Research indicates that about 95% of people who begin a fat reduction program will fail to achieve their goals. Why? While there are a multitude of reasons why this occurs, undoubtedly the primary reasons are a lack of motivation and "weight loss" results not meeting personal expectations. This article describes the single most effective and scientifically based way of monitoring the success of your fat reduction program - using Bioelectrical Impedance Assessment to provide a "road map" for your quest.
What is Bioelectrical Impedance (BIA)?
BIA is an assessment that allows a very accurate determination of the two components of body composition: adipose/body fat tissue and lean tissue (muscle and bone) while simultaneously reducing the variation that can occur when using repeated skinfold measurement. BIA is comparable to the "Gold Standard" of body composition determination - underwater weighing. (BIA is less invasive than skin fold measurements as the test can be performed fully clothed).
The BIA test itself involves using a BIA machine that passes a tiny, imperceptible electrical charge between an electrode on your hand and an electrode on your foot. The BIA unit measures the resistance (impedance) of the electrical charge, and from this information accurately determines percent body fat and the percent lean tissue.
Basically the principle of its operation is this: muscle which is high in water content conducts electricity well and offers a lower resistance in comparison to adipose tissue which contains minimal water and offers a high resistance. Therefore, if the impedance reading is low, the percent body fat is low and vice versa.
Why does BIA help with motivation and adherence to a weight-loss program?
In another article on our website we explained the complications of using changes in body weight to judge the success of a fat reduction campaign. We mentioned that monitoring body composition is essential since "weight loss" is a relative term and fluctuations in body fluid and lean muscle tissue complicate scale readings. For example, if you include resistance training in your fat-loss campaign and you rely on the scale reading, you may get discouraged when you put on weight since muscle, which is high in water content "weighs more than fat".
BIA is a great way of providing a plan or a map for tracking your progress and staying motivated since you are able to monitor both components of body weight - adipose tissue and lean (muscle and bone) tissue independently. BIA provides you concrete evidence of slight changes in lean muscle tissue and fat percentage - even when body dimensions and body weight may not give an indication. This is important because an increase in lean tissue percentage (from resistance training, for example) automatically decreases body fat percentage and vice versa.
What other benefits does BIA offer to help me stay motivated?
In addition to being able to measure fat and lean tissue, BIA is also able to provide ideal body fat and lean tissue ranges based on your actual test results - not from height/weight tables and other normative data. This makes your fat loss goal more personal and scientifically realistic - boosting motivation.
Most BIA units will also provide your Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR. BMR is the minimum amount of energy (calorie) required by the body to sustain essential life functions such as heartbeat and breathing. BMR is directly proportional to lean muscle tissue content, since muscle consumes energy and produces body heat. For example, even at rest, a bodybuilder will have a higher metabolism and consume more energy than an unconditioned sedentary individual.
In addition, some BIA units can even calculate an Estimated Average Requirement or EAR- the number of calories (energy) you require in a day to maintain your present weight based on your BMR and your reported daily physical activity level.
The EAR is probably the most useful piece of information a person on a fat loss plan can use, as it gives a scientifically determined calorie target based on their personal lifestyle to work from - again providing direction and added motivation to "stick it out" and lose fat mass and not just "weight".
From the EAR you can calculate the number of calories a day to cut out using diet and exercise. For example, if your goal is to lose 2 lb of fat a week, then you will need to cut about 1 000 calories from your EAR [(3 500 cal/lb fat divided by 7 days/week) x 2].
Lastly, a BIA will also provide information on your hydration status. Hydration during fat reduction plans is essential as the products of low caloric diets like ketones and urea must be eliminated via the urine - increasing the risk of dehydration and slanting "weight loss" results.
Where can I get a BIA and what are some tips to getting a good test?
Most reputable weight loss centers, personal trainers or exercise physiologists can provide this assessment. Be careful though not to place a high reliability on hand-held BIA units ("body fat tester") or a BIA scales you stand on. These units have electrodes in contact only with the hands or feet and measure impedance mostly of either the upper or lower body respectively.
Aim for a BIA that uses separate electrodes that attach to the hands and feet, as this will provide a more accurate reading since impedance is measured in the full dimensions of the body simultaneously. Also, make sure the tester is experienced, that he/she uses new electrodes and prepares the skin for electrode placement.
In conclusion, it is essential that to stay motivated and adhere to your fat loss program you need some sort of guide to help you along the way. Without a fat loss "road map" you will soon find yourself lost - lacking direction and motivation. Take the time and effort to get a BIA assessment and use it monitor your progress, and you will be less likely to be one of the 95% that fail in their fat loss quest and will be rewarded with a leaner, more attractive and healthier body.