We live in a country that is weight-obsessed.
People measure their health with a scale. They hop on it after dinner to see if they can eat dessert. They base their fitness progress on it. Our doctors measure it during check ups.
But what if I told you that weight really shouldn’t be the main indicator of health, that there are other ways to measure success and overall wellness?
Instead, we should be focusing more on body fat percentage, as the real culprit of bad health lies in our excess fat. In fact, BMI, the measurement used in doctors offices and insurance agencies to determine your “healthiness”, can be terribly wrong. There are athletes who are in incredible shape, who have massive amounts of muscle, and actually fall into overweight and obese categories because their weight doesn’t match the ideal for their height. That’s because muscle is more dense than fat.
More commonly, you can have a relatively thin person, who is in the healthy BMI range, and yet their body fat percentage can be in the unhealthy range. If they don’t take this into account, they may think that they have no need to change their lifestyle and go on living with an unhealthy body fat percentage.
If you like having a scale to step on and track your body weight, invest in one that also tells you your body fat percentage. Or better yet, buy the hand held BIA measurement tool, as these tend to be more accurate in estimating body fat.
Waist-to-hip ratio is another good indicator of health. Simply take the measurement of your true waist (smallest circumference) and divide by the measurement of your hips (largest circumference). Women should aim for .80 or less, and men for .95 or less. Higher measurements than these are indicators of future heart disease.
Taking a full panel of measurements can also be another great way to track progress. Consider tracking the following sites monthly to see muscle gain and fat loss:
- Base of Neck
- Widest Part of Shoulders
- Widest Part of Each Bicep
- Widest Part of Each Forearm
- Across the Chest at Nipple Height
- Smallest Part of the Waist
- Across the Stomach at Belly Button Height
- Widest Part of Hips
- Widest Part of Each Thigh
- Widest Part of Each Calf
And don’t forget progress pictures! When you look at yourself in the mirror every day, it can be easy to miss the progress you make week by week. Pictures will accurately show where you’ve been and where you are now, as long as they are taken in the same position, at the same time of day, with the same clothes on. (Side Note: Because women have menstrual cycles, our hormones are not steady from week to week, thus, comparing measurements or pictures from week one of your cycle to weeks two, three, or four may not show accurate progress due to bloating and water weight gain. Make sure to always compare the first week of your cycle to next months first week of your cycle, and so on).
Finally, the way we think about weight-loss needs to change as well. As a country, we are weight-centric. We focus and obsess over our weight, women talk about their latest fad diet with their friends, people starve themselves in order to try and shed ten pounds in two weeks, only to gain it all back and a little more in a month. Others hit the gym hard a month before spring break in order to be “beach ready”, and then are disappointed when they aren’t.
We have to stop thinking about weight-loss in a short-term sense. This is a process, and it takes time. How long did it take you to put on the weight? It may take that long to take it off. Instead of going to the gym and pining over the fact that you haven’t seen the progress on the scale that you want, focus on how you feel in your skin. Focus on the fact that you are working to gain muscle and lose fat. Focus on the improvements you are making in your lifts and runs. Focus on the healthy, balanced diet you are eating. The rest will come with time.
Weight is only a number. I know. In high school, I weighed 120 pounds at the same height I am now, but I was probably around 28% body fat. I now weight 130 pounds, with a body fat percentage of 17%, and I am healthier, more fit, and I look and feel so much better than I ever did ten pounds lighter. With that, how can you possibly think that weight is the ultimate indictor of success?