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If you are dieting then you are probably obsessed with your weight, every Kilo you lose is a reason to celebrate, any gains are devastating.

Cyclists live or die by their power to weight ratio.  The less you weigh (so long as you don’t lose power) the more you’ll enjoy your cycling.

We generally consider being the “correct” weight as the main metric for measuring health but this isn’t the whole story, and there are far better ways to monitor your progress.

Why is weight an unreliable guide to health?

When we talk about whether our weight is healthy or not, we do so in reference to our height. What we get is our body mass index (BMI).

BMI is popular because it’s quick and easy to measure but it doesn’t take into account things like water retention, gender, age or body fat distribution. Nor does it distinguish fat mass from lean tissue such as muscle and bone.

Fat mass and lean tissue don’t weigh the same, fat is lighter than muscle. Muscular people such as athletes tend to be rated as overweight or obese on the BMI scale, when in reality they have a healthy body composition with larger amounts of desirable muscle mass and lower levels of body fat.

What should we measure instead of our weight?

There is no reason not to monitor your weight as part of your fitness regime but I strongly recommend tracking two other important variables:  Waist Circumference and Body Fat Percentage.

Waist circumference:

Where you store your fat may be more important than you how much you weigh or your BMI.

A larger waist circumference indicates fat deposits on and around the heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas, something that increases the risk of chronic disease.

For the best health, it’s recommended that your waist circumference is less than 94cm if you are a  man and less than 80cm if you are a woman.

To measure your waist circumference place the tape measure horizontally halfway between your lowest rib and the top of your hipbone. It’s slightly above your belly button! Breathe in and breath out normally, and then take the measure. The tape should be snug, without squeezing the skin.

Body composition:

Your ratio of muscle to fat matters when it comes to health! Muscle is metabolically active and the major tissue that responds to insulin, helping to control blood glucose levels.

Muscle wastage is generally associated with people over 60, but we actually start to lose muscle mass in our mid-twenties and this trend accelerates from the age of 50 so regular exercise is important to maintain healthy levels of muscle fibre.

A loss of muscle promotes insulin resistance; a condition where the cells of the body do not respond to insulin and greater amounts of insulin are needed to do the same job.

High insulin levels in turn promote metabolic syndrome and obesity creating a cyclic effect with obesity promoting insulin resistance, accelerating fat gain and muscle wastage.

The best way to measure body composition is to measure the body fat percentage using a skin fold caliper. There are many body fat calculations but the one I recommend is based on the Jackson/Pollock 7-Site Caliper Method described here.

You should take measurements every week or even every other week depending on your weight loss regime.