Friday, February 17, 2012

Determining a healthy weight - not so simple!

We all have heard about weight charts and more recently, BMI charts. For every height they give a range of weights. This was devised to chart whole groups of people, not for individuals, but it has become the standard - people should weigh between X and Y.

So, for my height I'm going metric on ya since I'm a smidgeon more than 5 foot 6.5 inches tall and I get different numbers if I use 5'6" or 5'7". So, in metrics - I'm 169 centimeters. My current BMI is 27.6 which is solidly in the "overweight" range for my height. The healthy BMI range for my height is this: 120-157. (You can look up BMI info here

That is a huge range - 37 pounds!!! Does that mean that anyone my height should weigh within that range and anywhere within that range? Of course not! The BMI chart, again, was designed to fit the majority of people - the majority of people who are a healthy weight at 169 centimeters will weigh between 120-157 pounds.  And each of us at that height will weigh more or less depending on our frame size and our fitness level.

Basically, the most used tool for determining what we should weigh is very flawed. Read up a little bit on wikipedia. That is just a start, but it gives you an idea of the imperfections of the system. And the people it is least useful for? The fit! Go figure!

So... what other ways can we determine what we should weigh? Well, there are some body frame measurements you can take. See here: According to those measurements, I have a large frame if you look at my wrist or my elbow measurments. I even used a type of caliper thing to check my elbow size because it seemed so big when I measured.  My wrist (supposed to be measured above the wristbone). is 6.75 inches around. That gives me a large body frame. My elbow measurment is 2.75 and that also gives me a large frame. Even if I were male at this height, I would be considered to be large framed based on either of these measurements. Using their calculators, (and I've seen this elsewhere too), for having a large body frame, I probably should weigh around 147 pounds.  So, looking at that, I can see it's within the BMI range, but not by much, but it also helps me realize that striving for something around 120 pounds is unrealistic.

But then there is this whole other thing about fat versus lean. Muscle weighs more than fat. And being a certain weight doesn't mean I'm healthy or fit. All it means is that I'm a particular weight.

There is a blog post I have bookmarked because it so clearly shows how even the same weight on the scale by the same women looks so completely different. This is a middle aged woman at 155 before getting fit and after getting fit:

This person worked with a personal trainer. Dramatic difference, huh? And the same weight.

Later she went on to lose 20 pounds and really got strong. The blog posts this trainer talks about scale addiction and why he thinks people should throw away their scales and you know.... he has a point! Take a read at Part 1 and Part 2:

I look at those pictures and yes, she looks more 'done up' in the after, but guess how happy she was probably taking her before photo at the trainer? It was probably humiliating! Of course, she didn't smile! After, she felt better and therefore was proud to show off her body.

I look at those photos and guessing at her weight she would be considered overweight by BMI charts in either case.  Is that an overweight person on the right? Nope! On the left? Over fat - yes.

And then that takes me to body fat measurements in determining ideal weight. Oh if there was only a foolproof affordable way to determine body fat! Many of us have scales that show body fat. Well, they are flawed. You can help by following directions. Like these: It still won't give you super accurate results, but it's about the best we can do on our own.

There are many ways to determine body fat percentages, but most are not accurate or not affordable:

For body fat percentages, that changes by sex and age. Here are a couple of charts.

I'll look for me.... I'm 42 years old and my Tanita scale - when I follow the directions up above tell me I'm between 27-29% body fat. (Gave me 49.8% when I was at 255 and very unfit). I can't know if it's accurate or not, but the trend is definitely in the right direction!

Then.... how do you determine a healthy weight? By feel I think. We can get an idea of where we should be by crude measurements. I can see by the mirror that I have more work to do. I can see by the body fat scale that the trend is going in the right direction, but I would like to get to the "ideal" range and out of the average range. But the number on the scale is pretty random. I could skinny down to 150 and be "skinny fat" and unfit. or get down to 160 and still weight a bit on the scale and be a fairly fit woman with a body fat percentage below 25%. What does that number really mean? I'm learning that it doesn't mean very much. I need to pay more attention to how I feel - do I feel energetic? Can I run up stairs and not get winded? How is my resting heart rate? How is my blood work? I think those are much better indicators to health than the number on the scale.

So while I would like to see 160 on the scale, I'm not going to fret about getting within the norms of BMI or even for my body frame size. I'm going to just keep exercising and try to keep at a good range of body fat. I'll see if my pants fit right and not go up in sizes if they get snug, but buckle down and get trimmer to fit into a smaller size.

Maybe it's not a healthy weight, but a healthy feeling and healthy report card from the doctor that is more important than the number on the scale?

Stats for 2/17/12:

Highest weight: 275 Now: 173.6
Total hours worked out in 2012: 35/250

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