Before you get the wrong impression, I want to emphasize that diet is the main component in making fat loss possible. Despite all the lies you've been told and results you've been promised being built around needing to exercise more to "burn off" fat, the key to fat loss is eating right in the first place. That being said, the amount of muscle mass on your body plays a major role in determining your body composition...and your sanity. Allow me to explain.
By increasing the amount of muscle on your body, you are creating a situation where your body has to expend more energy to survive. Now, we are not talking about bulking up like Arnold here, but rather increasing muscle density by packing more muscle cells into the same area. By doing this, you are essentially upgrading your body to a sleeker, more powerful model. More muscle cells means more work for your body to maintain them...which requires more energy.
What does that mean? Your body will churn though more calories just to carry out the basic functions of daily living. Where your body used to require X amount of calories to survive, with a little extra muscle density, you now require X plus calories to survive. In other words, your metabolic rate increases and your body burns through more calories even if you just sit on the couch and watch TV all day. It's like revving your internal engine and shifting it into the next gear permanently.
Translation - you get to eat more food without worrying about packing on the pounds. Treat meals have less consequences. You can enjoy life without obsessing over every morsel of food you put in your mouth. You can stop restricting your intake to the point of never feeling satisfied at the end of every meal.
I don't know about you, but I love food. Like, really love food. I used to torture myself and deprive my body of nourishment in an effort to stay thin, rationing out my daily calorie allotment and never allowing myself to go over my limit for fear of blowing up like a blimp and sacrificing my ballet line. My diet was so painfully restrictive that I would turn down countless opportunities to socialize and eat with friends because they would exceed my calorie budget for the day. Sitting down to eat wasn't a sensual taste experience but rather a never-ending math equation, with the number of calories I was consuming in each bite cycling obsessively through my head. Needless to say, I wasn't a very fun person back then.
When I changed my training method and started lifting weights, I was able to finally put an end to this mentally and physically destructive lifestyle. The beauty about strength training is that it has the unparalleled potential to increase the amount of muscle on your body. Instead of the only control mechanism over the shape of your body being constantly restricting food intake, this gives you a way to actually alter the physical structure of your body and consequently how it is affected by food. Not only is this method of control more positive, but it's more powerful. This means a hypothetical person (*cough, cough..me) who used to have to monitor and restrict every morsel of food she put in her mouth in an effort to stay lean, can now eat multiple times that amount and still maintain the lean, dancer body she needs to stay on top of her career. Not only does this affect your dancing, but it also leads to a more pleasurable, fulfilling, less anxiety-ridden life...which to me, is priceless.
To break all this down into simple terms:
More Muscle = More Food
I don't see anything wrong with that equation, do you?
Photo credit (black & white at top and middle): Estilo Antunes Photography