know your numbers (and do your research!) {Works for Me Wednesday}

It is all too easy to get hung up on the number on the scale.  Trust me, I know.  I’ve been bouncing around the same number for the past 15 days even though I’m eating right and exercising.  And that’s frustrating.  But it’s not all about the number on the scale.

I hadn’t even really thought to talk about this until I had an interesting experience at the gym yesterday (more about that in a sec) that made me feel the need to share.  I don’t claim to be a doctor or have it all right, but I try to make sure my information is accurate.

So, some other numbers to know:

1. Your body mass index (BMI).  You can calculate it using this formula: (weight in pounds/height in inches squared ) x 703 (which I made my students do mwah ha ha…come on, it was math class!) or you can easily calculate it yourself here.  This is not the most accurate tool in the world because the only thing the formula takes into account are your height and weight – so a very active, health conscious 150 pound person will have the same BMI as someone that’s 150 pounds but doesn’t work out and eats junk (assuming they are the same height), however one is probably a lot healthier than the other.  However, it’s still gives a fairly good idea of where you fall – before I started getting serious about my health I fell into the obese category, soon after I started following the South Beach diet and exercising my BMI feel into the “normal weight” category, just recently I’ve gained a few (that I’m trying super hard to lose!) so right now I’m in the overweight category.

2. Your waist circumference.  A high waist circumference indicates too much abdominal fat and puts you at a risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and and high cholesterol.  For men, a high waist circumference is anything larger than 40 inches and for women it’s larger than 35 inches (information found here).  Use a flexible tape measure (I got mine from the sewing section at Walmart) to measure with.  The exact method/place of how/where to measure is something I haven’t quite figured out…do you measure at the smallest part?  The largest part?  I’m not sure. This source says to start at the top of the hipbone and bring it all around level with your navel.  This video says not to worry about where your hipbones are and to measure where your belly button is.  The top of my hipbones are level with my belly button so I think either method would work for me but that may not be the case for everyone.  Any health/fitness experts able to enlighten us?

3. Your body fat percentage.  To find this number you may have to visit a doctor or a gym, although there are also bathroom scales that measure body fat % (I’d be interested to know how accurate those are – I’ve been using the same cheapo scale that I bought the very first week I started South Beach years ago and it still works great, seems to be accurate as the numbers match when I weigh at the doctor – but someday I might like to have a fancier scale that measures body fat % too).  Anyway, I think body fat percentage is a much more accurate assessment of your health/fitness than the scale or even BMI.

Here’s why you need to do your research and why I mentioned my interesting experience at the gym.  Yesterday I showed up at the gym for my fitness class.  Our instructor told us that the gym was offering free health screenings (blood pressure, BMI, and body fat percentage).  I always have great BP and I can figure out my BMI on my own, but I was interested in my body fat percentage so I went to do that after my workout.  First thing I found out was that my reading was probably not going to be very accurate because I had just worked out (apparently that makes a difference) and that the measurement tool could measure 6% above or below my actual percentage, so a pretty large margin.  But I went ahead and did it anyway.  The little calculator thing said my % was 27.8%.  Again, that could be anywhere from 21.8% to 33.8% (or maybe even more/less since I had just worked out…who knows) because of the margin of error.  I asked the guy who did my reading what an ideal body fat percentage would be for someone my age and my height – he said less than 20%, ideally 15%.

That didn’t feel right to me, I couldn’t bring an exact number to mind but 15% seemed way lower than what I remembered from past information I had gotten.  When I got home I did a little searching and kept finding this chart and other charts that were similar:

[source]

There are some that are more specific based on age but I liked the simplistic information that this one presented.  Basically, average body fat percentage for a woman (women have more body fat then men) is 25-31%.  If my reading from yesterday was in fact correct, then I’m at an average percentage.  Someone who is fit should have a percentage of 21-24%.  However, the 15% body fat that the “trainer” told me was my ideal is at the very low end of the category of body fat that would be considered an athlete.  Like a hardcore athlete.  Now how realistic is that?  Fortunately I did my own bit of research and now plan to shoot for that 21-24% range but no way do I even want to try to get down to 15%!  There’s no telling how much exercise I would have to do and how much chocolate I would have to give up!

(side note: fitness/health people – if I’m totally off base here please let me know!  Am I correct in thinking that 15% body fat is a bit unrealistic and not quite necessary?)

Anyway, I say all that to say this:

1. Don’t put so much emphasis on the scale.  I woke up this morning and my rings were tight – that’s a sign I’m retaining water and the scale reflected that.  So I try to remind myself of that and not get all bent out of shape about it.  Remember that there are other indicators that you are healthy and/or improving your health so try not to let the number on the scale stress you out – it’s just a number (I’m totally preaching to myself here, too)

2. Do your homework!  Find knowledgable professionals to evaluate you and help determine what is a good weight/BMI/body fat percentage for you.  Don’t just assume that what the magazines or the random person at the gym tells you are what’s right for you.

Linking up to Works for Me Wednesday

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