Should I set a body fat target or a weight target?

Given that in 2017/18, 67% of Australians over the age of 18 were either overweight or obese,1 the desire to lose weight is probably fairly common.

But is losing weight the right target, or should we be focusing on a healthier body composition? Body composition is essentially a measure of the relative ratios of fat, bone, and muscle in your body,2 and it gives us a better indication of how healthy we are and whether we’re at risk of some common chronic diseases (e.g. cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes).2

Although an old and commonly used saying is “muscle weighs more than fat”, it’s not true. A kg of muscle weighs the same as a kg of fat. The difference is how you might look and how it might impact your health.

So, losing weight may not be a good target – what if all the weight you lost came from your muscles?

For example, if you diet heavily, significantly reducing your daily calorie/kilojoule intake, but don’t take steps (literally) to maintain muscle, you will lose lean muscle mass, which has many implications for your health.3

Less muscle means greater weakness and less mobility, both of which may increase your risk of falls and fractures.4

Before you click away because you think we’re going to suggest joining a gym – relax. Building or maintaining muscle can be achieved by using your own bodyweight. Whether it’s squats, steps, pull-ups, or push-ups, they can all be done at home, and they’ll all help.5

Measuring and monitoring body composition

While there are very sophisticated and/or expensive ways to measure body composition (like full body scans or MRIs), there are more affordable and simple ways to do it – a body composition scale.6 Not only are they affordable, but also convenient. You can use them just like scales – jump on once a week and check your progress. Often this progress can be recorded in an app via Bluetooth connectivity.

Body composition scales work by measuring the level of resistance to a small electric signal that is sent from the sensors under your feet and back again. Don’t worry, you can’t feel a thing.7 You can learn more about how they work here.

Home-use body composition monitors can’t tell us where the fat is, they simply give us an estimate of how much there is. But that’s still a useful way to measure your progress.

While looking in the mirror might show you improvements in subcutaneous (just below the skin) fat stores, you can’t see visceral fat, the fat that surrounds your internal organs.

Too much visceral fat is associated with a number of serious conditions including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.7

So, setting a body composition target of more muscle and less fat is a much better target than body weight alone. You’ll not only look better, but you’ll also be helping your overall health.


  1. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/overweight-and-obesity
  2. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/what-is-body-composition
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5421125/
  4. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/preserve-your-muscle-mass
  5. https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-nutrition/no-weight-workout
  6. https://www.livestrong.com/article/399055-how-to-calculate-the-ideal-weight-from-lean-body-mass/
  7. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320929#how-is-visceral-fat-rated



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