Do you know what percentage of your weight is fat, muscle, bone, or water?

It’s called body composition, and it’s something we pay very close attention to in The Center for Medical Weight Loss program. In fact, it’s one of the first things we determine when someone starts the program, and it’s something we track closely every step of the way. Why? Weight loss is about a lot more than the numbers on the scale. By taking a bigger picture approach we can help make sure it’s fat that people are losing, not water weight or muscle.

With many diet programs, especially ones where the weight comes off quickly but comes back on just as fast, what’s really being lost is water weight and muscle. Muscle loss is especially bad because muscle tissue takes five to 10 times the amount of energy to maintain as fat does. Or, in other words, the more muscle you have, the more calories your metabolism burns every minute of the day whether you’re exercising, sleeping, or even reading a book.

In reverse, if one loses muscle and water when dieting, their body fat percentage is actually increasing, and since fat takes less energy (a.k.a. calories) to support than muscle, the result is a slower and slower metabolism with each dieting cycle. Think of it as losing all the wrong kind of weight.

For many of my patients, understanding the role body composition plays in weight loss helps them to break free from the yo-yo diet cycle for good. For example, one woman who came to me had gained a lot of weight after menopause. Despite trying several programs where she lost the weight, she had been unable to keep it off. When she understood that she actually needed to focus on losing fat while preserving muscle, she started to look at everything differently. It wasn’t just about what she was eating anymore, it was suddenly about diet and exercise. Once she added daily movement to her routine, she found the weight not only came off, but it stayed off. She finally understood how important it is to be physically active to prevent long-term fat accumulation.

Preserving muscle tissue as you age is especially important for weight management because it becomes more and more difficult to build muscle tissue past the age of 30 years old. Since it is so difficult, and sometimes impossible, to increase muscle tissue after that, it’s even more critical to make sure your weight loss program isn’t reducing the muscle mass you have.

Another reason to pay attention to both the weight loss and where it’s coming from is that with any program that cuts calories, the body’s natural response to dieting is to react as if there is a famine slowing down metabolism and doing all it can to hang onto fat stores. While this may have served our ancient ancestors who didn’t have access to our steady and plentiful food supply, it works against us in our modern struggles with weight.

We’re always tracking where the weight loss is coming from in The Center for Medical Weight Loss program. Our number one goal is always to reduce overall body fat, not just pounds. That’s why we monitor body composition so closely, and all of our programs are formulated to promote fat loss, not muscle loss. Over the long term, losing fat while preserving muscle is the key to breaking the yo-yo dieting cycle and keeping the weight off for good.

So remember, it’s not just how much you lose, it’s also where that loss comes from that matters.