Sunday, January 27, 2013

What’s All This Hoopla About the Scale?



As a person in fitness, I hear this at least 10 times a week: “I need to lose XXX kilos or pounds by XXX month. The scale has become the universal obesity measure.

I agree that if a person weighs 300 pounds, there is probably an indication that he/she needs to shed some of those pounds. And of course, if a full grown adult weighs 90 pounds, that’s probably a problem too. However, the weight you see on the scale is affected by so many different factors, including your height, your bone density, your muscular structure, etc. And because every single body is different, how do you use this number to tell you all it needs to?

In this fitness journey, it is important to take several things into consideration rather than just focus on the scale and compare it with what Eva Longoria says she weighs today.

Body Mass Index
You may have heard of the BMI calculator. This is a fairly reliable estimate that takes your weight and height into account to help determine if you are overweight or underweight. The BMI formula has been disputed as being reliable because it is not completely accurate and does not take other factors like muscular structure or activity level into account. But at least it is a great start to help you identify if you may be at risk for some diseases.


Want to find out your BMI? Just input your height and weight into the BMI calculator below. If it is under 18.5, you may be qualified as underweight. If your BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9, you are considered to be of normal range. If your BMI is between 25 and 29.9, you may be considered overweight. And if your BMI is over 30, you may be considered obese. For folks with BMIs not in the normal range, please see a doctor for confirmation and advice.
Body Fat
Men and women store fat differently. Women tend to store fat in their hips, thighs, and triceps first, while men store fat in their abdomens first. Because your bones and muscles take up different percentages of your body than the next individual, the major reliable way to tell the difference between two people is by figuring out how much of their weight is actually fat. Of course, you want to have more muscle than fat because besides making you warmer in the winter, too much fat really puts you at risk for some diseases.

How is body fat calculated? Well, here is the problem. It is not as easy as buying a scale (which is probably why most people turn to the scale for guidance). You have to use calipers, infrared, or underwater weighing to give you a fairly accurate reading. Which means you would probably need someone else – a personal trainer, doctor, or other healthcare professional – to do it.

Once you get your reading, you can put yourself in a range. Healthy body fat range is 8 – 22% for males and 20 – 35% for females. Anything above that is considered obese.

Waist circumference
Your waist circumference may not tell you enough because it usually depends on your overall body width. And if you are already overweight when you calculate your BMI, this just confirms that you need to take action. However, if you are of normal range when you calculate your BMI, the waist circumference calculation simply helps confirm if you are within ‘safe’ range (i.e. not incredibly at risk for certain diseases). Again, BMI does not tell us much because it relies just on the scale and your height, so if you are unable to get your body fat ratio, the waist circumference may be a good way to go in addition to the BMI.

What waist circumference is considered a risky range? If a man has a waist circumference greater than 40 inches, and if a woman has a waist circumference greater than 35 inches, this is considered high risk.

Lean Body Mass
LBM is also calculated from your body fat ratio, so you’d need that number before you can get this one. From the name, you can tell what it is really. It’s basically the inverse of body fat. If 20% of your body is fat, then the remaining 80% is what is considered LBM. It is calculated by multiplying your body fat ratio by your weight, and then subtracting that from your weight.

LBM = Weight (lbs or kg) – [Weight * Percentage of body fat]

Why do we need the LBM at all? When you are determining how much you want to drop, you should be using your body fat ratio if you can. The LBM just helps you keep track of how much muscle you are building as opposed to fat. When you work out intensely (both cardio and strength training), and your muscles develop, you may not see the number on the scale drop like you would expect. So it is important to note that the scale does not always drop when you burn fat.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

Photo credit: 101exercises.com

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