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Eat well

Look beyond the scale to measure your progress

If you’re set on improving your health, it may be time to stop jumping on your bathroom scale. Weight is just one way that we choose to measure our health. But there are other methods that you should include in your assessment of how healthy you are.

You may be wondering: Why is body weight a potentially misleading measure? Here’s one example: a muscular adult who exercises regularly may still gain weight. This has to do with the large amount of muscle tissue being built; you may have heard the expression “muscle weighs twice as much as fat.” For this reason, looking at the number on the scale may not be an accurate indicator of how healthy you are, especially if you are exercising and feeling good.

This is an important thing to understand if you’re trying to lose weight and are getting frustrated. So how can you measure your progress without relying solely on how much you weigh?

  • See if it’s a “clothes fit.” One way to check your progress is to try on different clothes. A pair of trousers that were too tight a few months ago, but feel looser now would be a sign that you’re making progress!
  • Take it all off. Another way to gauge your progress is to stand in front of a mirror naked. Your body may be a different shape now – and you’ll notice it.

If you’re looking for more scientific ways to measure your progress, use a combination of methods – such as the ones outlined below – to get the most realistic feedback of your progress and success.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

BMI is a measurement that indicates whether you are within a health weight range for your height. It is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in metres, squared. For example, say you weigh 72.5 kg (about 160 lbs) and you’re 1.7 m (about 5’ 6”) tall:

72.5 divided by 1.72 = 72.5 divided by [1.7 x 1.7] = 72.5 divided by 2.89

Your BMI = 25.1 (which is classified as “overweight” – see our chart below)

You can also find online BMI tables and calculators that will tell you your BMI based on your weight and height in either metric or imperial measurements.

What your BMI means:

BMI

Classification

Less than 18.5

Underweight

18.5 – 24.9

Normal weight range

25.0 – 29.9

Overweight

30.0 and above

Obese

Note, however, that BMI does not provide a breakdown of fat and lean body mass. A person with a higher than normal muscle mass may have a BMI that’s higher than normal. This does not mean that he or she is overweight or obese, so it’s always best to use a combination of methods.

Where you carry your weight makes a difference

Are you an apple or a pear? Are you carrying excess weight around your middle? The answers to these questions may be more important than the number you read on the bathroom scale.

Studies have shown that those with “apple-shaped” bodies (people who carry more weight around their waist) have higher risk for certain health issues than those with “pear-shaped” bodies (people who carry more weight around the hips).

Waist circumference

Measure your waist. Are you close to the cut-off point? A waist circumference at or above 102 cm (40 in.) for men, and 88 cm (35 in.) for women, is associated with an increased risk of developing health problems. Even if your waist circumference is just below these cut-off points, it doesn’t mean that you are in the clear. What’s more, even if you have a BMI in the 'normal weight' range, a high waist circumference (WC) indicates some health risk.

Waist-to-hip ratio

So now you know your waist circumference. But how does this measure up compared to your hips? The waist-to-hip ratio is a good measure of health risk. Studies have shown that the more weight you carry around your waist compared to your hips, the more likely you are to be at risk for certain conditions.

How do you measure your hip-to-waist ratio? Grab a measuring tape and with one simple math calculation, you can find your hip-to-waist ratio and which category you fall into:

  • Measure (in inches) your waist at the smallest part (usually at your belly button or just above it).
  • Measure (in inches) your hips at the largest part of your buttocks
  • Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement. The result will give you your ratio.

Example: Say your waist measures 35 inches and your hips measure 42. Your waist-to-hip ratio = 0.8 (35 divided by 42).

What your ratio means:

  • Women – For women the magic number is 0.8; those below are at lower risk; above are at higher risk.
  • Men – Men with a ratio less than 1.0 are at lower risk; more than 1.0 are at higher risk.

Be consistent when measuring

Remember that if you’re using your waist circumference and/or waist-to-hip ratio to track your progress, make sure you’re consistent with where and how you take your measurements.

Measure your weight-loss progress
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