Thursday 23 November 2017

Shape up: The right way to lose fat before party season

Library Image. Photo: Getty Images
Library Image. Photo: Getty Images

Damien Maher

Stress levels are starting to rise as the countdown to wearing the sexy little black number has begun. The problem for some is that they may not feel too sexy if the dress exposes a few extra curves and bumps in all the wrong places.

It is this kind of anxiety that will send people scurrying off looking for rapid weight-loss or fat-loss programmes in the countdown to Christmas.

How you measure your success is crucial. Results cannot only be measured by weight, as numbers on a weighing scale will not guarantee a toned body. Nor will it differentiate whether the weight lost is muscle or fat.

Your chances of success will improve if you look at fat loss instead of weight loss and learn from the feedback you receive. Management consultant and business author Ken Blanchard says "feedback is the breakfast of champions". Just as you review and manage a company's accounts and sales weekly, you should analyse your body in the same way.

Set a goal with a time line, devise your action plan and take steps each day to move nearer to your goal. The next important step is to review your progress to see if you are on target to accomplishing your goal.

If we don't measure and manage progress, you won't receive the feedback you need to tweak your plan if necessary.

How we assess the body's composition has been a topic of debate for many years but more information was obtained when Elsie Widdowson analysed human cadavers during the 1950s and 1960s.


It's worth measuring body composition -- the proportion of fat and lean tissue -- for a number of reasons. Having high levels of body fat can influence our self image. Also, those with seemingly healthy weights can actually have very little lean tissue. Body-fat percentage is also useful to know because obesity is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, some forms of cancer and Type 2 diabetes.

Widdowson found that the body of an adult man could contain 60pc water, 17pc protein, 17pc fat and the remaining six per cent was a mixture of sodium, potassium, calcium magnesium and phosphates. In females the water content was as high as 70pc.

This means the key to weight loss would seem to be to dehydrate yourself or eat foods that act as diuretics since this can influence the number on a weighing scale.

Boxers, bodybuilders, jockeys and even participants in Weight Watchers eating sodium-rich crisps before a weigh-in know that they can influence their weight by using these methods. But is it effective in the long term? Of course not, as there is a rebound increase in weight when they rehydrate themselves again.

BMI (Body Mass Index), used in medical practices, also has limitations as it measures height versus your weight, which would place an Irish rugby international in the obese category -- where he clearly doesn't belong. A BMI of 30 or over is an indication of health risk.

The solution is to measure the percentage of fat on your body but this method also has limitations. It is best done with callipers and not body-fat scales. Scales use a bio-electric analysis, which is based on the fact that muscle has high water content, and conducts electricity better than fat.

Also, a body fat scale only measures your lower body.

Because bio-electric analysis is based on water balance, your hydration levels can impact the level of accuracy. This means that anything that affects water balance -- caffeine, alcohol, diuretics or exercise -- can influence your results. If you measure yourself in the morning and then in the evening when you are retaining more water you will get different results.

There are other methods for measurement of body composition, such as the DEXA scans, CAT scans, hydrostatic weighing, but they are too expensive or impractical to take on a weekly basis.

The method that we use is a calibrated calliper on 12 sites of the body. The callipers are gold standard metal and body fat is taken by the same trainer, at the same day and time each week, to minimise the influence of water content.

It is performed using accurate bony landmarks or protrusions of the body to consistently measure the same spot.

The 12 sites also give more information about the subcutaneous fat deposits on different parts of the body and how different nutrition and training can influence the body's fat composition.

The accuracy will only be as good as the tester's experience and technique. It takes up to 1,000 hours to be proficient at taking body fat using callipers and we have collected data for the past seven years from our clients.


We take 12 points of measurements because, just like a tailor, we can look at your individual fat deposits to individualise a training and nutrition programme that fits you.

In big box gyms you will be lucky to be measured using plastic callipers. These use charts to interpret results and are based on the fact that, statistically speaking, body fat increases with age in non-athletic populations.

Plastic calipers are also used by people in the comfort of their homes but the likelihood of error is high, as the wrong angle and poor palpation skills will probably result in an incorrect reading.

The standards of body fat, according to the International NICE guidelines, is 10-18pc as normal for males, 18-25pc is overweight, 25-30pc obese and 30pc plus is morbidly obese. Female standards are, normal: 10-22pc, overweight: 22-25pc, obese: 25-30pc, while 30pc plus is morbidly obese.

Regardless of where you are now, your goal should be to get leaner and an ideal body fat is a level that is lower than what you were last week. A realistic goal for females is to lose is 0.6pc body fat per week week.

Irish Independent

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