It’s Not All About Weight…
If you’re like 99.9% of those with health and fitness goals, you’ve stepped on the scale to determine a benchmark or to track your progress. The problem is that weight is not the only indicator of health. Nor is it the best indicator.
We gravitate to the scale to set goals and monitor progress mainly because body weight is easy to measure and most societal norms are based on how much we weigh. It’s easy to mistakingly believe that weigh loss is the gold standard in measuring progress. The truth is your weight can vary significantly throughout the day and is affected by many factors, including your level of hydration. And because muscle weighs more than fat, we are led to believe the lighter of two similiarly-sized individuals is healthier, when in fact, the opposite may be true.
There are several more useful measurements that can give us an idea of the internal makeup, or composition of our bodies. Body Mass Index, or BMI, is a body composition measurement calculated from height and weight. Classifications are then determined from the numerical BMI value (normal, 20-25; overweight, 25-30; and obese being greater than 30). Although BMI is a better indicator of body composition than absolute weight, it too has a flaw. BMI can classify those with high muscle mass as overweight or obese.
Body fat percentage provides a better estimate of body composition than BMI. There are several methods for measuring body fat, and some techniques are more accurate than others. A caliper is an instrument used to pinch several areas of the body to determine an overall fat percentage. This method lacks accuracy largely because it is dependent upon the skill of the individual performing the test and it can be somewhat subjective.
Biometric impedance sends harmless electrical signals throughout the body and measures the current as electricity flows differently through fat, water, and muscle tissue in the body. Handheld devices and some bathroom scales have this capability. Water immersion can be used to measure displacement and is somewhat accurate but inconvenient for most. Special x-ray machines are very accurate but these tests can be expensive. Surprisingly, a good old-fashioned tape measure used to determine size around the waist, hips, abs, and neck is an accurate and inexpensive technique used by many, including the U.S. military.
Another useful measurement is waist-to-hip ratio. This number shows relative fat distribution in the trunk area and is obtained by dividing your waist size by hip size. It is important because abdominal fat (visceral fat) is the most deadly type, and is linked to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
It is important to look beyond weight to get a true picture of your body composition and health. Consider a fitness assessment to aid in understanding your current state of health and to help determine fitness goals.