Body composition: shifting perspectives on weight loss

Body composition: shifting perspectives on weight loss

Weight loss has been an obsession in our modern society: from diet pills, painstaking calorie-counting, meal replacement shakes and brutal exercise regimens, many of us know all too well the emotional and physical toll that reducing ourselves to the numbers on the scale can take. We have come too far in our scientific understanding of what the body requires to be healthy to continue to hyper-focus on scales that don’t give us the whole story. The kinder, more beneficial and ultimately more effective way to look at weight loss is to shift perspective to body recomposition.

What is body composition?

The number on the scale only tells us part of the story of our health. Differentiating between muscle, fat, water content, visceral fat, and skeletal mass is the best place to start if you are aiming to adjust your body composition.

Body composition in terms of weight management refers to the ratio of fat to non-fat mass in your body to give you a complete and accurate picture of your health, not just today but also as you age.

How can you learn what your body composition is? For the most accurate results, book in for a DEXA scan or bioimpedance analysis (BIA) - these can be found in gyms, clinics and other specialist practices.

Click here to learn more about muscle mass and its role in anti-aging.

Why is body recomposition a healthier focus for weight loss?

There is no shortage of ways to lose weight. However, many of them are unrealistic, unsustainable, and, let’s face it, unpleasant. They also won’t give you the best long-term health outcomes. A meta-analysis of 29 long-term weight loss studies found that over 50% of the weight lost by participants was regained within two years, and 80% was regained within five years.[1] Such staggering statistics may be off-putting for those beginning a new weight loss regimen, yet this gives further credence to the dire need to uplevel our approach for long-term, sustainable weight loss. When we shift the focus to building muscle, the benefits are worth every minute of resistance training and eating to support muscle growth.

Shifting the composition from high fat to high muscle also supports another unseen yet vital change: a reduction in visceral fat. This type of fat is the potentially dangerous fat that surrounds the organs, causing inflammation and increasing your risk of chronic diseases like type II diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and stroke.[2] Research shows that low muscle mass increases the risk of hepatic fibrosis and the metabolic condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).[3]

Body composition is a more positive and comprehensive approach to creating a healthier body and changing your shape. Many can become obsessive about numbers, placing their self-worth on them. This approach can result in anxiety, obsessive or intrusive thoughts and even depression. In extreme cases, a fixation on reducing numbers on a scale can result in eating disorders. When we approach health and body shape from the body composition perspective, it’s easier to create healthy habits with a focus on mental and physical well-being.

Health benefits of improved body composition

Focussing on building muscle both in terms of exercise and nutrition has a whole host of benefits. Some changes you’re likely to notice if you’re starting on a new health routine include better energy, focus, more confidence, a greater sense of wellbeing, and even feeling like your clothes fit better (although not the entire focus, appearance can also be a helpful marker to keep you motivated).

Here are some of the other significant health improvements that can come with focusing on improving body composition:
  • Increased bone density and reduced risk of developing sarcopenia
  • Improved resting metabolic rate
  • Increased insulin sensitivity, which reduces risk of metabolic disorders such as type II diabetes
  • Improved posture
  • Better muscle tone
  • Improved mental function
  • Reversing specific age factors
  • Increases the level of mitochondria in muscle tissue for increased energy production
  • Reduces abdominal fat
  • Improved cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Prevents and even reverses some degenerative processes, including changes in movement control and muscle loss [4]
  • Reduced severity/ risk of injury by strengthening connective tissue and joints and increasing bone density [5]
  • Reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure - a 2023 meta-analysis revealed that just eight weeks of resistance training 2-3 times per week improved blood pressure results in hypertensive adults. [6]

Increasing muscle mass has a wealth of astonishing benefits - fat loss is just one of them.
To learn more about how to build muscle as you age, click here.

  1. Hall, K.D. & Kahan, Scott. (2019. Maintenance of lost weight and long-term management of obesity. Med Clin North Am, 102(1): 183-197.
  2. Saad, R.K., Ghezzawi, M., Horanieh, R., Khamis, A.M., Saunders, K.H., et al. (2022). Abdominal visceral adipose tissue and all-cause mortality: a systematic review. Front. Endocrinol, 13.
  3. Lee, H.J., Chang, J.S., Ahn, J.H., Kim, M.K., Park, K.S., et al. (2021). Association between low muscle mass and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease diagnosed using ultrasonography, magnetic resonance imaging derived proton density fat fraction, and comprehensive NAFLD score in Korea. J Prev Med Public Health, 54(6): 412-421.
  4. Westcott, W.L. (2015). Build muscle, improve health benefits associated with resistance training. ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal, 19(4):22-27.
  5. Hoffman, J. (2017). Resistance training and injury prevention. American College of Sports Medicine.
  6. Ribeiro Correia, R., Santos Crus Veras, A., Rodrigues Tebar, W., Costa Rufino, J., Garcia Vatista, B.R., et al. (2023). Strength training for arterial hypertension treatment: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Sci Rep, 13(201):