Why Your Waist Circumference Matters 100x More Than What You Weigh

You totally want to ditch your scale, don’t you?

You may have this weird kind of relationship with your “weight”.

I mean, it doesn’t define you (obviously).

The scale is just one tool to measure progress towards your body composition goals: some people want to lose, some people want to maintain, and some people want to gain weight. The scale is a way to monitor that progress. But it’s not the only way. It’s just one data point to help you spot a trend.

But what if your goal is to lose or maintain your weight and the scale keeps inching up?

It can mess with your mind.

Even if you know you’re lifting weights and gaining muscle, it can be hard to accept the scale going up.

This is why I have my clients take monthly body measurements. The most important one is your waist circumference. Because if you’re gaining weight but your waist is shrinking, you’re losing fat and gaining muscle.

This is one reason why you’re waist circumference matters more than any number on the scale but it isn’t the only reason.

Waist Circumference (AKA “Belly Fat”):

Do you remember the fruity body shape descriptions being like an “apple” or a “pear”? The apple is kinda round around the middle (you know – belly fat-ish, kinda beer belly-ish) and the pear is rounder around the hips/thighs.

THAT is what we’re talking about here.

Do you know which shape is associated with a higher risk of sleep apnea, blood sugar issues (e.g. insulin resistance and diabetes) and heart issues (high blood pressure, blood fat, and arterial diseases).

Yup – that apple!

And it’s not because of the subcutaneous (under the skin) fat that you may refer to as a “muffin top”. The health risk is actually due to the fat inside the abdomen covering the liver, intestines and other organs there.

This internal fat is called “visceral fat” and that’s where a lot of the problem actually is  It’s this “un-pinchable” fat.

The reason the visceral fat can be a health issue is that it releases fatty acids, inflammatory compounds, and hormones that can negatively affect your blood fats, blood sugars, and blood pressure.

And the apple-shaped people tend to have a lot more of this hidden visceral fat than the pear-shaped people do.

So as you can see where your fat is stored is more important than how much you weigh.

Waist-to-Hip Ratio

A DEXA scan will tell you the precise amount of visceral abdominal fat you are storing and your risk factor. Other body fat testing methods can’t.

However, a DEXA (or DXA scan) can be costly: anywhere from $50 – $100 depending on your location.

The waist-to-hip ratio is a simple but effective measure of fat distribution that costs nothing but a measuring tape and a few minutes of your time. To determine if you have a healthy waist-to-hip ratio, use a measuring tape to measure the circumference of your hips at the widest part of your buttocks. Then measure your waist at the smaller circumference of your natural waist, usually just above the belly button. Measurements should be recorded in inches. To determine the ratio, divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement. For a healthy woman, the figure should be 0.8 or less. For a healthy man, the figure should read 0.95 or less.

Waist-to-Hip Ratio Chart

Male Female Health Risk Based Solely on Waist-to-Hip Ratio

 

0.95 or below 0.80 or below Low Risk
0.96 to 1.0 0.81 to 0.85 Moderate Risk
1.0+ 0.85+ High Risk
Am I an apple or a pear?

Want an even simpler way to find out if you’re in the higher risk category or not? The easiest way is to just measure your waist circumference with a measuring tape. You can do it right now.

Women, if your waist is 35” or more you could be considered to have “abdominal obesity” and be in the higher risk category. Pregnant ladies are exempt, of course.

For men, the number is 40”.

Visceral fat is linked to the following diseases:

  • Insulin resistance
  • Hyperglycemia (high blood glucose)
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Sleep apnea
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased risk of cancer

Of course, this isn’t a diagnostic tool. There are lots of risk factors for chronic diseases. Waist circumference is just one of them.

If you have concerns definitely see your doctor.

Tips for helping reduce some belly fat:
  • Eat more fiber. Fiber can help reduce belly fat in a few ways. First of all, it helps you feel full and also helps to reduce the number of calories you absorb from your food. Some examples of high-fiber foods are brussel sprouts, flax and chia seeds, avocado, and blackberries.
  • Add more protein to your day. Protein reduces your appetite and makes you feel fuller longer. It also has a high TEF (thermic effect of food) compared with fats and carbs and ensures you have enough of the amino acid building blocks for your muscles.
  • Nix added sugars. This means ditch the processed sweetened foods especially those sweet drinks (even 100% pure juice).
  • Move more. Get some aerobic exercise. Walk and take the stairs. It all adds up.
  • Lift weights. Strength training and dieting is more effective at reducing visceral fat than diet alone, according to this study.
  • Stress less. Seriously! Elevated levels in the stress hormone cortisol have been shown to increase appetite and drive abdominal fat.
  • Get more sleep. Try making this a priority and seeing how much better you feel (and look).

 

Recipe (High fiber side dish): Garlic Lemon Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Serves 4

1 lb Brussels sprouts (washed, ends removed, halved)

2-3 cloves of garlic (minced)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

dash salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400F. 

In a bowl toss sprouts with garlic, oil, and lemon juice.  Spread on a baking tray and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for about 15 minutes.  Toss.

Bake for another 10 minutes.

Serve and Enjoy!

Tip: Brussel sprouts contain the fat-soluble bone-loving vitamin K. You may want to eat them more often.

References:

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/research-abdominal-fat-and-risk

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/visceral-fat-location

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-definition/abdominal-obesity/

http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/weights-poids/guide-ld-adult/qa-qr-pub-eng.php#a4