eat each day to function is known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is the amount you need before accounting for any sort of activity.

“The Basal Metabolic Rate is the amount of energy that must be used to simple stay alive in the absence of any physical activity.”


https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/basal-metabolic-rate

Research has shown that people with higher amounts of lean tissue have higher Basal Metabolic Rates.

This is due to lean tissue having a higher energy demand compared to fat tissue.

your body composition will dictate how much energy you need to consume with muscle having a higher energy requirement compared to fat tissue

It has been shown that the energy requirement of fat tissue is around 1/3 that of muscle tissue.

This is best represented by research showing the resting energy expenditure of the musculoskeletal system being around 15-20 kcal per kg of tissue compared to adipose tissue (fat) having a much lower rate of 4.5 kcal per kg of tissue.

Therefore, people that have greater amounts of lean tissue will naturally have higher energy requirements than those that have more fat tissue even if they are the same overall weight.

The amount of energy (calories) you need each day is also influenced by your activity levels, so someone that is generally active throughout the day will have a higher requirement compared to someone that sits at a desk during the working day.

Your Basal Metabolic Rate is also influenced by gender too.

Men tend to have higher energy requirements compared to Women.

With these factors considered it is important for you to figure out what your body composition levels are before starting to consider how much energy (food and drink) your body actually needs.

Does age influence my daily energy requirement?

You’ll often hear people refer to their metabolism getting slower as they get older…

Although this may be true, it is not age that is controlling the reduced rate of metabolism.

The reduction in metabolic rate is strongly linked to people losing muscle tissue and gaining more fat tissue as they age.

Therefore, the body composition of people as they age tends to gradually accommodate more fat and less muscle.

This scenario often plays out due to people becoming less physically active as they get older and not stressing the body physically in order to maintain or even gain lean muscle tissue.

It has been noted in research that as people age those that either start or maintain a physically active lifestyle will not only improve their health status across a variety of markers, they also offset the gradual decline in muscle strength that happens throughout the aging process, and therefore maintain more lean muscle tissue whilst preventing a rise in fat tissue.

strength training as you age helps to offset the loss of lean muscle tissue and maintain good body composition

Staying active whilst working on building and maintaining lean muscle tissue is a key consideration for anyone that wants to keep control of their body shape and health over time.

What next?

If you’re ready to make a meaningful change to your body composition and not just lose weight on the scales but more importantly start setting the foundations for reducing your body fat levels and also have a clear way of assessing your progress I urge you to read on.

Introducing the 30-Day Nutrition Challenge.

What’s involved?

The 30-Day Nutrition Challenge is designed to help set you up with everything you need to make a meaningful change to your nutrition and body composition for the long term.

The challenge itself runs for 30-days.

Starting with your initial body composition testing and measurement session.

In the initial assessment we use the Full Body Electrical Impedance method to get your baseline numbers along with body measurements showing the following;

  • Fat tissue levels
  • Muscle tissue levels
  • Hydration levels
  • Basal Metabolic Rate
  • Estimated Energy Requirement
  • Waist to Hip Ratio
  • BMI
  • Body Measurements
body composition results shown with client dashboard of training app.
Example client assessment overview.

Using your body composition test results you will then have a meal plan designed specifically to help start your fat-loss journey.

Your meal plan is built through a consultation process which allows any hurdles to be discussed such as, food allergies, food likes and dislikes, cooking ability, working hours, food accessibility, family members you are cooking for too.

Meal plan showing how to structure your diet for body composition change.
Example meal plan with daily calorie and protein targets.

Having a meal plan to follow is a great starting point, but even more important is that you are able to access the educational content behind how to get fat-loss results for the longer term too.

Whilst you are working on your meal plan you’ll have access to the 30-Day Nutrition Challenge Coaching Group.

Within the group you will be able to watch educational videos discussing the key principles of weight-loss and have the ability to ask questions to me as your coach too.

Nutrition coaching group content teaching you why controlling your blood sugar levels throughout the day is important for fat loss and improving your body composition.
Educational lesson from 30-Day Nutrition Challenge Coaching Group.

At the end of the 30-day challenge you’ll have your body composition testing and measurements re-done to assess your progress.

If you’d like to take on the 30-Day Nutrition Challenge, please fill out the form below.