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Are You a Skinny Fat Person?

Recognizing the importance of a healthy body composition

By Natasha Turner, ND

Don’t you just love all those supermodels that say they never work out and eat whatever they want yet still manage to look fabulous? It almost makes you want to adopt their diet of caffeine, nicotine and burgers. Would it surprise you to know that many of these beautiful women may actually have high percentage of body fat? They may unknowingly be laying the groundwork for many chronic diseases associated with aging. There is a difference between being thin and being healthy and it lies in body composition.

What is Body Composition?
Body composition is a measure of the lean tissue and of the fatty tissue that makes up your body weight. Your body is comprised of many tissues – fat, bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, organs and lots of water. A healthy body composition is determined by the percentage of fat versus lean muscle mass. Ideally it is best to keep fat lower and lean muscle mass higher. An altered body composition arises when the percentage of body fat is too high. The most common cause of a high percentage of body fat is excess fat, although a loss of bone, as in osteoporosis, or a loss of muscle are also forms of altered body composition.

Being overweight is sometimes used synonymously with an altered body composition, however, excess body weight is not a definitive assessment for altered body composition, just as thin is not synonymous with fit and healthy. Extreme athletes or weight lifters can have a body weight that is considered outside of a healthy reference range, but their body compositions may be optimal due to the high amount of lean muscle. Muscle actually weights more than fat, so if you are on a weight loss plan that includes lifting weights, stepping on the scale may frustrate you. You should judge your progress by how your clothes fit and feel, not by the number on the scale.

How do you Measure Body Fat?
Body composition is measured by body mass index (BMI). It is calculated by dividing weight by height. A BMI in the range of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, while 30 or more is considered clinically obese. This may not be accurate for assessing body composition for people who are very short, very muscular, very tall or for people with edema (swelling and water retention). It is best to use BMI in conjunction with a waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio.

Waist Circumference and Waist-to-Hip Ratio (WHR)
Where you carry body fat is just as important as how much you carry. People who tend to accumulate fat around the waist (apple shape) have a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure than those who carry excess weight on the hips and thighs (pear shape). Calculating your waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is one way to determine if the weight in your abdomen exceeds that of your thighs. WHR is the measurement of your waist divided by the measurement of your hips. Measure your waist at the level of your belly button. Waist circumference greater than 35” for women and 40” for men is associated with increased risk. A WHR greater than 1 for men and 0.8 for women is considered unfavorable.

Skin Fold Tests (Calipers) and Bio-impedance Testing (BIA)
Measuring body fat with calipers is easy, but the accuracy of the reading is only as good as the qualifications of the person doing the measurements. This method seems to be more accurate in people that have higher percentages of body fat than in those within a healthy range.


 

BIA testing is even simpler than calipers. It uses an electrical frequency, typically sent from your hand to your foot or from hand to hand. This is the premise behind many of the scales or handheld units on the market that measure body fat. Different tissues conduct the signal at different rates, thereby giving a quick assessment of body fat, water and muscle. BIA readings are affected by level of hydration, electrolytes and exercise. More expensive machines tend to be more accurate and it is best to do the reading on an empty stomach first thing in the morning.

How can you Improve or Maintain a Healthy Body Composition?
A weight loss program can actually be harmful in some cases if it results in excessive loss of muscle along with fat. Our reserves are in our muscles. Studies have found that the most successful way to slow the aging process is to maintain a healthy muscle mass along with eating a highly nutritious, low-calorie diet. As we age, we naturally tend to lose muscle unless we work to keep it. A loss in muscle mass has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome (otherwise known as Syndrome X–a condition that has been linked to heart disease and diabetes).

Five Tips to Maintain Muscle and Boost Fat Loss

1. Adopt an exercise plan that incorporates cardiovascular exercise along with weight training, such as the Truestar Exercise Plan. Do not overdo cardiovascular exercise—it can damage the muscle fibers that you are working so hard to build and maintain. Do your weight training first followed by your cardio if you are doing them both on the same day. This will ensure your strength is at a maximum for lifting and you will continue to burn fat during your cardio session.

2. Eat protein with every meal, eat every three hours and skip the sugar. Protein is the building block of muscle and it is essential for repair after workouts. Complete your meal with low-glycemic carbohydrates. See our Truestar Nutrition Plan for menu ideas.

3. Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) has been found in studies to increase the loss of body fat (particularly around the abdomen) while maintaining muscle mass. This supplement should be taken for at least three months before stopping–it works, just not right away! Typical dosage is about 1500 mg two times per day.

4.7-Keto DHEA is an exciting new product that has been found in research to prevent the decline in metabolic rate that naturally tends to occur with a reduction in caloric intake or dieting.

5. Keep stress levels manageable. Elevated levels of stress hormone (cortisol) can have a negative effect on body composition by increasing the breakdown of muscle mass and increasing the deposition of fat around the abdomen. Relora is an herbal compound found to be effective in keeping stress hormone levels balanced and reducing abdominal fat. Phosphatidylserine may also help reduce stress hormone levels and protect body tissues, such as the brain and muscles from the negative effects of stress. See the Truestar Stress Page for other techniques to manage stress.

Remember it’s not your weight but your composition that is most important in assessing your health. It’s like the old adage—it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

References

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