Have you ever wondered how “fat” you really are?

body comp

These past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to get everything ready for my tenure as the CSA Fitness Center’s new resident dietitian.  In addition to finalizing my marketing materials (I’m really excited about my posters & business cards!), updating my assessment forms and getting my office ready, one thing I’ve been doing is familiarizing myself with a tool I plan to use pretty regularly during my appointments – the Tanita body composition analysis machine.

This is pretty cool because I happen to fancy myself a bit of an expert when it comes to body composition analysis.  In my former life as the coordinator of the Human Nutrition Research Unit at the University of Alberta in Canada I provided researchers access to a wide range of equipment (DXA, BOD POD, PEA POD, BIA and skinfold calipers) that allowed them to measure and track their study participant’s body composition.

And before we get too far into this discussion, for all intents when people refer to body composition, they are referring to an individual’s percent body fat.  Of course, depending on the method used to measure it, you can determine other things too, but body fat is usually what clinicians are looking at when they say body composition.  The generally accepted healthy levels of fat are around 10-20% for men and 20-30% for women.

There are lots of reasons why knowing someone’s percent body fat is useful.  The most important is that percent body fat is a much better indicator of overall health than body weight or BMI (as I’ve previously discussed here).  It’s entirely possible for individuals of similar weights to have widely different levels of body fat and if we didn’t actually measure it, we’d have no way of knowing this.

Another circumstance where I find it particularly useful is the scenario when you have someone who has undergone significant lifestyle changes (ie. increased activity and/or eating healthier), but there has been minimal impact on their body weight.  This can be very discouraging for the person involved.  Measuring their body composition can show them that despite the lack of weight loss, they’ve almost certainly experienced a substantial shift in their body composition, which can help get them back on track again.

Now as you may have guessed, all of the methods used to determine someone’s percent body fat are indirect measurements and thus approximations.  After all it’s not like we can physically separate and weigh all the fat in someone’s body – at least not while they’re alive!  Some of these measurements are better than others (DXA is usually considered the best), but depending on the situation they all can be useful.

The Tanita machine we have at CSA uses what is called BIA or Bioelectrical Impedence Analysis to measure someone’s body composition.  You’ll often find these sorts of machines in gyms or fitness facilities.  They’re nice because they’re portable, easy to operate, quick and require a relatively low burden on the patient/client (all you have to do is stand, barefoot, on what looks like a scale).

The way BIA works is by sending a small electrical charge through the participant when they stand on the scale.  As that current flows through the individual it will be impeded a certain amount.  The more body fat an individual has the greater the current will be impeded.

The major limitation of BIA is that it is very dependent on someone’s hydration status, as water is the primary conduit for the electrical current to flow through.  Because fluid levels can vary quite a bit over the course of the day it’s really important for clients to have subsequent tests done at the same time of day as their first test.  Prior to testing it’s also necessary for them to refrain from engaging in exercise or drinking alcohol for at least 12 hours and not to eat for 3 hours.  Testing should also be avoided if women are menstruating.  But if these conditions are met, BIA can give reasonably accurate and reliable results.

The thing that’s nice about the particular Tanita model we have at CSA is that it provides lots of other useful information for the client, including BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate – the number of daily calories required for basal functions like breathing, heart beating, etc), a Visceral Fat rating (Visceral Fat is the type of fat found on your organs and is more likely to cause disease than the fat found under your skin (subcutaneous fat)) and your Metabolic Age (which is kind of a fun measure that approximates how your metabolism compares to that of the average person at that age).

I must admit, I’m really happy to be teaming up with the CSA Fitness Center because I think being able to add body composition analysis to my regular counselling sessions will be a nice bonus for my clients.

If you’re in Cairo and you want to meet to discuss your nutrition goals (and have your body composition measured!), don’t hesitate to get in touch – +20 109 822 1661 or just stop by the CSA Fitness Center’s front desk.  Hope to see you soon 🙂

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