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Body Composition: What Does It All Mean?

Updated: Feb 27

Author: Marley Carnes, MS, RDN, CSCS, CF-L2

Warning: If you have disordered views of body image or eating patterns, this post may be triggering. If you would like to improve your relationship with food, schedule with us. Our team is here to support you

  • Have you recently participated in a nutrition challenge or had a body composition test and are curious what your body composition results mean?

  • Are you just starting out your weight loss journey but confused why the scale isn't moving as much as you would like?

  • Are you curious what the standard body fat % is for your age?

  • Are you looking for a resource to help you set realistic goals for your body composition?

First, I can't emphasize enough that there are many ways to measure success and improved health outside of weight, body fat %, or BMI. Often times assessing how you are feeling sleeping and your stress and energy levels are other measures of change and improvements that go beyond the physical look in the mirror or number on the scale. Before getting caught up on numbers think about how your change in habits and nutrition has impacted your health, performance at the gym, new personal records, better endurance, stamina, and strength.

The true win is improved health, happiness, and having fun (or a least not being miserable) while making healthy lifestyle changes that are simple and sustainable long term rather than going after a quick fix or the next new thing to try only leaving you back (or worse off) than where you started.

Second, what is your goal? Often, setting goals is about more than looking like you did 15 years ago, celebrity or another person at the gym. It needs to be specific and REALISTIC. I often tell clients that if you want to have a six-pack and be super lean (like the first few photos below), this means you likely have to put in a lot of work and make some big sacrifices to your lifestyle. It's a 100% possible but not always a 100% "worth it." For example, if you want to be athletically lean you're going to have to eat and train -- guess what? -- like an athlete! This means you will have to be willing to give up some of the things you enjoy to be able to obtain your goal. You might find yourself skipping out on pizza night with your family, or avoiding going out for "drinks" with your friends, or not enjoying your taco Tuesday and your favorite margarita, or missing out on a trip to your favorite ice cream shop. You have to ask yourself, "Is this goal worth what I will need to change or give up?". Are you able to commit to making the time to take on these changes? I have absolutely no doubt that we can achieve aggressive body composition goals but I ask you to think about your priorities. Consider what body composition you want to be at while also enjoying life and while being healthy and happy!

Here is a chart to give you an idea of various body composition (body fat %) and what they look like physically.

Third, let's talk about interpreting your results. Here is the simplest way to explain it:

Body Fat %/Body Fat Mass: Percentage of your body that is fat/how many pounds of fat you have in your body.

Visceral Fat: Cushions your organs the more you have the higher risk for health concerns.

Subcutaneous Fat: What you see in the mirror the fat that is directly under your skin.

Skeletal Muscle Mass: Amount of muscle you have. The more you have the stronger will be be and the higher your metabolism.

Basel Metabolic Rate: If you laid in bed all day this is the amount of calories/energy you would burn.

Below is one of my favorite scales because it provides so much more than just a number. Often it can be frustrating when you are working out more than ever have just to see your weight not change. However, your body composition is changing! Likely, you are gaining muscle (which helps your burn more calories/increases your metabolism) and losing fat or perhaps it's time to work with someone (like us) to help you dial in your nutrition.

Note: Scales and numbers are NOT for everyone. There are many ways to measure change and progress. We always are sensitive to your needs when it comes to body image and weighing on a scale.

Taking measurements whether by one of our dietitians or by yourself at home is another way to measure change in your body composition. In fact when working for the military this is what we used to interpret body composition. Below is a measuring tape that makes taking measurements yourself a breeze and much more accurate and here is a simple calculate to help you determine your body fat from your do it yourself (DYI) measurements. It helps you understand where you are losing fat and where you might be gaining muscle.

Below is a how to guide to taking measurements and your baseline weight.

Body Composition
Download PDF • 105KB

Need help setting appropriate goals or interpreting you individual results?

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Interested in knowing your body composition?

All appointments include InBody composition testing.

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