Many people starting a diet or weight loss program start by looking at the scale. But what does a scale really tell you? It tells you your weight, and that is it. It says that no matter how tall you are, no matter how much muscle you have, or how sedentary you are, this is what you weigh. Weight is not the whole story. Many people turn to height/ weight charts, BMI, or body fat percentage to supplement what the scale is telling them. Does it really matter? Let’s find out.
Ideal Height and Weight Charts
Some people turn to charts which list so-called ideal weights for their gender, age, and height. Let’s use this example:
- A 39 year old woman with a medium frame exercises 5- 6 times per week and has an active lifestyle. She has run 5ks and even a triathlon. She is 5 feet, 3 inches tall and has a solid lean body weight of 120 pounds. Her actual weight is 155. She is trim looking, and people guess her weight to be less than it is because she is fit.
According to this chart, follow 5’ 4” to take into account her 1” shoe heel, she is overweight, because weight is not the whole story. A chart like this could lead her to consider herself fat and try to lose weight, but instead of losing any additional fat she may lose muscle. A decrease is muscle results in a decreased metabolism, and can contribute to actually gaining additional fat over time.
BMI, or Body Mass Index, is another commonly used measure of appropriate height weight proportion in the United States. Even children are measured on this scale, a simplistic ratio of height to weight. However, BMI is again not a good measure for many people. The same woman mentioned above would have a BMI of 27.5.
Again this puts her at overweight. (Read our BMI RANT blog.) Unfortunately, BMI is what they calculate today at doctors’ offices and insurance companies use to determine the health of individuals. It can affect insurance rates. Despite low cholesterol, high endurance, and excellent strength, in this case this woman would be considered at risk.#BMI and height/weight charts do not consider important factors! Click To Tweet
Body Fat Percentage
The best measure of health is knowing your body fat percentage. For the sake of showing this, remember that our case study woman has a known lean weight of 120 pounds. Lean weight is your body without the fat. This gives her a body fat percentage of (155-120) / 150 = 22.6%. Right at the low end of the healthy range and in line with other healthy body metrics she is likely to have such as blood pressure, pulse, cholesterol etc.
For men, as you can see, the body fat percentages are quite different. Isn’t it interesting the BMI calculation is not different for men and women or based on age at all?
Unfortunately it’s not easy to measure your body fat percentage. It’s a ratio of your lean weight–your muscles, tendons, bones, organs, brain—as compared to your fat weight. But how do you find your lean weight? Most people do one of these things to find their lean weight:
- Meet with a trainer at a gym and have their body fat calculation done. Many trainers will do this for free but of course they hope you hire them to teach you how to improve as well. Stick with the same trainer to do the calculation over time to reduce the natural human error of the measurements since everyone seems to do them a little differently.
- Some universities have more sophisticated water submersion methods of calculating body fat. These can be expensive but are often considered to be the most accurate.
- Some home scales include body fat calculators. These scales send a very low current electrical pulse through your body and then measure how long it takes to return. The charge moves more slowly through muscle than fat, so the longer it takes to return, theoretically, the lower your body fat percentage. While these scales provide a great way to track changes throughout your weight loss plan, the number alone is somewhat unreliable. Some health clubs have even more sophisticated machines that do the same thing.
Naturally we are not trying to say that body fat measurement always contradicts other indicators such as BMI or height and weight charts but we do believe that body fat measurement is the most accurate way to understand your body composition. Understanding how much of you body is lean weight and fat weight can help you set a healthy goal for what you should be seeking as your true target body weight.
Why does this matter?
For a large majority of the American population, being overweight and even truly obese is an issue. Sadly, this now includes children as well as adults, and the epidemic is spreading as an issue in many other parts of the world also.
Weight is not the whole story, and is not the only factor you need to consider when deciding a goal for weight loss. Factor in your strength, learn what your body fat percentage and lean mass is, and work to achieve a healthy ratio. Even if your weight is considered to be in the normal range, knowing your body fat percentage may help explain why other health markers and even disease are a part of your life. If you body fat is high, and your lean weight is low, many other poor health markers follow.Normal #weight with high body fat % can help explain poor #health markers. Click To Tweet
Knowledge is power.
If you have a high body fat percentage there are really only two ways to lower it:
- Increase your muscle mass.
- Decrease your weight/fat without losing muscle mass.
Essentially both of these mean you are going to have to move your body, and incorporate some muscle building exercises into your life. Increased muscle burns more calories every single day, which makes it easier to maintain an ideal weight, even on days when you cannot exercise.
There is no magic pill for losing weight but specialized diet and weight loss support supplements can assist your body in transforming to a healthier weight by providing nutritional elements that make it easier for the body to shed fat. When used in combination with other good health inducing activities such as eating whole and homemade foods, good rest, clean water, and exercise, your chances of success are much increased.