“I just need to lose a few more pounds”. A phrase I’ve heard a million times. However, the number on the scales isn’t the best measure.
So you may be forgiven in thinking – ah but I go by my BMI… that’s what doctors tell me to use so must be a good measure.
Unfortunately we’ve been a little brainwashed. We’ve been pushed into a simple easy to understand statistic by the NHS and other health organisations around the world – we’ve been told our BMI is one of the best statistics to aim for – which can be a dangerous thing.
Yes, when you look at a population as a whole – as organisations like the NHS do – getting the majority of people in a country to be within the “healthy” BMI range is great. If everyone was within the “healthy” range, then the cost of healthcare would be much less! This ignores individualism though.
You’re an individual, meaning even if you are the same height as someone else, your ideal weight will be different – it won’t just conform to a statistic. That’s the problem with BMI – it treats you as a statistic and categorises you by your height and weight.
One of the common problems is if you’re quite muscly, you may be overweight on the BMI scale, even if you’ve actually got a healthy amount of fat on you.
This can lead to serious health problems if you try relentlessly to have a low BMI. You can lose too much fat (yes there is such a thing – and it can have serious consequences!). You actually need an essential amount of fat for your organs and basic bodily functions to work properly. Women need a bit more than men due to the hormone production and monthly cycles.
If you actually look at some examples of BMI, you can clearly see it really isn’t a great method to use. The majority of professional rugby players are either overweight or obese! For our American readers – the same applies for American Football players (or as you call it – football). However, if you simply look at these people, you can see they don’t have much excess fat and are likely going to be healthier on the majority of other markers than the average person in the “healthy” BMI range.
For as long as I can remember I haven’t been in the healthy BMI range. For my height – I’d have to be between 65kg and 75kg (143 – 165 lbs)! You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who attends my gym to be that weight!
To work out your own BMI you can use online calculators or the following formula: Weight (KG) divided by height in meters squared: Weight (kg)/(height (m) x height (m)). I’d be interested to hear and see your various examples, and show why BMI isn’t great.
So what should I use instead?
Body fat is a great starting point. Body fat is how much fat you have as a percentage of your total mass.
As beginners to exercise starting a new exercise routine you will put on muscle, which is usually desirable! The more muscle you have, the stronger you are, the fitter you are and the better equipped you are with dealing with everyday challenges. It also has the added bonus of raising your Basal Metabolic Rate (you burn more calories doing nothing than before).
However – as I’m sure you’ve heard many people say – muscle weighs more than fat. What people mean is a cubic centimetre of fat weighs less than a cubic centimetre of muscle – fat weighs about a third of what muscle weighs!
The result of this – if you’re sustainably losing excess fat, whilst putting on muscle – you may not actually lose any weight – but you will be reducing your body fat percentage. If you step on the scales and see no movement you can get really disheartened. I know I always do, even though I might be hitting my goals… crazy right!
How to measure your bodyfat percentage
There’re a few different ways to measure your body fat percentage. Some scales have small metal pads which run a small current through your body to measure the resistance. This is meant to then give you a reading based on how much resistance there is. This is probably the easiest method, and is fine to measure progress. However, just take the reading with a pinch of salt. They aren’t very accurate, but they are consistent. So don’t worry about the reading in absolute terms, just look at getting it lower or higher depending on your goal.
Another method is using body fat calipers. These are more accurate than the electrical impedance method above. However, it takes a bit longer and you need to know how and where to take the measurements. There are a number of different methods of doing it, with plenty of calculators you can use online to help you. These can be relatively cheap and an at-home method to use.
There are other methods which are more accurate – these include hydrostatic weighing and x-ray scanners, but these are usually only available in health or fitness centres and can take up quite a bit of your time to do. They can also be pretty expensive to go and get it measured. These are therefore great to do very occasionally, in conjunction with either of the other two above methods which can be done on a more regular basis.