Are you planning to lose weight this year? Do you have a number on the scale you want to get to, or a number of pounds you want to lose? If you are like most of us, you do! Here is something to ponder on as you step on the treadmill, prepare a healthy salad, or think about a plan for getting to that number.
The single most important measurement for dieters is the number on the scale – their weight. For a lot of public health professionals, the body mass index (BMI) is used for measuring obesity levels.
Weighing ourselves is easy. We get on the scale and read the number. Calculating your BMI is simple as well. If you are like me who does not have a math brain, I simply google the number and formula, or I look up a BMI chart to quickly tell me what my BMI is. A BMI of 18-25 is normal; 25 to 30 is overweight; 30 and up is considered obese.
The drawback of weighing on a scale and BMI is they do not take into account body shape. Some people have big frames. Some have a stocky build. These body types end up being considered “obese” more than others, even though they are no less healthy. Athletes and muscular people may also be heavier because muscle weighs more than fat. I have commented over the years that a professional body builder on a BMI scale can be considered overweight.
A better number to consider knowing is your abdominal or waist measurement especially as it pertains to potential health risks. Yes, I am talking about your belly fat. In science they call it the visceral fat (visceral fat is body fat that is stored within the abdominal cavity). Visceral fat is found wrapped around internal organs such as the liver and intestines, which increases the risk for health problems including type 2 diabetes. Every one of us has a bit of visceral fat, but when our bellies start protruding over our pants we know it’s too much.
According to a 2014 report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, they found an alarming increase in waistlines of Americans. In just 12 years, the average waist size in the US grew from 36 inches to 38 inches for women and from 39 inches to 40 inches for men. During that same time frame, the BMI levels barely inched up.
So how can you apply this? First, some of you may not need to lose as much weight as you previously thought, especially if you were relying on BMI numbers or ideal body weight charts! I know since I like to strength train, looking at “ideal numbers” on a chart can be off since it doesn’t take into account muscle mass.
Second, get a tape measure and start tracking your waist circumference. You can ask one of us to help you measure or do it at home. Here is how to do it:
Place a tape measure around your bare abdomen just above the hipbone, or some like to use their belly button as a guide.
Be sure that the tape is snug, but does not compress your skin, and is parallel to the floor.
Relax, exhale and measure your waist. (Holding your breath and sucking in does not count!). A waist size over 35 inches in women and over 40 inches in men greatly increases the risk of chronic disease. Women should aim for a waist size below 32 inches and 35 inches for men. Another way to think is ideally keep your waist measurement less than half your height. (Example: a 6 foot man is 72 inches tall so he should to keep his waist less than 36 inches).
I think we have a common misconception that belly fat can be “burned off” through ab crunches and core exercises. While I still think these are good to do, they won’t necessarily make the fat underneath the muscle layer disappear. Dietary changes are more effective to helping us reduce than exercise alone. And the best combination is to do both!
Here are some recommendations to focus on.
- Slowly focus on lifestyle changes
- A deliberate weight reduction you can sustain for years
- More home cooked meals (keep them simple!)
- Smaller portions
- Work on eliminating soft drinks and fruit juices and drink more water
- Eat more lean protein and less processed carbs
- Enjoy healthy fats
- Lots and lots of leafy greens!
- Fiber rich foods like whole grains and legumes (beans)
- Less alcohol
- Get quality sleep
- And yes exercise!
For me personally this year I am trying to focus less on the scale and pay attention to other health parameters. I am not saying the scale is bad, but I know I have placed too much emphasis on what the scale says. Being aware of my waist measurement is a simple tool to help me make changes that will benefit my health and the way my clothes fit.
To living a healthy life and loving,
Beth Dean CPT, CES, pn1