What does the number on the weight scale really mean? In regard to overall health, weight is not nearly as important as the composition of that weight. More important, rather than tracking weight, we should be aware of our body composition. Stepping on a weight scale simply tells us the combined weight of all our body’s tissues. That weight may fluctuate throughout the day depending on the time of day, hydration status or what we are wearing. In contrast, body composition reveals the relative proportions of fat and lean mass in the body. Fat mass consist of two types of fat: essential and nonessential fat. The second component of body composition, lean mass, refers to bones, tissues, organs and muscle.

Essential fat is the minimal amount of fat necessary for normal physiological function. For males and females, essential fat values are typically considered to be 3% and 12%, respectively. Fat above the minimal amount is referred to as nonessential fat. It is generally accepted that a range of 10-22 percent for men and 20-32 percent for women is considered satisfactory for good health.

A body composition within the recommended range suggests you have less risk of developing obesity-related diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and even some cancers. In addition, although we face risks when our body composition is too high, we face another set of risks when our body composition is too low. When we drop below the minimal recommended levels of essential fat, we negatively affect the delivery of vitamins to the organs, the ability of the reproductive system to function, and overall well-being.