What’s the skinny on fat?

Forget how much you weigh, it’s your body composition that counts. Looking at your fat and lean muscle mass is the best way of defining how “in shape” you actually are.

It’s a common assumption that people who are thin are healthier. This is a myth. At a seemingly healthy weight, you may in fact be a “skinny fat” person, as some people who look thin in their clothes may have high levels of fat on their body.

Stepping on the scales is overrated and outdated

Scales do not differentiate between muscle and fat. Remember, muscle weighs more than fat and also increases your metabolic rate, encouraging further fat burning. Your body is composed of muscle, connective tissue, bones, organs, water and fat. Relying on the outdated weight scale as a measurement of whether you are “healthy” or “unhealthy”, or looking at height versus weight (body max index/BMI), will not determine if you have elevated fat levels.

It’s all about healthy balance

Even if your weight is within a “normal” range you can still have an unhealthy body composition. Two people at the same height and weight may look completely different from each other because of their body composition. Muscle takes up less space than fat, so muscle to fat ratio determines how lean you look.

If you are carrying too much fat compared to your lean muscle mass, even if you do not consider yourself overweight on the scales, this is termed as sarcopenic obesity. Sarcopenia is the medical term for the degenerative loss of muscle mass with ageing and is associated with a risk of chronic disease. A healthy muscle to fat ratio on the other hand is associated with longevity and a reduced risk of disease.

Improving your body composition:

  • Exercise. Include weight training to increase muscle mass.
  • Stress management. Stress hormones encourage muscle breakdown and increase fat, especially abdominal fat.
  • Eat a low glycemic diet. The body turns excess sugar into fat. Avoid white, refined carbohydrates, sugar and starchy foods to maintain balanced blood sugar levels to keep insulin and stress hormones in check and encourage fat burning, not fat storage.
  • Eat regularly. Healthy meals and snacks crank up metabolism and keep blood sugar levels even.
  • Detox. Excess fat can be a sign that your body is storing toxins in fat tissue.
  • Eat quality protein for healthy muscle mass.
  • Practice yoga for a toned body and stress relief.
  • Supplement with nutrients such as chromium, magnesium and B vitamins to promote healthy fat metabolism.
  • See a nutritionist to help you determine exactly what your body needs.

Belly fat and unhealthy body composition

So, if you think you need to “lose weight” just because you weigh too much, think again. If you have excess fat on your body, it’s recommended that you lose the fat, not simply “lose weight”, which means focusing on a healthy body composition.

Keeping the fat off for good and maintaining a healthy muscle tone will stoke the body’s metabolic fire, keeping you burning calories, whether you are moving, standing, sitting, or even sleeping, and will set you up for healthy ageing. Men and women begin to lose muscle tone after the age of forty, which is linked to an increase in waist circumference, AKA the middle-aged spread.

It is now medically recognised that the apple-shaped body (fat around the middle) is a biological marker for increased risk of diabetes, stroke, hypertension and heart disease. Abdominal fat is metabolically active and upsets the body’s delicate biochemistry, especially your hormonal balance.

Aim to feel good in the body you’re in

Instead of standing on the scales, stand in front of the mirror naked. Aim to love your body and be happy with the way it feels and looks, regardless of what the scales may tell you. Commit to a healthier diet and lifestyle that supports a healthy body composition, in order to look – and more importantly feel – good in the body you’re in.

If you need help to learn a healthier way of living, including improving your body composition, you may benefit from consulting with a nutritionist who can recommend a specific diet, supplement and lifestyle plan for you.

Article by Jo Rowkins, nutritional therapist and founder of Awakening Health.

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