With two-thirds of Americans either overweight or obese, it has become "normal" to have excess body fat, but this "overfat" condition poses serious health risks. Moreover, the location of this excess body fat -- above the belt or below it -- impacts our susceptibility to a variety of health problems. If the excess body fat is in the abdomen, then slimming down may help to decrease risk.
While many people who are overweight have excess body fat, being overweight is not exactly the same as being overfat. Body weight includes the weight of the lean tissues -- muscle, internal organs, bone, and the water they contain -- in addition to body fat. Muscle is heavy. Therefore, it's possible that a muscular person might be overweight without being overfat. Despite this important distinction, the vast majority of people who are overweight are indeed overfat.
Sometimes we may be heavier than usual because of water retention. Women are particularly sensitive to this "bloating" just before their menstrual periods, though both men and women may experience this sensation after they eat a particularly salty meal. And it doesn't take much water to add weight to the body: Two cups of water weigh slightly more than one pound.
Weight gain from water retention is easy to recognize because, unlike weight gain from muscle or fat, it can appear almost overnight. It can also disappear just as quickly. But you need not be concerned about water retention unless it is excessive. For example, weight gain from water of more than ten pounds usually reflects edema, which is a serious condition requiring immediate medical attention.
Muscle is heavy; it contains water in addition to muscle cells. After you begin an exercise program, you may find that you actually weigh a bit more than you used to. Muscles, especially the large ones in the legs, can increase in size with regular exercise, possibly adding a few pounds or more to your weight. But muscle takes up less space than fat, pound for pound, so you appear thinner even though you weigh more. More importantly, despite this extra weight, you are also likely to be healthier.
Because of this, your Body Mass Index is a more telling sign of overall health than your weight is. Learn about BMI on the next page.
For more information about losing weight, see:
- Choosing a Diet Program: To choose a diet program, you'll want to find one that's healthy and that fits your lifestyle. Learn what to ask to find the one for you.
- Benefits of Exercise: Regular physical activity can help you with everything from keeping weight off to preventing heart disease. Find out how to improve and extend your life through exercise.