The scale cannot differentiate between fat pounds and muscle pounds, so while your scale weight may not budge as you lose body fat and gain lean muscle, the proof will be in the fit of your clothing.

Your weight is composed of two separate elements: fat and lean body mass (muscle, bone, organs, and fluids). Body composition is the "quality" of your weight as opposed to the "quantity" of your weight as measured by the scale. You can gauge your body-fat status roughly by the fit of a favorite pair of jeans. One pound of fat takes up more space than one pound of muscle, so as you lose fat you literally shrink. (Think of meat on display at the butcher's: a 3-pound roast is small compared to 3 pounds of fat).

The Body Mass Index (BMI) is widely used to assess the increased risk of weight-related conditions, based on a ratio of weight to height. However, appearances can be deceptive when it comes to estimating body fat percentage. Heavily muscled people, like football players, can be overweight according to the BMI table without being overfat. On the other hand, some people who appear to be lean and are of normal weight according to the chart can be qualitatively measured as overfat or "skinny fat."

A 20 year-old woman who does not lift weights will gain about five pounds of fat and lose five pounds of muscle by the time she's 50. This means that even if you maintain your scale weight perfectly over time, subtle changes are occurring in your body composition that can affect your health and appearance.

Lifting weights will sculpt the contours of your body. You will have a flatter belly, shapelier arms, firmer legs, and you'll look great in a little black dress. But body composition and body shape are about more than just looking good: they are also closely related to your health. With optimal body composition, including a high ratio of lean body mass to fat, you minimize your risk of developing diseases that are related to obesity and how your body fat is distributed.

The distribution of fat on your body depends on your total amount of body fat and your genes. 

Are you an apple or a pear? Studies show that a large waist circumference (apple) signals a greater risk of heart disease and diabetes than ample hips and thighs (pear). The deep abdominal fat packed around the vital organs is metabolically very active, allowing fatty acids to move easily into and out of the cells. Once stored in the liver, they can interfere with its ability to regulate glucose and insulin levels, contributing to high cholesterol, triglyceride and blood pressure levels. A waist measurement of 35 inches (89 cm) or more is considered a risk factor for women, 41 inches (104 cm) for men. 

Weight loss from exercise is primarily fat loss. As you exercise regularly, you will reduce fat stores from the whole body, and you will develop leaner, toned muscles instead. The gain in lean muscle tissue and loss of excess fat will result in trimmer contours and smaller circumferences regardless of the number of pounds lost.

For more about how to beat belly fat, please see Joan Pagano’s video program “Beat Belly Fat, Bloating, Bone Loss and the Blues: Simple Steps to a Better You

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