If you've already visited The Center for Medical Weight Loss (CMWL), you may have seen or used a body composition scale. If you haven't, you may not know that the CMWL program uses a body composition scale—in addition to a regular scale—to help measure your progress. So what is it, and how does it work? More importantly, how can it help you lose weight?
Both a standard (e.g., bathroom) scale and body composition scale are simply measurement tools. The difference is that a standard scale performs one measurement—your total body weight. A body composition scale breaks down that total body weight into the various elements that make it up.
Your body is composed of three main components: fat, lean body mass (muscle, bone, and organs), and water. The percentages of each vary from person to person, and by gender (men have more muscle; women more fat) and age (in general, as we age we have less muscle mass). Obviously, as you lose weight, you want to lose fat and not lean body mass! A regular scale can't tell you this, but a body composition scale can. Most body composition scales will give you the percentage of fat your body weight is made up of—and this is very helpful as you lose weight.
Here's an example: Let's look at a woman—we'll call her Susan—who began her weight loss journey weighing 220 pounds. Susan has made the following progress:
Week 1: 8 pounds lost
Week 2: 4 pounds lost
Week 3: 1 pound lost
After she sees her progress on Week 3, Susan is a bit down. She doesn't understand why she only lost one pound. She feels good and has been working hard at her weight loss. But let's say her medical weight loss program also used a body composition scale to measure her body fat. Here's what it revealed:
Baseline Body Fat: 70 pounds, 40 percent
Week 1 Body Fat: 67 pounds, 39.5 percent
Week 2 Body Fat: 64 pounds, 39 percent
Week 3 Body Fat: 59 pounds, 37 percent
During Week 3, when Susan's body weight loss slowed, her body fat percentage dropped the greatest amount! This is because Susan started an exercise program on Week 2 and as she was losing weight, she was also able to maintain the muscle she already had, causing her percentage of muscle go up and her percentage of body fat go down. You can also see that on Week 1, when Susan dropped the most weight, her body fat percentage barely budged. This is because early weight loss frequently is water weight, rather than fat. As you can imagine, once Susan learns her body fat percentage change on Week 3, she's feeling much better about her progress!
That's just one way measuring body fat during your weight loss program can help—lower body fat measurements can provide a welcome morale boost when weight loss slows. Perhaps more importantly, these measurements give your medical weight loss provider insight into how well your weight loss plan is working for you. If you're losing weight but your body fat isn't decreasing, this could be a sign that you are losing lean body mass rather than fat mass, which may mean your meal, water intake, or activity plan needs to be adjusted.
The Bottom Line: A standard scale gives only part of the story. Using a body composition scale to measure trends in body fat over time can be a great asset to your weight loss program—and help keep you motivated and successful!