You may think you know when you look in the mirror, or you may be too busy trying to cover up unshapely areas to really see yourself as you are. Do you know how much fat you’re carrying, compared to how much muscle? Do you know where you tend to gain weight–upper body, lower body or around the middle? Until you know the answers to these questions, you are not ready to make your personal plan for losing weight and keeping it off. Understanding your body is the first step to reaching your best personal shape. As someone who teaches both doctors and the public about obesity, I believe weight loss has been overemphasized and body shape underemphasized. You have probably read about the Body-Mass Index (BMI), which is a weight-to-height ratio. If your BMI is greater than 25, you are considered overweight, and if it is greater than 30 you are obese. This ratio has been a powerful way for scientists to document the obesity epidemic in this country and its effects on health and disease. However, when it comes to you as an individual, it can be misleading. A football player can be considered overweight on the BMI scale, but if the extra weight being carried is muscle, he is not really fat. A thin woman can have a normal BMI, yet still be over-fat. So shape counts.
Shapes are personal and go beyond the usual apple and pear. Women can have three typical body shapes–upper body fat, lower body fat and both upper and lower body fat. Men usually only get upper body fat. The upper body stores fat in times of stress and some people can lose and gain weight rapidly in the upper body. The lower body fat in women responds to female hormones such as estrogen and progesterone and stores fat for breastfeeding a newborn baby. Women who have both upper and lower body fat will lose their upper body fat first. Women with more upper body fat tend to have more muscle than women with lower body fat and will need more protein in their diet to help control their hunger. Losing weight is harder if you have lower body fat rather than upper body fat, but the medical benefits of losing your upper body fat are greater. Losing weight around your neck, face, chest and waist usually goes along with losing fat on the inside as well. So as you look better, you are also improving your health tremendously.
Finally, there are two more body shapes to consider: The shape you can change and the shape you can’t change. It is important to know the difference and work on the shape you can change, while adjusting your wardrobe and attitudes to the shape you cannot change. Due to low metabolism, many women with lower body fat can’t lose weight just by cutting calories. These lower body-fat cells are resistant to both exercise and diet. Only a personalized program can help make sure you get enough protein to control cravings and build or maintain lean muscle.