- 5 crucial exercise lessons I learned when I cut my body fat nearly in half in 6 months without losing my muscle
- 1. Weight training is essential if you actually want your body to look fit.
- 2. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn when resting.
- 3. You don’t need to be out of breath and dripping in sweat for a workout to be effective.
- 4. Setting non-aesthetic goals will keep you motivated.
- 5. Exercise in the ways you enjoy, as that’s how it’ll be sustainable.
- When Being Overweight Is a Health Problem
- BIA: Once Flawed, Not Anymore
- Why BIA Gets a Bad Name
- The Future: DSM-BIA
- Why Trust This Tech?
- An Easier, Better, More Accurate Way
- Body Fat Series: Bioimpedance (BIA)
- Let’s pick up our in-depth exploration of body fat measurement with bioimpedance, also known as bioelectrical impedance, impedance, or BIA
- What is it and how does it work?
- What are the primary sources of error?
- How well does BIA do for different individuals?
- How does BIA perform within the same individual?
- How to buy the best body fat scales
- Visceral Fat
- The Most Accurate Method of Measuring Body Fat & Visceral Fat
- The Best Smart Scales To Track Your Body Composition
- The Best Smart Scales to buy in 2019
5 crucial exercise lessons I learned when I cut my body fat nearly in half in 6 months without losing my muscle
“It works a little bit like your bank balance: Spend more than you earn, and the balance goes down,” he said.
“However, what most people really want to do is not just lose weight, but rather lower the proportion of body fat to lean tissue, therefore improving their overall body composition.”
This is a little more challenging. However, it’s not impossible, as I’ve learned this year.
Read more: I lost 35 pounds in 6 months without going on a diet, and it taught me 7 lessons about eating for healthy fat loss
Over the past six months, I have cut my body fat nearly in half and maintained almost all of my muscle mass — it’s dropped ever so slightly, to 31.3 kilograms (69 pounds) from 31.8 kilograms (70.1 pounds).
Indeed, the results of my InBody scans with Worthington revealed that my body-fat mass dropped to 13.5 kilograms in June from 25.4 kilograms at the end of November. My overall weight at the time of the second scan was 69.5 kilograms, down from 82.6 kilograms.
In my first scan, my results for pretty much every measurement were in the “over” range, which essentially meant I was carrying an unhealthily high amount of fat.
I had already been lifting weights consistently for 18 months, so I knew I was strong, and the scan proved this too: My muscle mass was high.
However, because my muscles were shrouded in a decent layer of, well, insulation, I didn’t look particularly strong or fit.
Me in June performing a sumo deadlift. Luke Worthington
I wanted to lose some of the fat for various reasons (one of which, of course, was vanity, because I’m only human), but I was scared I’d lose my muscle too. Anyone who has actively tried to get stronger and achieve those elusive #gains will tell you that putting on muscle is a slow process, especially for women.
But Worthington told me it was totally doable, provided I didn’t drop my calories too low and that I trained wisely.
If you’ve decided you want to get leaner, you probably feel as if you want to go hell for leather and slim down fast. But if you want to hold on to your muscle mass, you need to take your time.
A drastic calorie deficit is not only unsustainable but unwise if you actually want to achieve the toned, sculpted physique many of us crave.
Keeping your protein levels up is also crucial for maintaining muscle — studies have found that following a high-protein diet can help maintain muscle and boost metabolism, keep you feeling full when you’re trying to lose weight, and reduce hunger.
I’ve already written about how I changed my diet to lose fat healthily and sustainably, but there are also important lessons I’ve learned about how to exercise if you want to hold on to your muscle while doing so.
1. Weight training is essential if you actually want your body to look fit.
Squats are a great example of a compound move. Luke Worthington
Simply losing weight probably isn’t going to result in the taught, toned physique many people desire.
People I speak to often think “toned” arms and legs come from doing a lot of reps with low weights, whereas heavy lifting is thought to create a “bulky” look many women dread.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth. “Toning” isn’t really a thing — it’s muscle building. My training mainly involves heavy lifting and low reps, but my arms aren’t “bulky,” because building big muscles is incredibly difficult as a woman. What you will get from this style of training, however, is the “toned” look.
As a general rule, to build muscle you need to be in a calorie surplus, and to lose fat you need to be in a deficit. So if you want to hold on to your muscle while taking in less energy than you’re burning, you need to work your muscles.
Read more: You’re probably squatting wrong, according to Ellie Goulding’s personal trainer
“Retaining lean tissue whilst in the calorie deficit needed to reduce body fat will require regular strength (resistance) training,” Worthington said. “Lean tissue is very much a ‘use it or lose it’ commodity.
“Weight training has the added advantage of being targeted and specific to loading (and overloading) specific movement patterns or body parts. Simply put: You get stronger quicker!”
He added that “additional benefits of weight training include improved mobility, sports performance, reduced injury risk, improved hormonal health, improved mental health, and increased bone density,” which he said was especially important for women.
If you truly hate lifting weights, however, you needn’t force yourself. Although weight training is by far the most effective form of strength training, according to Worthington, it’s not the only one.
He recommends gymnastics, swimming, some forms of yoga, and martial arts as other ways to work out that use some form of resistance to improve strength.
2. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn when resting.
Feeling strong feels awesome. Rachel Hosie
“Having more lean muscle can speed up the fat-loss process, as increased lean muscle increases your resting metabolic rate — so simply put, you are burning more calories in a resting state,” Worthington said.
Increasing your muscle mass is one of the best ways to boost your metabolism, and because I already had a decent amount of muscle, I found that my progress wasn’t slowed as much as it might have been by, say, a weekend of sheer indulgence and overeating.
On the flip side, studies have found that a loss of muscle can lead to a drop in your basal metabolic rate, which makes it harder to keep the weight off.
The more muscle you have, the higher your basal metabolic rate, meaning the easier it is to keep the weight off once you’ve decided to move into maintenance. Many people find that with very little muscle, you have to keep cutting calories lower and lower to keep off the weight you’ve lost.
3. You don’t need to be out of breath and dripping in sweat for a workout to be effective.
Improving your mobility is important too. Luke Worthington
If you think you won’t burn as many calories during your weight training workouts as during more fast-paced cardio, think again. According to my Fitbit, I tend to burn more calories from an hour of weightlifting than a spin class.
“Not all workouts have to be in fifth gear,” Worthington said. “Your body can operate with many different energy systems, and we should train them all.
“There are times to finish in a sweaty mess in the corner, and there are also times to focus on movement quality and control.”
Read more: An Instagram fitness trainer with 2.2 million followers says you’re approaching exercise the wrong way
Just because you’re not gasping for air after a set of squats doesn’t mean you haven’t raised your heart rate, and you don’t need to annihilate yourself for a workout to be effective.
A study conducted last year and published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that you can reap the same rewards from exercise regardless of whether you’re doing high-intensity cardio or simply walking lots throughout the day.
“Many people see HIIT classes as their introduction to exercise, saying they will see a PT ‘when they’re fit enough,'” Worthington said, referring to high-intensity interval training.
“It’s a little like saying you’ll go see your doctor once you’ve gotten over your illness. The process should be the other way around.
“Start your exercise journey with a suitably qualified and experienced trainer (judge them on their clients’ journeys and outcomes, not on their ab selfies), then when you are competent and confident in your movement abilities, work with the trainer on selecting group exercise classes that are most suitable for you.”
4. Setting non-aesthetic goals will keep you motivated.
Lateral lunges are a useful exercise to improve side-to-side movement skills for sport. Luke Worthington
If you’re working out only because you want to change how your body looks, you’re likely to quit before you see results.
Losing fat or building muscle takes a long time, especially if you’re doing it healthily. That’s why it’s a good idea to set training goals that aren’t related to aesthetics.
For example, at the beginning of the year, I challenged myself to do an unassisted pull-up. I managed that a few months later (which felt awesome), and I’m now trying to do five consecutively. Having a goal like this has kept me motivated.
5. Exercise in the ways you enjoy, as that’s how it’ll be sustainable.
Playing netball is one of my favorite ways to exercise. Rachel Hosie
Do you know what you don’t have to find the motivation to make yourself do? The things you enjoy. And that simple fact is the key to exercising consistently.
For me, it’s weightlifting, playing netball, and dancing. I adore all three of these types of exercise, so I actively look forward to doing them, not just how good I know I’ll feel afterward.
You might think you don’t enjoy exercise, period. But that’s probably not the case. Persevere, and find what suits you.
When exercise is fun, you’ll stick to it. Training will no longer feel like a chore, punishment, or necessary evil to “offset” a packet of cookies or boozy weekend. It will become a joy.
Put simply: Start exercising because you love, not hate, your body.
When Being Overweight Is a Health Problem
- Larger text sizeLarge text sizeRegular text size
In our looks-obsessed society, lots of people think that being overweight is an appearance issue. But being overweight is actually a medical concern because it can seriously affect a person’s health.
Diabetes and heart disease are health problems that can stem from being overweight. Being overweight can also affect a person’s joints, breathing, sleep, mood, and energy levels. So being overweight can affect a person’s entire quality of life.
When people eat more calories than they use, their bodies store the extra calories as fat.
A couple of pounds of extra body fat are not a health risk for most people. But when people keep up a pattern of eating more calories than they burn, more and more fat builds up in their bodies.
Eventually, the body gets to a point where the amount of body fat can harm a person’s health. Doctors use the terms “overweight” or “obese” to tell if someone has a greater chance of developing weight-related health problems.
As you’ve probably heard, more people are overweight today than ever before. The “obesity epidemic” affects kids and teens as well as adults. So younger people are now getting health problems that used to affect only adults, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.
Why Do People Become Overweight?
Obesity tends to run in families. Some people have a
tendency to gain weight more easily than others. Although genes strongly influence body type and size, the environment also plays a role.
People today are gaining weight because of unhealthy food choices (like fast food) and family habits (like eating in front of the TV instead of around a table). High-calorie, low-nutrient snacks and beverages, bigger portions of food, and less-active lifestyles are all contributing to the obesity epidemic.
Sometimes people turn to food for emotional reasons, such as when they feel upset, anxious, sad, stressed out, or even bored. When this happens, they often eat more than they need.
Figuring out if a teen is overweight is a little more complicated than it is for adults. That’s because teens are still growing and developing.
Doctors and other health care professionals use a measurement called body mass index (BMI) to tell if someone is overweight.
The doctor calculates BMI using a person’s height and weight, and then plots that number on a chart. There are different charts for girls or guys. BMI estimates how much body fat the person has.
Because muscle weighs more than fat, a muscular person can have a high BMI, but not too much body fat. Likewise, it’s possible for someone to have a low or ideal BMI but still have too much body fat.
You may get a BMI report from school, but the best way to understand BMI is to talk to your doctor.
Health Problems of Being Overweight
Obesity is bad news for both body and mind. Not only can it make someone feel tired and uncomfortable, carrying extra weight puts added stress on the body, especially the bones and joints of the legs. Kids and teens who are overweight are more likely to develop diabetes and other health problems. And overweight adults have a higher chance of getting heart disease.
Weight-related health problems include:
Asthma. Obesity increases the chance of having asthma. Breathing problems related to weight can make it harder to keep up with friends, play sports, or just walk from class to class.
Sleep apnea. This condition (where a person temporarily stops breathing during sleep) is a serious problem for many overweight kids and adults. Sleep apnea can leave people feeling tired and affect their ability to concentrate and learn. It also may lead to heart problems.
High blood pressure. When blood pressure is high, the heart has to work harder. If the problem continues for a long time, high blood pressure can damage the heart and arteries.
High cholesterol. Abnormal blood lipid levels, including high cholesterol, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and high triglyceride levels, increase the chances of having a heart attack or stroke when a person gets older.
Gallstones. A buildup of bile that hardens in the gallbladder forms gallstones. These can be painful and require surgery.
Fatty liver. If fat builds up in the liver, it can cause
, scarring, and permanent liver damage.
Joint and muscle pain. Wear and tear on the joints from carrying extra weight may lead to arthritis in adulthood.
Slipped capital femoral epiphyses (SCFE). SCFE is a painful hip problem that requires immediate attention and surgery to prevent further damage to the joint.
Pseudotumor cerebri. This is a rare cause of severe headaches in obese teens and adults. There is no tumor, but pressure builds in the brain. Besides headaches, symptoms may include vomiting, double vision, and other vision problems.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Although it’s normal for girls to have some testosterone (the male hormone), girls with PCOS have higher testosterone levels in the blood. They also may have irregular periods, too much hair growth, and bad acne.
Insulin resistance and diabetes. Insulin is a hormone that lowers the level of
(a type of sugar) in the blood. When there is too must body fat, is less effective at getting glucose, the body’s main source of energy, into cells. The body then needs more insulin to maintain a normal blood sugar level. For some overweight teens, progresses to diabetes (high blood sugar).
Depression. People who are obese are more likely to be depressed and have lower self-esteem.
Luckily, it’s never too late to make changes that can help control weight gain and the health problems it causes. Those changes don’t have to be big. For a start, make a plan to cut back on sugary beverages, control portions, and get more exercise, even if it’s just 5–10 minutes a day. Build your way up to big changes by making a series of small ones. And don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD Date reviewed: June 2018
BIA: Once Flawed, Not Anymore
In the world of body composition analysis, bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) is almost a dirty word.
Although well-known and popularly used in consumer home/fitness equipment, BIA technology has been disregarded for years when it comes to medical or professional purposes. And for good reason: many early BIA devices had serious design flaws. Even today, many people immediately dismiss BIA technology as technology that can only give ballpark estimations, even in the best of circumstances.
However, BIA has come a very long way over the past few decades. So far, in fact, that some bioelectrical impedance devices are now producing results that nearly mirror results generated by DEXA, an industry-regarded gold standard.
Really? Yes, really.
Imagine if you could determine body composition with a device that used technology which had all the convenience of traditional BIA, but combined it with the precision and reproducibility of a gold standard procedure. Imagine if that device was small enough to be placed anywhere: a doctor’s office, a gym, even a bedroom. Imagine if that device could track your results forever and illustrate your progress over time.
Today, devices like these exist.
If you haven’t interacted with BIA technology recently, or the last time you encountered it was in a Fitness Science textbook in a college class years ago, consider this your crash course update on modern, 21st century, BIA technology.
Why BIA Gets a Bad Name
Many of the valid concerns people have about using BIA technology stem from outdated, older technology. If you’re concerned about the accuracy of BIA devices, you probably have very legitimate reasons. These devices fall into three general groups:
- BIA Scales
- Handheld BIA Devices
- “Whole Body” Impedance Devices
Let’s look at each one to see what the concerns are and where they come from.
When people think about BIA devices that measure body fat, many of them think about something that looks similar to this:
This is a traditional digital scale that incorporates BIA technology to determine body fat percentage. To use it, you must enter your age, height, and gender. Some devices require body type, too. Then, you stand on the scale while it measures your weight. Once the scale has all the required data, it computes your body fat percentage using BIA technology.
However, the accuracy of such a device has some serious flaws.
First of all, what many people may not realize is BIA scales such as these only send a current up one leg and down the other. This means that impedance (the metric that all BIA devices use to compute results) is only directly measured in the legs.
The upper body and arms? Estimated based on the results for the legs. This means that roughly 40% of your Lean Body Mass is used to determine a body fat percentage that is supposed to account for 100% of your body.
If you feel skeptical about trusting your results from a BIA scale, you’re absolutely correct to do so.
Handheld BIA Devices
Handheld BIA devices – such as the ones carried by many gyms – are no better, and due to the relatively smaller size of the arms compared to the legs may actually be even more unreliable. Those devices operate similarly as BIA scales, except instead of measuring the legs, handheld BIA devices send the current from one arm to the other and then estimate everything from your chest down.
This means that these devices are guessing what your overall body composition is based on the composition of your arms. This can lead to inaccurate results. If your arms are the most muscular part of your body but you carry the majority of your fat in your midsection, a handheld BIA device will not be able to account for that.
Because handheld BIA devices don’t just report muscle and fat for the arms and give results for the entire body, these results are not trustworthy. Handheld BIA devices only directly measure the arms. Everything else is just estimation and guesswork.
“Whole Body” Impedance Devices
What about conventional BIA devices, the ones that require you to lie down and have a technician attach adhesive electrodes to the whole right side of your body? Surely those must be accurate.
Just like scales and handhelds, these devices don’t measure the entire body, even though they might appear to do so. However, instead of completely missing the upper or lower half of the body like BIA scales and handhelds do, these devices operate differently – but are just as flawed.
In the case of conventional BIA devices, four electrodes are placed on the right half of the body. The current is sent from the arm, through the body, and out through the leg. This is somewhat misleadingly referred to as the “Whole Body Impedance” method.
Why misleading? Take a look below:
Although “whole body” might suggest that these devices actually measure the whole body, in reality these machines only directly measure approximately half (usually the right side) and then estimate the remainder.
The core problem with these devices is that they treat the entire body as a single “cylinder.” This means that when the machine is collecting information, it treats your arms in the same way it treats your trunk/torso; never mind that the trunk’s composition is significantly different than an arm (it contains the internal organs, for instance, and contains a greater amount of Lean Body Mass).
This is a problem when measuring fat and muscle. Although similarities among genders exist, everybody and every body is different. Men tend to collect the majority of their fat around their abdomen (android obesity), whereas women tend to collect in the arms and legs in addition to their midsections (gynoid obesity).
What would happen if a particular person didn’t conform to these assumptions? False readings and inaccurate results.
The Future: DSM-BIA
For many people, the devices described above are the only BIA devices they are familiar with. That’s why, including for those described above, people have very good reasons for dismissing BIA technology.
However, the industry has recognized the flaws in these BIA devices for some time and, in the last few decades, has responded.
Direct Segmental Multi-Frequency Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (DSM-BIA) is a new, modern approach to BIA technology that, for the first time, directly measures the entire body.
Unlike any of the previous methods or devices above, devices that employ DSM-BIA do not leave any section of the body unaccounted for. In order to do this accurately, the body is divided into 5 segments and the impedance for each segment is measured independently.
Once the impedance values for each segment are known, the device interprets the raw data and translates it into useful values such as:
- Body Fat Percentage
- Total Body Water
- Lean Body Mass
Because all 5 segments are measured independently of each other, this allows for more advanced analyses. The below example shows the amount of Lean Body Mass in pounds in each segment of the body:
Using a device that employs DSM-BIA technology allows a doctor, researcher, or fitness professional to paint a more complete picture of a client’s body composition. It allows each segment of the body to be measured independently, just as DEXA does, but does it much quicker and more conveniently than DEXA –a major advantage of using a BIA device.
Why Trust This Tech?
DSM-BIA represents a major improvement over all previous BIA devices. But in order to understand this technology and be confident in the results, you’ll need a brief overview on the basics of how BIA devices work.
All BIA devices operate by sending a small electrical current through fluid, which in the human body, is body water. The current enters and exits via electrodes that come into contact with the skin. As the current travels throughout your body water, it encounters muscle cells, fat cells, skin cells, etc. Each of these has a certain ability to oppose the current slightly as it travels on its path towards the exit point.
Once the current finally reaches its endpoint, it will have lost some of its voltage on its journey through body water. From here, impedance is determined. BIA devices, including DSM-BIA devices, take impedance values and translate them into useful information that people can readily understand, like Body Fat Percentage and Lean Body Mass.
If all BIA devices use the same basic principle, then what makes DSM-BIA different?
Consider the example of the “Whole Body Impedance” devices. While on the one hand they appear to be measuring the entire body and delivering trustworthy results, on the other, they treat the body as though it were a single tube of water, irrespective of body shape. This means that the opposing effect that the current experiences as it travels through the body gets lumped together as a single impedance value.
This is a problem because due to the width of the arms and legs vs. the width of the upper body, impedance values actually vary quite significantly. Impedance values for the arms and legs can be 10+ times greater than those for the trunk, as shown below (TR = trunk):
As you can see, the values for the trunk are much, much lower than those of the arms and legs. A “Whole Body” impedance device would have taken all five of these values and lumped them into a single “whole body” result. This is where Whole Body impedance gets its name and where it gets its inaccuracy.
As for BIA scales and handheld BIA devices? A BIA scale will produce results that would look like this:
The handheld BIA device will only be able to measure the arms:
You should notice something: neither of them will measure the all-important trunk. Only devices that use DSM-BIA paint a complete picture, and only DSM-BIA devices will deliver results that stack up against the gold standards. All other devices can only offer estimations at best.
An Easier, Better, More Accurate Way
DSM-BIA technology represents the future of body composition analysis and BIA technology. Older BIA devices have major design flaws that limited their reliability and the reproducibility of their results; DSM-BIA technology has responded to those flaws.
By improving BIA technology, DSM-BIA devices blend the precision expected from gold standard devices with the convenience and ease-of-use provided by traditional BIA devices. It is possible to have the best of both worlds, after all.
Body Fat Series: Bioimpedance (BIA)
Let’s pick up our in-depth exploration of body fat measurement with bioimpedance, also known as bioelectrical impedance, impedance, or BIA
Have you ever seen a home bathroom scale that estimates your body fat? Or seen a handheld device with conductive grips that can somehow provide you with your fat mass? More than likely, these devices are using bioimpedance (or BIA).
BIA is a quick and dirty method for predicting body fat. Most of these devices allow you to wear clothing, step up or hold onto a device for a few seconds, possibly enter some information about yourself – and voila! – You’re rewarded with a body fat number.
These devices are certainly convenient, and for the most part affordable, but this often comes at the price of both accuracy and consistency. A vast peer-reviewed literature has discussed what bioimpedance can and can’t do when it comes to predicting body composition. The conclusion? If you care about accuracy or precision in body composition, BIA is a risky choice.
BIA is a quick and easy ‘at home’ way to get a rough estimate of your body composition. It is low cost, low barrier to entry and doesn’t even require you to take off your clothing!
BIA is riddled with inaccuracies arising from a large variety of sources. There are high end BIA devices (such as InBody) that address some of these concerns, but at its core, BIA is a flawed technique when it comes to estimating and tracking body composition.
You may be asking, are there any affordable devices that allow me to track my composition with higher accuracy at home? Up next, we’ll discuss both commercial and in-home 3D scanning devices and our view on the future of body composition!
See below for the long form answer…
What is it and how does it work?
Bioimpedance, or bioelectrical impedance, or BIA, is scientifically described as the ability of biological tissue to impede electric current.
What on earth does that mean?
In plain speak, this means that different types of tissue and substances in the body respond differently to a low voltage electrical current. Fat tissue, for example, does not conduct electric charge very well. Fat free mass – which includes water, muscle, and bone – conducts electricity quite well. It’s largely the high volume of water (and electrolytes dissolved in your body’s water) in fat free mass that makes this component strongly conductive.
Sensors in these BIA devices measure the impedance – the voltage that returns to the sensors after traveling through the body – and use the measured value in equations validated from higher compartment body composition models. This logic relies on the assumption that there is an inverse relationship between body water and presence of fat (meaning the more body water, the less body fat and vice versa); and that impedance is the key that links these two phenomena.
There are a number of different types of BIA devices. There are handheld devices, BIA scales (that look much like your traditional bathroom scale), and some more complex ‘medical grade’ BIA devices. Some of these devices require additional inputs into their equations, possibly including gender, height, race, age, and exercise habits. Others have derived their equations for body fat using only impedance and a reference method, thereby predicting body fat from bioimpedance alone while eliminating other regressors (gender, race, etc).
BIA devices can run you as little as $30 and as much as thousands. Generally speaking, the more sophisticated and expensive the device, the more accurate. That said, they are still subject to the same sources of error and that error is quite large.
What are the primary sources of error?
BIA often infers composition of large segments of the body
Although this is not the case for every bioimpedance device, the majority of those used by non-medical consumers use a great deal of inference to measure body composition. The BIA foot scale (like that made by Tanita), for example, sends an electrical current up one leg and receives the current down the other leg. While this is useful for regional impedance, the trunk (which makes up nearly 50% of the body’s lean mass!) is largely inferred, rather than directly measured.
Individuals with unevenly distributed adiposity – for example someone with high levels of abdominal obesity – will experience a sizeable under-estimation of fat mass using leg-to-leg bioimpedance devices, such as BIA foot scales. Hand-to-hand impedance devices experience the converse; they often measure arm and upper trunk bioimpedance, but miss the lower trunk and leg regions. In recent years, more expensive and complex devices have been created that primarily mitigate this particular problem, but they are still subject to the numerous other limitations of BIA.
Photo courtesy of InBody
BIA is a prediction based on a prediction
In order to develop a new BIA technology, a manufacturer uses or develops an equation for body composition based off the impedance results. This equation may use a gold standard 4-compartment model as the reference method, but more often than not, the equation is based off a 2-compartment criterion method (like hydrostatic weighing).
This means that the error of the criterion method is compounded in the BIA prediction. Looking back at prior articles in this series, the gold-standard method of DXA, a 3-compartment model, sees approximately a 2% margin of error for the average user, with some individuals deviating as much at 7% from a higher compartment model. Thus, if hydrostatic weighing (a method already biased by assumptions) is used as a reference, BIA estimates will only amplify that error.
BIA is subject to fluctuations in the hydration of fat free mass
Accurate measurement of body water is central to the prediction of body fat from BIA. Fat free mass contains two types of water, intracellular and extracellular water. Intracellular water is that found in the body’s cells; thus, intracellular water is mostly observed in the muscles, bones, and organs. Extracellular water on the other hand is found outside of the cells, mostly in the blood and in the solution surrounding the body’s cells (interstitial fluids).
Almost all commercially available BIA devices use a frequency that is able to measure the body’s extracellular water, but not its intracellular water. Instead, the intracellular water is predicted from the extracellular water by assuming a constant ratio. This works reasonably well in normally hydrated and healthy individuals, but the assumption of this ratio is invalidated with abnormal hydration, disease, old age and obesity.
Current will always follow the path of least resistance
A tried and true physics principle teaches that an electrical current will follow the path of least resistance. This means that in extreme cases, the current won’t even come in contact with subcutaneous fat – which will likely result in a drastic under-estimation of percent fat.
How well does BIA do for different individuals?
This method is quite different from many of the other methods we’ve discussed thus far in that impedance does not measure any biological quantity. DXA, for example, measures bone AND tissue directly. Hydrostatic weighing measures fat mass and indirectly infers lean mass from this measurement. BIA, however, uses the impedance index (reminder: this is the value that permits the inference of total body water volume) as an independent predictor in a regression formula to predict body composition.
This regression formula is derived using a reference method (such as hydrostatic weighing) for a specific population – most commonly white, middle age, non-obese men and women. This means that any population measured using bioimpedance should be similar to the reference population (the population by which the formula was derived) in order for the results to be valid. Unfortunately, this is often not the case and can result in some pretty skewed results.
The takeaway here? Given absolutely perfect testing conditions, BIA will always be more valid for individuals closely replicating the sample with which the BIA formula was derived. For outliers – such as very lean, athletic or obese individuals – BIA is poorly suited and often will deviate as much as 8-12% from a criterion method like Hydrostatic Weighing or DXA.
How does BIA perform within the same individual?
Remember how BIA relies on an accurate representation of total body water (both intracellular and extracellular fluid) to predict body composition? Herein lies the problem! As the body changes, often so does the relative and absolute hydration of fat free mass.
In one study, people who engaged in a cardio regimen for weight loss saw an underestimation in fat loss and overestimation in fat-free mass loss. The authors propose that this is due to an increase in plasma volume, a common adaptation to cardiovascular training, which in turn increases extracellular water and inflates body fat estimates.
In obese individuals who lost weight, hydration of fat-free mass also decreased alongside decreasing weight, resulting in underestimated fat loss by BIA. The converse is also true! With increased weight, hydration of fat free mass increases, so gains in body fat may be obscured.
So, if you hear “BIA may be inaccurate, but at least I can track my progress”, you’re now armed with the evidence suggesting otherwise!
Interested in learning more? The series features: DXA Volume Based Methods **Calipers Naked
How to buy the best body fat scales
Whether you’re trying to lose weight, training for fitness or simply keeping track of your physical health, the trusty bathroom scales can help you monitor your progress. But weight is only one factor in determining your health. It’s more important to know your body composition – your lean muscle mass and how much fat you’re carrying.
Body fat scales can be a better indicator of overall health than their conventional weighing scale cousins.
How do body fat scales work?
Body fat scales work by sending a very low electrical current through your body via your feet. Tissue containing a lot of water, such as muscle, lets the current through easily, but fat contains comparatively little water, so it resists the current – the higher the impedance, the more fat there is in your body.
The scales use that data, together with personal data you enter such as your height, age, sex and fitness level, to calculate your body fat percentage.
Keep in mind
When using a body fat scale keep in mind that results should be taken with a grain of salt as they can make you think you’re much healthier than you really are.
These scales are more of an indication of your body fat and composition, rather than an absolute result. Without considering both body fat and muscle mass some of these scales don’t provide the full picture. For example, during our body fat scales test one of our male volunteers was expected to have a low body fat percentage (his weight in kilograms is certainly low), and some of the scales showed results of only 5.7 to 9.5% body fat. However, when taking his low muscle mass into consideration, his true body fat as measured by the DEXA scan was 22% – in actual fact quite high for a male, as body fat is a percentage of his total weight.
Who shouldn’t use body fat scales?
Most models’ instructions warn they aren’t suitable for people with pacemakers as the scales’ electrical current could interfere with the pacemaker.
Many also warn the readings can be unreliable for children, athletes and bodybuilders, people with metal plates or screws in their bodies, and pregnant women.
How to use body fat scales
As with conventional scales, it’s best to measure yourself regularly and record the results rather than rely on one-off or occasional measurements.
- Make sure your feet are bare and clean for good contact with the scales’ sensor pads.
- Put the scales on a hard, level floor.
- Don’t take a reading immediately after waking, after a meal, or for 24 hours after excessive exercise or alcohol intake. Your body’s water content could be uneven or atypical, which will make the reading unreliable.
- Measure yourself at the same time of day under the same conditions.
- Check with your doctor before using a body fat scale if you have a pacemaker as the electrical charge sent through the scales could have a negative impact.
Don’t take the displayed values as absolute truth on any of the tested models. The best ones have a difference of about 3–4%, so if they say your body fat percentage is 25%, the real number is likely to actually be +/- 3–4%. Nevertheless, they’re still good for tracking physical changes over time.
What features to look for
This should be big and clear so it’s easy to read when standing on the scales. Some have a wireless display unit that can be mounted on the wall for easier viewing.
This should be easy to understand and stay on screen long enough to read easily. Some models flash the information past quickly, so it’s hard to follow. Ideally, you should be able to redisplay the data without needing to weigh yourself again.
These should be clearly labelled and easy to use. Programming the scales should be straightforward.
There should be enough profiles (saved sets of individual information) for all household members who will regularly use the scales. A “guest” profile can be handy for visitors who want to use the scales but don’t need their profile stored permanently.
These should be easy to understand, with useful diagrams and advice on how to interpret your results.
If you want the scales to behave like simple weight scales and only display your weight, a “weight only” default setting is handy. Most of the scales have this option.
Usable on carpet
Useful if you don’t have hard floors. Scales don’t generally measure weight effectively when placed on carpet.
Many of the models on test display other information, such as BMI and body composition information (muscle mass, bone mass and water), which could be useful if you’re trying to build up muscle, for example. Some also display goals that are based on your personal information (age, height and sex) and measured weight and body fat (such as a suggested goal weight or daily kilocalorie intake).
Body Mass Index (BMI) is often used by health professionals to assess whether a person is underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. While BMI is a better indicator of health than weight alone, it’s far from perfect. The BMI categories don’t allow for very muscular individuals; a person with lots of lean muscle and low body fat will be heavy for their height and could be classed as overweight or obese. Similarly, some people may have a BMI that indicates they’re healthy when in fact they have too much body fat and little lean tissue.
You should only use BMI as a general guide to your state of health. Accurate analysis of your body fat percentage, measured over time, is more useful.
What is a healthy body fat percentage?
A healthy body fat range will differ based on age and gender, so when you pre-set your details for your body fat scale, you’ll want to get them right.
Body fat scales with Wi-Fi connectivity are appealing because they allow you to track your results through an app or website, rather than keeping track with a piece of paper. In some cases, multiple compatible products like blood pressure monitors or fitness bands can all connect on the one app.
When we’ve tested scales with Wi-Fi connectivity the initial setup been troublesome.
We couldn’t publish results for the Beurer BF800 (RRP$199), Nokia Body+ WBS05 (RRP$180) and Nokia Body Cardio WBS04 (RRP$320) as we were unable to successfully set them up in time for the test. We failed numerous attempts to set up the scales, with either the app getting stuck at a point in the process or the app failing to communicate with the scale. Unfortunately, by the time we were able to get these scales to work, testing was complete and results would not have been comparable with the DEXA scans.
Body fat bathroom scales range from around $25 to $250.
There are many different ways to measure visceral fat, these include options you could do at home, but you could also go to your doctor. An easy method you could do right now is to take a measurement of the largest parts around your waist and hip. However, this option is not entirely accurate. Once you have measured both your waists and hip, divide the waist by the hip measurement. A healthy body should have less than 1.0 for men or 0.85 for women.
A good indicator of having a high level of visceral fat, is a high BMI score (Body Mass Index) and a large waist. If you have both, chances are likely that you have a high level of visceral fat.
For a more accurate measurement of your visceral fat you can also make use of a Tanita body composition monitor. The Tanita bathroom scale helps you to accurately monitor and calculate your visceral fat. By now you should be aware of the dangers of having to much visceral fat. But our body consists of more than only fat, take muscle mass for example. And right here a Tanita weighing scale is your friend . The Tanita body composition monitors can exactly measure your visceral fat. Because it is more than just a visceral fat scale.. It measures your entire body, it gives detailed information on your body’s composition. Getting a detailed overview of what your body is made of will help you to adopt that healthy lifestyle.
The Most Accurate Method of Measuring Body Fat & Visceral Fat
It’s a common enough riddle that you likely know the answer immediately:
Q. What do people make that you can’t see?
It’s clever, though not entirely accurate. That’s because there is something else people make all the time that we can’t see: visceral fat.
Visceral Fat vs. Subcutaneous Fat
We can see a person’s size, of course. If that person’s body weight translates to a comparatively oversized backside, for example, people may agree that the person is “fat.”
When we talk about the kind of fat located on a person’s belly, thighs, and rear, we’re referring to subcutaneous fat. It’s the fat just under the skin.
While body fat that accumulates in the belly area may serve as a tell-tale indicator of visceral fat, you can’t see visceral fat with the naked eye. Visceral fat hides beneath the surface, surrounding your internal organs.
It’s there that visceral fat contributes to a host of serious ailments, including higher total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower HDL (good) cholesterol, and insulin resistance.
Both types of fat can wreak havoc on a person’s physical and mental health. That makes diagnosing and treating the factors that contribute to obesity — now an epidemic in the U.S. — crucial.
While there are multiple techniques for measuring fat, however, not all of them are considered equal. In fact, some are now regarded as inaccurate or unreliable.
Another problem: measuring that impossible-to-see visceral fat suffocating the healthy operations of our vital organs.
So, which methods of measuring body fat — including and especially visceral fat — are the most accurate? Here’s the rundown.
Body Mass Index
For generations, professionals and laypeople alike lauded the body mass index (BMI) approach to determining a person’s body fat percentage. Today, however, BMI is recognized as an inadequate attempt to estimate something as physiologically complicated as body fat.
The simplistic formula — weight in pounds/(height in inches x height in inches) x 703 (to convert the index from the original metric version of the formula) — remains in favor at organizations such as the Center for Disease Control, but far more accurate tools are now available. WebMD gives BMI a grade of “D.”
Visceral fat measurement accuracy: BMI cannot measure visceral fat.
“Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry” — referred to as DEXA — offers highly detailed imaging capabilities. With it, healthcare professionals can measure bone density, muscle, and body fat.
That body fat measurement includes visceral fat, making DEXA testing an invaluable weapon for combating the deadly condition. DEXA is as convenient for patients as laying on a table for a procedure that lasts mere minutes. The DEXA scan uses a very small amount of radiation, roughly less than half the amount the average person would receive walking outside.
WebMD gives DEXA an A grade. One of its experts states “ … (I)f you have the opportunity to be tested by DEXA, go for it.”
Visceral fat measurement accuracy: DEXA is considered the “gold standard” for measuring visceral fat; no other technique is considered as accurate.
A technological step up from BMI, medical research into the accuracy of skinfold calipers finds them an improvement over BMI, but with some important caveats.
The most important of those is the skill and experience of the person administering the skinfold test. Are the exact same places on the subject’s body being tested? Is an appropriate amount of the patient’s body being pinched? Unimpressed by the relatively narrow window for accuracy here, WebMD gives skinfold calipers a grade of “D,” putting them in the same class as BMI.
Visceral fat measurement accuracy: Skinfold calipers cannot measure visceral fat.
Hydrostatic (Underwater) Testing
As its name suggests, hydrostatic testing involves the submersion of the test subject into a tank of water. Muscle is denser than fat, which helps practitioners of this technique calculate body composition.
Health professionals consider hydrostatic testing accurate. There are two notable downsides, though: the need to submerge the patient underwater and a relatively high barrier to entry with respect to cost and housing the large testing tank. WebMD says some might find the procedure “disconcerting” and expect it to reach “has-been” status soon. In a nod to its accuracy, the site nevertheless gives the method a B- grade.
Visceral fat measurement accuracy: Hydrostatic testing provides good body composition data. It cannot determine the distribution of especially dangerous visceral fat, though.
Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis
Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) involves a scale that sends an electrical current through your body to determine your body fat percentage by measuring fat and lean body mass. This feature is common in many newer bathroom scales, including those available at popular retailers like Walmart.com.
Unfortunately, even medical-grade BIA devices (which contact more of a subject’s body than just their feet) are not considered especially reliable. Even taking a shower before a test can impact results. WebMD gives BIA a C+ grade.
Visceral fat measurement accuracy: Consumer-grade scales with BIA cannot reliably and accurately measure visceral fat.
More Than Meets the Eye
Overcoming the threats presented by visceral fat means more than merely making its dangers “visible” to the general public. It also requires leading-edge tools. Right now, there is no better tool for identifying and measuring visceral fat than a DEXA machine.
As a result of its growing prominence in healthcare, DEXA scans are less expensive and more accessible than ever before. To learn more about how you can get a scan, contact us today.
The Best Smart Scales To Track Your Body Composition
Stepping on the scale is traditionally a fairly simple affair. You step on, rub your eyes in disbelief at the number given, and step off already mentally knocking a couple of kilos off the weight shown for reasons that seem entirely justifiable at the time.
The scales of today, however, go well beyond basic weight measurements. They can also tell you how much of your body is fat, muscle, water and bone. They can even recognise which member of your household is stepping on the scales and beam your results to an app.
This is all valuable information because trying to be healthier is about much more than simply losing weight – which doesn’t take into account the muscle you might have gained through exercise, or whether you’re actually shredding fat as the kilos drop off you. Admittedly, smart scales are not 100% accurate, but they’re useful to show changes over time – certainly more so than those that measure your body mass and nothing more.
“Changes over time” is the key phrase to remember when using scales of any type. If you’re weighing yourself every day, or even multiple times in any given day, your readings are likely to get skewed by fluctuations in weight that are due to short-term factors like a big lunch or being dehydrated rather than actual changes in your body composition.
If you’re in the middle of an intense training and diet plan with the aim of losing weight, stepping on the scales once a week is a good approach. Try to weigh yourself under similar conditions each time – on the same day at around the same time, with similar clothing on. There’s no way to completely remove short-term fluctuations from the picture, but after a couple of months of weekly weigh-ins, any upward or downward trends in your body composition should be clear.
To get an in-depth understanding of your body in your bathroom, try one of these smart scales.
The Best Smart Scales to buy in 2019
Polar Unisex Adults’ Balance Smart Scales
This scale doesn’t offer extra metrics like body fat percentage and muscle mass. Instead, it shows its smarts by linking up with Polar’s Flow app and fitness trackers to offer what is ambitiously named a “holistic weight management service”. In practice, this means once you set a target weight goal, the Balance and your fitness tracker send data to the app which will provide advice on how to reach that goal through your diet and activity. The software side of things is where Polar excels here, with the Flow app giving a clear picture of any trends in your weight and useful advice on how to tailor your daily activity to help you hit your target weight.
Buy on Amazon | £83.77
Fitbit Aria 2
The main selling point of the Fitbit Aria 2 is that it beams all the stats it tracks into the excellent Fitbit app, which combines them with any data collected from a Fitbit fitness tracker and any food and drink you’ve logged, giving an impressively complete picture of your lifestyle. It takes a bit of work on your part, especially when it comes to inputting the food you eat, but if you’re a health data junkie there is no better platform to use than the Fitbit app and connected devices. All the info collected by the Aria 2 – including weight, BMI, body fat percentage and lean mass – is clearly displayed in graphs in the app so you can track any trends over time.
Buy on Amazon | £99.99 (RRP £120)
Garmin Index Smart Scale
Like the Fitbit Aria, the Garmin Index Smart Scale’s biggest plus point for many people will be the ability to use it in partnership with a Garmin fitness tracker and the Garmin Connect app. The scale tracks key stats like weight, BMI, body fat and muscle mass, and beams them over to the app, which pops all the info into easy-to-read graphs. They’re especially easy to read if your weight and body fat are trending the way you want them to.
Buy on Amazon | £119 (RRP £149.99)
Withings Body Cardio
On top of providing all your body composition stats – weight, body fat, BMI, water percentage and muscle and bone mass – the Withings Body Cardio scale goes above and beyond by giving a picture of your heart health as well. This is done through measuring your standing heart rate and something called your pulse wave velocity. Hey, we’re not sure what it is either, but it’s apparently an excellent indicator of cardiovascular health. The impressive app gives more info on pulse wave velocity, as well as advice on how to improve it, plotting your progress on this and all the other body composition stats it monitors.
Buy from Withings | £129.95
Although it’s less than half the price of the other options on this list, the Tanita BC-731 offers all the body composition stats you’d hope for, including weight, body fat, muscles mass and BMI. It also goes beyond other scales in giving a visceral fat estimate (the more dangerous fat that builds up around your organs), your metabolic age and even a physique rating based on all of the above. It won’t send those results to a partner app but does allow for up to five user profiles to be saved on the scales.
Buy on Amazon | £43.99 (RRP £50)
This snazzy scale measures your weight, body fat, water content, body mass index (BMI), bone content and muscle percentage, and sends all the results to the partner Qardio app to track changes over time. It also offers a clever Smart Feedback option, for people who don’t want to see numbers every day – step on the scale and you’ll be greeted with a smiling, frowning or straight-line-mouth face depending on your results.
Buy on Amazon | £119