Are you a slave to the scale? Do you check your progress several times daily? Maybe you even have a favorite scale because it has "better" numbers. • "Most people focus only on losing weight, not on the fat," said Cedric Bryant Ph.D., chief exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. "Preserving lean tissue and losing body fat — that's what you need to strive for." • The scale tells us our total weight, which includes internal organs, bones and muscles, fat, water retention and food intake, but it doesn't tell us if we are losing fat or gaining muscle. It may even indicate a lower weight — but you could still be carrying around large amounts of unhealthy body fat. • This is not to imply that we should throw out the scale, but to remind you of the significance of your fat-to-muscle ratio when it comes to body weight, and to break free of the emotional distress when you step on it.
Losing weight is a slow process.
It is normal to go through cycles of gaining and losing water weight throughout the day. And because our bodies are about 60 percent water, changes in our water intake can alter the scale numbers, sometimes increasing as much as 5 pounds, and eventually stabilizing within a 24-hour period through digestion and other body processes.
Weigh yourself once a day, upon waking.
Build muscle, lose fat
Because muscle mass requires calories to be maintained, muscle has often been called our "fat-burning machine."
Without strengthening those muscles as we age, we tend to lose valuable lean muscle and gain more fat.
Indulging in exceptionally low-calorie diets will also cause loss of lean muscle.
Your body begins to pull nutrients from the muscle to compensate for the very low caloric intake — the very thing you don't want to do!
There are many options for body-fat testing.
Perhaps the easiest and most readily available measurement test would be calipers that measure specific sites on the body.
Just make sure the person testing is experienced in measuring body fat.
For an at-home test, you can take tape measurements of chest, waist, hips and thighs, and regularly record your improvements.
Muscle, because it is more compact than fat tissue, takes up less space, making you look trimmer.
It is also more firm than those lumps and bumps, helping to give the body a more sculptured look.
Losing inches is a good indicator of losing fat, regardless of what the scales are telling you.
A healthy combination
Your body needs a balanced combination of cardiovascular and strength-conditioning exercises.
Strength training will help maintain or increase muscle mass and strength, but strength training minus cardio exercise can compromise fat loss.
You also need to have a nutritional balance of vital nutrients to feed those muscles: the right mix of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats.
And eat right — plenty of vegetables, fruit, whole-grain foods and water. And those diets claiming quick weight loss? We know better.
Oh, and ladies …
Many women tend to be hesitant when it comes to strength training for fear of developing too much bulk.
"The vast majority of women do not have the genetic capability to develop large bulky muscles," Bryant said.
"To keep things in perspective, less than 1 percent of women and less than 10 percent of males have the genetic predisposition to naturally develop muscle bulk in response to strength training."
If you are 50 or older and have not been exercising, check with your physician before beginning any exercise program. Trainer Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.