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Rachel Cosgrove: Obese, without being overweight

Fitness: Americans need to stop obsessing about the scale and start strength training

Posted: March 18, 2010 9:57 p.m.
Updated: March 19, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Strength training, as demonstrated by Nina Conner of Valencia, builds lean muscle mass the weighs more than fat.

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Obsessed with what the scale says? Discouraged that it hasn’t budged?

More and more we are learning that the scale is not telling the whole story when it comes to what your body is made up of and whether you are carrying an unhealthy amount of body fat putting you at risk for obesity-related diseases.

Recent media coverage on “Good Morning America” and The Wall Street Journal discuss what has been called “normal weight obese.” There is a growing population of people who are considered normal weight but when looking at their ratio of body fat to lean body mass they are actually, by definition, obese. On the “Good Morning America Segment,” they stated that over 30 million people are normal weight but still obese, which is about 20-30 percent of the U.S. population.

Many people started 2010 with good intentions of losing weight and changing their body by setting new year’s resolutions, taking the typical route of eating less and increasing aerobic activity. By doing this, the scale may go down but there will still be the exact same body fat percent.

For example, if you started the year at 200 pounds and 40 percent body fat (considered obese) doing the math you would have 80 pounds of fat on your body and 120 pounds of lean mass.

Using the typical approach to weight loss, cutting back your food intake and using aerobic activity to burn calories but doing nothing to maintain or gain lean body mass, you could lose 50 pounds, weighing in at 150 pounds.

But because you did not do anything to build or maintain muscle, you lost both muscle and fat, possibly losing 20 pounds of fat, 20 pounds of lean mass and 10 pounds of water, which would still make you 40 percent body fat (and still considered obese) even though you are now at normal weight.

You will see this especially when people use a very strict, low-calorie diet to lose weight and drop a dramatic amount of scale- weight fast. Have you ever noticed that when people do this their body doesn’t actually change the way it looks?

They look like a smaller version of their same flabby self, still carrying fat in places where they were carrying fat, not really achieving a toned, fit look but just smaller.

The problem is that because they lost muscle, it makes it very difficult to stay there, so they struggle to keep the weight off and many times gain it right back.

My advice? Throw out the scale! Using your weight and BMI are outdated when it comes to measurements of whether your body is changing and if you are healthy.

As a society we need to start approaching exercise, diet and changing your body differently. We need to take the emphasis off what the scale says and focus on getting fit, increasing strength and metabolism, and decreasing the risk of diseases including obesity related diseases.

How do we do this? By increasing muscle and losing fat, changing the ratio of what your body is made up of. This should be done using an exercise program that will build lean muscle tissue as your priority exercise and fueling your body with the right foods.

Alternatives to relying on the scale as your main measurement tool include using a body fat percent measurement that can be taken by a fitness professional using calipers or with a bio-impedance machine.

You can also use underwater weighing but this is sometimes not realistic to get regular measurements done. Many of the bio impedance machines are not accurate, so be sure you are using something that is accurate and reliable.

The best, most accurate machine I have been able to find is the Inbody 520 which gives you an accurate printout of your body mass, your body fat percentage, your pounds of fat, your pounds of muscle and even your body water, both intracellular and extracellular.

It also analyzes these numbers to give you a recommendation of how much muscle or fat to gain or lose to reach an ideal body composition.

Another recommendation is to use a pair of jeans as your measurement rather than the scale. Use a pair of jeans that don’t fit and try them on every two to three weeks to track your progress.

We had a skinny jeans challenge at Results Fitness and 20 women lost two jean sizes in 12 weeks but the average weight loss was only four pounds on the scale (although they had all lost 10-12 pounds of body fat) because they had gained lean body mass and lost fat, making it much easier to keep those two sizes off. They would have all been discouraged if they were just looking at the scale.

Start approaching your fitness and nutrition with the goal in mind of completely reinventing your body to get an ideal body composition and stop focusing on an ideal number on the scale.

Results Fitness is one of a select few places where you can use the Inbody 520 Body composition Analysis Machine.

Non members are welcome to use it at a fee of $50 per use, which includes a color print out of your exact body makeup, along with a 15-minute explanation from one of their world class fitness coaches.

For more information, visit www.results-fitness.com.


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