Everyone admires the supermodel who “never works out” and “eats everything” yet still manages to look fabulous. Some of us even strive for her looks by following a diet of lattes and lettuce. What’s surprising is that this beautiful, slim woman may actually have high body fat and the foundation for chronic disease.

Don’t get caught up in appearances. There is a difference between being thin and being healthy, and it lies in body composition.

Maintain Lean Muscle

The ideal body composition–the ratio of lean muscle to fatty tissue in our bodies–is low in fat and high in lean muscle. We become unhealthy when our percentage of body fat is too high because of excess fat and because of muscle loss.

Muscle naturally declines with age unless we maintain it. Loss of muscle is linked to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, and high blood pressure.

Unsafe Dieting Causes Muscle Loss

Beyond normal aging, unsafe dieting that involves excessive caloric restriction (below 1,000 to 1,200 calories per day) can cause loss of muscle as well as fat. Compounding insufficient calories with loads of cardiovascular exercise promotes muscle loss and possibly a drop in metabolic rate. Knowing this, it is crucial to avoid harmful diet programs that result in loss of muscle.

Muscle is more dense than fat, an important fact to consider when stepping on the scale. If your weight loss plan includes weight-lifting or resistance training (as it should), your best incentive is to judge your progress by the fit and feel of your clothes rather than your weight.
Realize it’s not weight but your body composition that is important in assessing health. It’s like the old adage–it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Tips to Improve Body Composition

  1. Incorporate cardiovascular exercise with weight training. Try weight training followed by a shorter cardio session. This offers the benefit of maximum strength for lifting and continued fat burning during the cardio.
  2. Eat protein with every meal, eat every three hours, and skip the sugar. Protein is the building block of muscle and it is essential for tissue repair.
    Complete your meals with low-glycemic (low-sugar) carbohydrates and always eat within 45 minutes after exercise.
  3. Take conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) to increase loss of fat, especially abdominal, while maintaining muscle mass. You will need to consume it for at least three months before you see any effects. Take 1,500 mg twice daily.
  4. Consider 7-Keto dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA. This hormonal steroid prevents metabolic decline that occurs naturally with caloric reduction or dieting. Take 100 mg twice daily.
  5. Manage stress to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can increase abdominal fat and muscle breakdown. Proprietary blends of the herbal extracts Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense (Amur corktree) help to balance cortisol. A typical dose is 500 to 750 mg per day, best taken before bed and on rising.
  6. Phosphatidylserine (PS) is also useful to protect the brain and muscles from the
    negative effects of stress. Take 100 mg before bed to improve sleep and reduce stress.

About the Author

Natasha Turner, ND, practises in Toronto with Tammy Hermant, MD. Natasha specializes in hormonal issues, weight loss, preventive health, and digestive complaints. www.truestarhealth.com.