Body Fat vs. Body Weight
By Jimmy Page
Jimmy Page

“…Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

Our culture is consumed with how much people weigh. In fact, the topic of losing weight shows up on magazine covers, newspaper articles and even in network television shows such as The Biggest Loser. It’s amazing just how much power the number on the scale has to ruin a day!

While maintaining a healthy weight is vital to disease prevention, overall health and athletic performance, your body composition is a far more important indicator of your true health. Unfortunately, very few of us know what body composition means.

Body composition is the percentage of total body weight made up of fat, muscle, bone and vital organs. Ask anyone how much they weigh, and they can tell you within the nearest five pounds. Ask most people their percentage body fat, and they often have no idea.

Ideal body weight has traditionally been determined with height-to weight tables without concern for body composition. Consequently, a muscular athlete could be considered overweight but be extremely healthy and have low body fat. Conversely, another person may be considered at his or her ideal body weight but have an unhealthy percentage of body fat.

Unless we regularly perform strength training exercises, we lose more than one half of a pound of muscle each year after the age of 25. When people lose weight without strength training, a large part of the weight loss will be from muscle. Since muscle is active tissue and burns calories even at rest, your metabolism will slow as you lose it—an effect that will hinder your efforts to improve your health.

It’s not uncommon for an exerciser to lose weight from fat and gain weight from muscle without changing his or her total body weight. Many people become discouraged because the number on the scale doesn’t change. They may, however, be achieving a critical change in body composition, because muscle weighs three times more than fat per unit of volume! That’s why it’s critical to measure body composition instead of just weight.

The table at right will give you solid guidelines for body fat percentages that are relative to healthy living and athletic performance.

Essential fat is necessary. Your body needs it to support the proper function of vital organs and bodily processes. People who have body fat percentages considered average or obese are at a significantly higher risk for all major diseases including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and mental disorders.

Here are some tips for measuring your body composition:

1. Visit your local health club and ask for a body composition test. (This is usually offered free to members.) Most clubs will measure body fat by taking skin fold measurements or with the use of bio-impedance equipment.

2. Purchase a Bio-Impedance Scale for home. These scales measure total body weight as well as body fat percentage. Scales range from $49 - $129 with reputable manufacturers (i.e. Tanita®).

3. Measure your body fat only once a month.

4. Take measurements at the same time of day, prior to exercise, and make sure that you are hydrated.