The Complete Skinny on Body Composition: All the Fat-Burning Questions

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A person’s body is a mosaic of various biological structures, including bone, muscle, organs, water and, of course, fat. Every item within the body is compiled to provide a measurement of a person’s weight. Basically:

Total Body Weight = Fat Free Mass + Fat Mass

Fat free mass is everything within the body that is not fat.

When you receive a reading of your body composition, you will be given your percent fat mass and your percent fat free mass. The higher a person’s fat mass, the more at risk they are for many diseases (see below). The higher a person’s fat free mass, the more efficient the body will function and the more health benefits the person will be experiencing. Therefore, through exercise, an individual should try and increase their fat free mass, such as muscles and bone.

The body’s many systems will function at their most optimum with a higher amount of fat free mass. People with higher percents of fat free mass have faster metabolisms and have a decreased risk of developing many diseases (see below). The higher percent of fat mass in a person’s body, the harder the body has to work in order to function properly.

Two important components to changing body composition:


Specifically a mix between endurance and resistance training. Endurance exercise gets the heart pumping and will help the body break down fat in order to use it for fuel. Resistance training builds muscle and helps strengthen bone.

  1. DIET!

The saying “you are what you eat” isn’t too far off. Basically, whatever you put into your body is what your body is going to use to fuel and build itself. If you only feed your body foods high in fat and low in nutrients, you might as well be using a glue stick to build a skyscraper. Foods high in nutrients will provide your body with the best tools in order to repair and develop its systems.

Every human body does require some fat for health. There are types of fat: essential fat and stored fat. Essential fat is required for normal functioning and plays a role in the cushioning and protection of organs as well as storage of fat-soluble vitamins. This type of fat is found mostly within organs and bone. Stored fat is found beneath the skin and works to insulate the body and hold nutritional reserves. Both types of fat, when stored in moderation, are beneficial to health. However, if in excess, the fat will literally get in the way of bodily functions, specifically if located in the abdominal region surrounding the organs.

Imagine you’re driving a car down a nice smooth road. You don’t have to press super hard on the pedals to make the car go. Now, picture driving a car down a road of wet, slimy mud. You must press that much harder to make the car go, resulting in your car wasting gas and becoming overworked and worsening its condition. The car in this scenario represents your body’s vital nutrients travelling through your body. With a low, healthy percent body fat, the nutrients can travel smoothly and easily around your body, meaning you have much more energy to use in other areas. The muddy scenario represents what happens to nutrient circulation in a body with a high percent fat. Fat can act both as an obstruction to pathways and can apply pressure to organs and vessels, meaning the nutrients not only have fewer pathways to travel by but also less room to do so. This results in your circulatory system having to work that much harder to nourish your body.  

Having your body composition assessed by the BodPod will be able to tell you if your body fat is within the healthy range or if it is too low or too high for optimal health. The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) provides guidelines for North Americans on recommended body fat percentages based on gender, age and activity level. Ask your assessor where you fall on the scale!

Unfortunately, Body Mass Index (BMI) does not give a measure of body composition and is fairly unreliable. For instance, some very elite athletes who have a very low percent body fat but a large percent of muscle will get a BMI reading in the obese class. Also, there is unfortunately something called “Skinny Fat.” Having a low number on the scale can still mean a high percent body fat and low percent fat-free mass. Therefore, skinny does not equal healthy. In fact, research has shown that someone who is slightly overweight but exercises regularly is in better health compared to someone who is thin but inactive.

The first thing we should assume when we lose weight is that we only want to lose fat and we want to maintain or increase our bone and muscle mass. Each pound of fat is worth 3500 calories. It is recommended that for permanent weight loss, individuals do not exceed losing 1-2 pounds per week.

So, for instance, if we want to lose 1 pound of fat per week, we must have a deficit of 3500 calories per week. This translates to a 500 calorie deficit per day. Most exercise professionals encourage a weight loss program involving both exercise and diet changes, therefore, if you exercise for 250 calories and cut out 250 calories from your diet each day of the week, you should lose a pound of fat per week. For two pounds a week, just double the values.

If you put your body into severe caloric restriction, your body will think it is starving and go into ‘lock down’ mode. Your body will do everything it can to preserve energy, including decrease your metabolic rate, will shut down non-essential physiological processes and will make you more lethargic so you won’t want to move as much. Also, since fat has more calories than muscle and bone, your body will naturally start breaking down components of fat free mass in case it needs the fat preserves later on. Therefore, you most likely won’t lose weight, but if you do, it will be from muscle and bone loss NOT fat!


  • Exercise regularly!

    • The Canadian recommendations for adults are 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous physical activity a week in bouts of 10 minutes or more. Ask your assessor for some ideas!

  • Follow Canada’s Food Guide!

    • With your body changing and improving, it needs nutritious fuel sources!

    • Try to “Eat your Rainbow” by eating foods of different colours (and different nutrients) every day

  • Reduce total fat intake! 

  • Eat more fruits and veggies! 

  • Drink lots of water!

    • Refreshing, internally cleansing AND calorie-free!

  • Set realistic weight loss goals (see above)!


  • Try any quick fixes or magic pills! 

    • They are hope in a bottle, but not a permanent or healthy weight loss solution.  

  • Go on a severely low-calorie diet (see above)! 

  • Replace your food with a meal-in-a-can! 

    • They are not a realistic, lasting option for your life post-weight loss.