Watch Your Waist Not Your Weight

Toss the scale and pick up a tape measure to check body fat

If you don’t know by now, stepping on the scale to measure your weight can be misleading. Excess body fat may take up a lot room on the thighs, belly and elsewhere, but it really doesn’t weigh very much.

Most people consider excess body weight and body fat as synonymous. But this is simply untrue. Because we are a weight-conscious society, for many people stepping on the scale each morning is a powerful ritual—and one that’s difficult to break.

The scale measures mostly water, most of which is in the muscles, rather than fat. However, body fat takes up much more space than muscle and water. In fact, some patients I helped lose significant amounts of body fat actually didn’t lose scale weight—they actually gained weight while losing inches of fat off their waists! With exercise that helps lead to fat loss there is often a small amount of muscle development, and this sometimes offsets the relative small amount of scale weight lost from fat.

Since about 75 percent of the world has become overfat in only the last generation or so, most people want to know why their body fat content is too high, not how much it weighs. But most have also been lured into the bathroom scale test because it matches another ineffective weight loss strategy—calorie-counting.

The most practical way to monitor body fat is to not step on a scale, but rather to measure your waist.

Measuring your waist is easy, and most people already know if they have gained body fat because their pants fit too tightly or they have had to increase their pants size. If you want to be more accurate, get a tape measure and wrap it around your waist at the level of the belly button, keeping the tape parallel. But don’t do this every day. Just as with the obsession of daily scale weigh-ins, this only contributes to mental-emotional stress we can all do without. This added stress can contribute to fat storage, too. Instead, measure your waist once a month on the same day and time (in the morning before breakfast works well).

Body Mass

An indirect measure of body fat is the body mass index, or BMI. This measures the combination of weight and height. Although BMI is often considered an indicator of body fatness, it technically only indicates excess weight rather than excess fat. Despite this fact, studies have shown that BMI is correlated to more direct measures of body fat, such as underwater weighing and dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (two of the most highly accurate methods of measuring body fat). BMI above normal also has been shown to correlate with future health risks.

So why have so many people throughout the world become more fat? While many think the problem only exists in couch potatoes in affluent societies, developing nations also now face more obesity than starvation. Moreover, large numbers of athletes have joined the ranks of the overfat. The reason? The world continues to be fed food that makes us fat—refined carbohydrates.

Of course, just knowing there is more stored body fat is not enough. The main issue is addressing the cause of this problem. So here’s the most important part: If your eating habits are healthy, meaning you are burning off body fat and using it for high energy all day, your waist will shrink to its normal, healthy size. But if your waist is getting larger each year, or not shrinking, whatever you’re doing is not working. In most cases, the problem is refined carbohydrate intake in the forms of sugar and flour. In most people up to half of these foods will be immediately converted to and stored as fat. And for many people, it does not take much junk food to keep body fat too high.

For competitive athletes, extra weight in the form of both fat and bulk muscle can slow you down because it reduces movement economy. In addition to excess body fat associated with increased weight, traditional strength training that bulks muscle can add weight fast. In most instances, this does not necessarily improve athleticism but rather often reduces it. As an example of added weight in two identical runners, for example, the one heaviest will have reduced running economy with slower race times.

What To Do

Science shows that weight-loss programs that relate to scale weight and restrict calories can actually make you unhealthy and fat. Here’s how you can stop the viscous cycle, get lean and healthy, and enjoy the process.

  • Measuring your waist on a monthly basis may be the best overall method of tracking body fat content. Do this at the level of the umbilicus, the belly button.
  • Eliminate refined carbohydrates and sugar. The Two Week Test can help you do this.
  • Eliminate all junk food.
  • Exercise using the 180-Formula to maximize fat-burning, which will result in normal waist measurements.

Pay attention to body fat as best measured by your waist. If you’re adding body fat or need to lose some, it’s time to make a change. When you’re burning less fat as fuel for all your daily activities, you’re getting more energy from sugar, resulting in fat storage, reduced energy and impaired human performance on all levels.

One Comment

  • Ajit Thomas says:

    A scale measuring fat content will give you an indication of body composition. I try to keep mine at about 21%. If I get to 22% I know I have to make changes.

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