It’s important to understand that weighing yourself on the scale does not tell the whole story. It is vital to know what that weight is made up of. Why? Because having a body composition that is too high or too low in fat can increase risk for health issues and disease. Our body composition refers to the makeup of our weight in terms of fat mass and fat-free mass (muscle, bone, organs, etc.). It is expressed in terms of a percentage of our total body weight, otherwise known as “body fat percentage”.
How do you go about measuring your body fat percentage? You get it assessed by a professional. There are several ways to do that, and pros and cons for each of them. Some of them are much more accessible, but may have a greater room for error. There are also very advanced, more reliable approaches as well but you might have to travel to a human performance or research laboratory to find them.
The most common, accessible approaches for the majority of people would be to have a professional assess your body composition using a skinfold caliper or by using a bioelectrical impedance machine. Again, there is room for error with these methods but to get an estimation is really important because many people are walking around overweight with a dangerously high amount of body fat. Once you know your body fat percentage, you can use the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) norms to determine if you are in a healthy range or not:
|Obese||Over 35%||Over 25%|
So, if you are looking to lose weight or to decrease body fat, of course exercise is an important part of doing that. What I want to focus on here are more lifestyle and nutrition related. The exercise part can wait for a future blog post!
TIPS FOR LOSING WEIGHT
- At the end of the day you need to be in a negative calorie state. This can be done conservatively by cutting a 200-300 calories per day, burning an extra 200-300 calories a day, or a combination of both. Drastically cutting large quantities of calories too quickly is not healthy, safe, or productive.
- Don’t starve yourself. There is a misconception and a lot of misunderstanding around this and starving is not a safe or effective approach for fat loss. Going long periods of time without eating can actually be detrimental for preserving the lean mass that we want to keep! (Exercise is important here too, but I said that’s for another post). Eat within an hour of waking up too.
- Incorporate good, healthy fats: This type of dietary fat typically comes from plants and healthy oils. Great sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats include olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, and fats found in various forms of fish.
- Pursue a healthy nutritional balance: Use the recommended daily intake guidelines to make sure you aren’t consuming too much or too little of certain macronutrients. The following table provides guidelines for ranges of where your calories should be coming from:
|Young Children Aged 1-3||45-65%||5-25%||30-40%|
|Older Children & Adolescents Aged 4-18||45-65%||10-30%||35-35%|
|Adult Aged 19+||45-65%||10-35%||20-35%|
Source: Institutes of Medicine
- Write it down: Keeping track of what you are eating holds you accountable for good and bad choices and just generally makes you more aware of what you eat. It’s also a good idea to keep track of your mood when you eat, where you were when you ate and just how hungry you were when you ate. Keeping track of some of those things might help you identify triggers for poor eating choices. You might not have to do this forever but it might be helpful for a couple of weeks to identify patterns.
- Front load calories: This means to eat more calories toward the front part of the day and smaller meals towards the end of the day. This prevents you from eating large calories shortly before going to sleep and storing them.
- Allow favorite foods: To swear certain foods off completely may not be realistic but you can do your best to avoid temptation. This might mean making some tough choices about who you are hanging out with and where you are hanging out. Our environment can create some temptations that are not good.
- Pay attention to your non-food activities: When you aren’t working or doing something productive, what are you doing? How much of your downtown is spent sedentary or sitting around? Reducing your sedentary is important to improving body composition.
- SLEEP! Get an adequate quantity and quality of sleep. If you don’t it can impair hormones that regular hunger and satisfaction leading you to eat when you aren’t hungry or overeat.
- Eat slowly. Our stomach needs time to communicate with our brain and trigger the feelings of fullness.
- Prepare as much of your own food as possible. Eating out is expensive. Restaurant meals are loaded with fat, sugar, salt, and calories. The serving sizes are enormous.
- Drink the recommended amount of water.
- Limit alcohol: Why is alcohol approved for human consumption? It’s horrible! It’s packed with calories and impairs decision-making, a recipe for disaster.
- Limit added sugar: It’s everywhere.
- Do your best to manage stress. It’s everywhere, all the time. We can only control certain things but do your best to do so. Excessive stress can interfere with sleep and alter hormones that lead to weight gain. (I’ve heard exercise is a great stress management tool!)