Are you worried about useless numbers?

What does it all mean?

Congratulations! Your BMI is within healthy range!  In fact, you should be completely happy with your how you look, your weight…..

Except, BMI doesn’t tell you a heck of a lot.

What is BMI?

Body Mass IndexBMI stands for Body Mass Index.  For years, it’s been the golden standard used by doctors to decide if your weight is healthy for your height or if you’re at an increased risk for various illnesses and diseases.

This ratio looks at your weight and height only.

I’m 5 foot 4 inches tall and weigh 134 pounds.  So I have a BMI of 23.  Woo hoo!  Below 25 is healthy.  I have absolutely nothing to worry about, right?

Not exactly.

BMI doesn’t care how much fat I’m carrying.  I could be 134 pounds at 34% body fat or I can be 134 pounds at 23% body fat.  For my age, 34% would make me borderline overweight (or above average) and 23% would be borderline underweight (or lean).

Those are two very different looks and if I were 23% instead of 34%, I’d be able to wear a smaller size in clothing despite being the same weight.

The Trouble with Measuring Body Fat

Unfortunately, most people don’t have access to reliable ways of measuring body fat.

scaleYeah, yeah.  You have an expensive, high-tech scale at home that not only tells you how much you over-ate pizza last night, you also learn your body fat percentage, your water percentage and how many calories you should eat to maintain your weight based on the settings you put in for your height and activity level.

Oh, and since it asks for your age, too, it’ll even let you know if your body fat percentage is too high or too low for you.

I have one of those scales, too.  It’s completely inaccurate.

There are a couple of different methods to measure body fat that are considered very accurate, but they cost a lot of money to have done.  One of those methods is a DEXA scan, most often used to measure bone density, but it also determines your body fat percentage. However, I discovered, not every hospital that has one of these machines calculates body fat percentage.

There’s also the hydrostatic weighing method, which is considered extremely accurate, but it requires being fully submersed in a tank of water.  So it’s not exactly something you’ll want to do over and over to see how you’re improving.

Then there’s Bod Pod, which is less expensive to have done, but it can be off as much as 3-4%,  The Bod Pod requires you to sit in a chamber, but uses air displacement instead of water.

Any other method can have widely different results each time you take your measurement.  At best, you’ll get a ball park figure of where you stand with body fat.

So do you really want to get bent out of shape trying to track this number?  After all, if the Bod Pod is considered the best alternative between the more expensive tests and the less accurate methods of measuring, and it can be off by 3-4%, how far off are the bioelectrical impedance devices?

Even at 4% inaccuracy, if I measure at 30% body fat for my age, which is smack in the middle of average, 34% would put me borderline above average and 26% would put me in the ideal range.  That’s not a very helpful reading.

What’s a Gal to do?

It’s human nature to want to use data to track how we’re performing or how we’re improving.  It’s always good to know your starting point so you can feel good to know how far you’ve come on your journey to improved health.

The scale is your worst enemy for this kind of journey.  I would rather be 134 pounds at 23% body fat than 118 pounds at 34% body fat.  But most people automatically assume 118 is the better number just because it’s lower.

The Best Measuring Device

Use a tape measureGet out your tape measure, Ladies.  If you really want to know how far you’ve come, this is the tool to use.

There are two things you can track that are a better sign of improvement over the scale, bioelectrical impedance devices and BMI.

The first is a simple waist measurement.

Take your measurement right around your belly button.  That way you’re sure to measure the same spot every single time.

Firstly, if you’re a women and this measurement is above 35 inches, you’re considered obese.  So if you’re above, your first goal is to get below 35 inches.  (Men, your dividing line is 40 inches.)

Secondly, if you also take your hip measurement at its widest point, you can use it and your waist measurement to figure out your waist to hip ratio.

Simply take your waist measurement and divide by your hip measurement.  If your decimal is below 0.8, celebrate.  If it’s above, your first goal is to get it to 0.8 and then work on getting it below.  Anything above 0.8 indicates increased health risk.

Historically, over the last 2,500 years, 0.7 has been considered the sexy ratio for women to have.  At least in the eyes of some men….

I also use the mirror, photos and how my clothes feel to track my journey.

No matter what the scale says, if your pants are getting looser, you’re moving in the right direction.  If you can see more muscle definition in the mirror, you’re moving in the right direction.

Put the Scale Away

Put the scale awayI know it’s hard not to check your weight every single day when you’re trying to lose.  But you’re only causing yourself more anxiety and stress (which stalls weight loss), by checking that often.  Weight fluctuates over the course of the day and from one day to the next.

Even once a week might be weighing too often.  If you’re working on creating muscle mass while burning off fat, the scale has no idea you lost 3 pounds of fat, but gained 2 pounds of muscle.  All it knows is the net difference of 1 pound lost.

Doesn’t 1 pound make you feel like you didn’t accomplish much?  But you did, and you robbed yourself of being able to celebrate that fact.  It over shadowed knowing your pants feel a bit different this week.  More different than you think it should considering you only lost “1 pound.”

Only get the scale out once per month when you take all your other measurements.  In fact, take all your other measurements and figure out how many total inches you lost before you step on that scale.

That way you understand why the number may be different than you expected.  If you lost 10 inches, but only 5 pounds, it means you went far in decreasing body fat and that’s a good thing!

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  1. cj says:

    Marvy new site, Lori!!! And congrats to you. I would have a coach help me get a perfectly flat belly – perfectly flat.

    • Lori says:

      CJ! Congrats. You are my official first comment on my new blog. 😉

      My daughter created perfectly flat abs by hula hooping two hours a day, 7 days per week for about a month. Then she decreased to one hour per day. Now to maintain, she does about 30 minutes per day, three times per week. Use a weighted hula hoop. Good luck! 😀

      • cj says:

        Thank you Lori and congrats to your daughter! Tomorrow I am off to Academy Sports to find a weighted hula hoop. Wait til my family gets a load of this!!!

        • Lori says:

          Nice! I can’t wait to read your blog article about your adventures in hooping. 😉 My daughter is trying to talk me into getting her a heavier one, becuase hers is too light for her now. Plus I could take over using hers and we could have mother/daughter time hooping together.

          • cj says:

            Love how you guys just keep trucking and getting it done. Have a fun weekend, Lori!