Sounds like an odd thing to say right? After all, hundreds of millions of people across the world struggle with their weight, obesity levels are rising and the call to lose weight is louder than it has ever been. The most frequently used model to assess an individual’s weight is the Body Mass Index (BMI)*. BMI calculates your weight in proportion to your height and labels you underweight, normal, overweight or obese. That’s all well and good except for one thing: BMI neglects the most important variable in its equation: Fat. Rather than advising us to lose a percentage of our body fat, the establishment has for decades, told us to just ‘lose weight’. This oversimplification is not only misleading but detrimental to our longterm health if considered in isolation. If you’re reading this I’m sure the following statement sounds familiar ‘..I just want to lose like 3 lbs, maybe 5…’ Sadly, we still associate better looking body’s and health with a lower number on the scales, when in fact what we need to focus on is lowering our body fat percentage.
Fun fact: the World Health Organization cites BMI as ‘A crude population measure of obesity ’’. BMI essentially tells us nothing. I am 5ft 6 and weigh 145lbs, making me ‘normal’ by BMI standards*. Contrast that with my body fat percentage of 23%, which puts me into the elite fitness category. BMI incorrectly flags me as normal because it doesn’t consider the muscle mass my body is comprised of. It simply looks at my weight in totality and assumes that at 145lbs I am normal for my height. In reality I am 112 lbs of lean mass (77%) and 33 lbs of fat mass (23%). In contrast, the BMI will also miss an individual who may be underweight for their height but carries a few extra pounds around their waistline, a particularly dangerous place. This method of testing means people are walking around with the opinion that they are perfectly healthy when instead they’re at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and premature death.
The focus needs to be on losing body fat, not just weight
Remember, muscle is more dense than fat, meaning it takes up less space on your body – the net effect is a slimmer figure. To prove my point, on July 12, I set myself a challenge to drop 3% body fat in just five weeks. Friday was game day and after putting my body through what felt like five months of hardcore clean eating and exercise, I made the cut. In those five weeks my waist shrunk to the point I was able to fit back into my Gap pants which was not the case one month earlier. Considering my starting body fat was 26%, a relatively normal level and nowhere near obese, losing 3% in five weeks is quite considerable. What may surprise you though, is that my weight loss was not proportional to the rate I dropped fat. My starting weight was 150 lbs and I ended at 145 lbs, a mere 5 lb total (with a few fluctuations in between). With this in mind, do you still believe weight loss is the primary driver to a slimmer body? If I still haven’t convinced you, here are my before and after shots.
Why lower body fat is crucial to longterm health and longevity
As eluded to earlier, BMI can misclassify individuals because it only considers weight as a total and ignores constituent parts such as fat. However, the goal of using any obesity indicator should be to identify people with excess fat, since fat has been associated with a wide array of illnesses. Visceral fat is a dangerous type of fat ‘that is stored within the abdominal cavity and stored around a number of important internal organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestines’ **. Those with visceral fat store it mostly around their waist and have protruding bellies. Indeed it’s obvious to see in extremely obese individuals, but anyone can have visceral fat, even the skinnier amongst us. The danger of visceral fat is that it can alter your body’s hormonal response and create inflammation. That Inflammation can then increase your risk of a number of illnesses, some of which include (but are not limited to):
The final word
We all strive for that beach body and reach for the scales each time we wish to track our progress. What I hope you have taken from this post is the know-how that it is not weight you must focus on, but body fat. The fat you store not only limits your wardrobe choices but far beyond that, carries silent dangers to your long term health. Next time you visit your gym or doctor, ask them to check your body fat and start there.
As always, Pushing for health xx