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Good Health, Weight Loss and BMI – Time to Stop Obsessing Over the Scale

This is what 144 pounds looks like…

Shocked? You’re not the only one.

The numbers on a  scale do not reflect an accurate measurement of your health.

The Body Mass Index, which uses a weight/height ratio to measure body fat, is inaccurate for athletes, as well as non-athletes. Namely, it fails to consider gender and lean muscle tissue in it’s calculation. At 5 ft, 5 inches my BMI is 24.3 and, according to clinical charts, borders on “overweight.”

WTH?

Nonetheless, people still focus on body weight. Women, especially, obsess unnecessarily over the numbers on the scale.

It’s not that simple.

Weight Loss vs Fat Loss

Focusing solely on weight fails to consider all factors that contribute to what is essentially a healthy or unhealthy body composition – body type, height, muscle mass and fat distribution.

How much you weigh can fluctuate from day to day, let alone hour to hour. Before I zeroed in on my food sensitivities, I would gain 5-10 pounds in a day (water retention). Fluid levels fluctuate based on our body’s sodium content, as well as physical activity and overall health. Food intolerances, in particular, can cause low level inflammation, resulting in higher numbers on the scale. And being constipated, as innocuous as it seems, adds “temporary” pounds, which further distorts your weight.

Athletes and individuals with above average lean muscle mass tend to weight more. Pound for pound, fat and muscle DO NOT equate. Muscle is denser and weighs more. Fat, on the other hand, is bigger in volume, weighing less per square inch. Because BMI uses a person’s body weight and doesn’t distinguish muscle tissue from fatty tissue, two people with the exact same BMI can have totally different body compositions.

A recent study in the International Journal of Obesity clearly shows weight alone is not a reliable indicator of health. Researchers demonstrated that 30% of people surveyed with clinically “healthy weight” were actually unhealthy; whereas 47% of BMI “overweight” individuals were deemed healthy based on cardiovascular and metabolic guidelines.

A more telling indicator of health is excess fat, or overall fat distribution. Measuring your body fat is not as simple as “pinching an inch,” though. The most accurate fat assessment methods are the Bod Pod (Whole Body Plethysmography), DEXA (Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) Scan and underwater weighing. Understanding your actual body fat percentage helps define healthier weight parameters based on your unique body composition.

The Skinny Fat Paradox

Skinny fat is a very real health problem that affects men and women alike. “Skinny fat” – medically known as metabolically obese normal weight – is a term used to describe people who look fit and healthy on the outside, yet underneath have some serious health problems. The most telling sign is excess visceral (abdominal) fat, which is completely different from subcutaneous (lower body) fat that is healthier.

Visceral fat is a major health risk and can lead to a litany of medical problems: metabolic disturbances, increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Women with excessive visceral fat are also more at risk for breast cancer and gallbladder problems.

A skinny fat person is often typified by their lack of physical activity and poor eating habits; however, even athletes can fall prey to this serious medical condition.

Over the years, I’ve gotten to know quite a few cardio junkies. I don’t mean endurance athletes that eat healthy and train smart…I’m talking about people who rely solely on excessive amounts of cardio to keep their weight low and basically “eat what they like.”

One friend, in particular, worried me. Slim arms and legs gave the illusion of health (and looked good in clothes); however a fat midsection indicated otherwise. Her reluctance to strength train (for fear of “gaining weight”) left her body bereft of critical lean muscle. She was the atypical definition of skinny fat.

Proper nutrition and consistent exercise are the building blocks of good health and optimal fitness – not how much you weight or whether you fit into skinny jeans. Individuals who use cardio to counteract bad eating habits are robbing their bodies of critical macros – protein, carbohydrates and fats – and other life-sustaining nutrients. To compensate, our bodies will catabolize vital muscle tissue and calcium from our bones to overcome any deficiencies.

Adopting a nutrient-rich eating plan alongside a balanced strength and cardio regimen will lean you out in a much healthier, sustainable way. Muscle is metabolically more active, requiring more calories to maintain and utilizes the food energy you consume more efficiently. You may gain some “weight” in the process, but, believe me, it’s the healthy kind.


I’m now 20 pounds heavier than I was in my 20s, yet I’m vastly healthier and…

I finally feel comfortable in my own skin.

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2 Comments

  • Reply Jaime Jorge December 13, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    Great stuff. Thanks for sharing. This is very helpful!

    • Reply drj2211 December 13, 2016 at 4:30 pm

      Thank you, Jaime. Always appreciated!

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    DR J 2211 – Rachael Jezierski, PhD