For metabolic health measures, body composition beats weight

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Although weight is a broad biomarker that certainly contributes to an individual’s overall health, the number on your scale is rather non-specific and, in fact, is not the only measurement that matters when it comes to your metabolic rate. and your metabolic health. Also, it can be misleading. Weight is a rough estimate, not a nuanced measurement. Body composition is multidimensional and personalized.

That said, weight is an incredibly handy health indicator; and one of the most accessible in terms of measuring ourselves and tracking changes over time. “After all, no one has dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry1 machine in their living room to measure their body composition. But a scale? Yes, it’s much more pragmatic,” says mbg vice president of scientific affairs, Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN. “Clothing fit and an occasional waist measurement with a tape measure are also practical, do-it-yourself forehead contenders,” she adds.

In its broadest sense, the components of body composition are muscle, fat, and bone. But you see, muscle is more dense and compact than fat. This means that muscle mass takes up less space than fat (i.e. adipose tissue) in the body. Therefore, someone gaining muscle might experience comparable weight gain to someone increasing their fat percentage, so the difference is in body composition. Similarly, weight loss can be a positive thing (if you make intentional healthy lifestyle choices to lose fat, i.e. excess fat stores) or a negative thing (if you lose muscle unintentionally, due to inactivity, insufficient protein intake, particular health problems, etc.).

Vickery recommends that its clients avoid scale as a measure of success. “Weight can fluctuate for many reasons, such as hormones, water retention, and muscle growth,” she explains.

Another dietitian, Ferira, agrees and says, “I don’t even have a scale! Everyone has their own tastes, but I pay more attention to the cut of the clothes than to a number on a scale that seems more demanding than it really is.

And for people with disordered eating histories or concerns, “a scale can be downright contraindicated and deleterious,” says Ferira.

Other measures, such as body mass index (BMI), which calculates an individual’s weight and height to roughly estimate whether they are in a generally healthy weight category (compared to underweight or overweight) are extremely useful for health professionals, epidemiological researchers, and large-scale public health officials (i.e. for population studies, public health guidelines, etc.), but they do not take into account the highly unique and multifactorial nature of an individual’s weight.

At mbg, we prefer to be personal and celebrate the unique individual. This includes considering body composition (i.e. the personalized matrix of fat, bone and muscle that makes up a human body) as a more nuanced and useful metric when assessing metabolism and metabolic health of an individual.

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