Top reasons to look beyond the scale

Susan Burke

Your weight is just a number on the scales. There are a few other numbers that are far more important, but weight is the traditional measure of accomplishment. If you're not sure what you should weigh, if you're confused about how often you should weigh yourself, and how much weight loss is healthy, I'm not surprised. There's a lot of conflicting information out there, but here's the skinny:

1. BMI. Body Mass Index (BMI) is usually the first tool health professionals use for a quick assessment of your risk for diseases associated with being overweight and obese, especially Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis and some cancers. BMI cannot be used to diagnose disease and is only one factor to look at when assessing total risk. You can find out your BMI using our Free diet Profile.


Underweight: Below 20
Normal: 20 - 24.9
Overweight: 25.0 - 29.9
Obesity: 30.0 -39.9
Extreme obesity: 40.0+

2. Wait! BMI is not relevant to everyone. Athletes often have more muscle mass and older people lose muscle mass and have more body fat respectively, so BMI should not be used to assess their health or risk. Muscle is denser than fat and by volume weighs more, so someone who has more muscle mass can weigh more but still is fit.

3. Height. Your weight means nothing without your height. Have you ever visited a new doctor, and the nurse or medical assistant weighs you but doesn't record your height? That weight is just a number, not relevant to anything. Without height, you cannot find your BMI. Make sure your height is measured along with your weight every time you go in for a medical examination. And ask them to measure your waist.

4. Waist measurement. Your waist size is very important when calculating risk for disease. If your BMI is above normal, but you have a slim waist, it's not a concern. However, if your BMI is above normal and you're carrying weight around your waist then you could be in trouble. Waist size is a good indicator of your abdominal fat, which is another predictor of your risk for developing risk factors for heart disease and other diseases. Check out this article for more information.

5. Your goal. So you want to weigh what you did in college? Not me! In college, I was more than a stone overweight, working my way to my all-time high of 2 ½ stone heavier than I am now! So we all don't want to weigh what we did in college; in fact, we should focus on today and set realistic goals for tomorrow. I tell members to set a goal of 10 percent of your current weight and aim for 8 pounds loss in the first month. At that pace, you can expect to reach your goal and maintain your weight loss. Losing too quickly usually backfires.

6. Your health numbers. Your total cholesterol, HDL and LDL, and your triglycerides can indicate risk for heart disease. Similarly, your blood pressure and blood sugar are very important numbers, and can indicate high blood pressure or diabetes. If your health numbers are all normal, your weight is less important. These risk factors combined with a high BMI can spell trouble:

• High blood pressure - hypertension (should be around 120/80)
• High LDL-cholesterol - "bad" cholesterol (without any other risk factors, less than 160; with risk factors, less than 100 is optimal)
• Low HDL-cholesterol - "good” cholesterol (below 40 men/50 women)
• High triglycerides (above 150)
• High blood glucose - sugar (above 200 random/above 126 fasting)
• Family history of premature heart disease
• Physical inactivity
• Cigarette smoking

7. Weighing in. Are you obsessed with the scales? Do you get on the scales every day, hold your breath and pray? Do you strip down to your undies and count every ounce? With our online programme, you can login as many times a day as you like, but you're prompted to weigh in only once weekly.

It’s important to remember that daily weight fluctuations are normal, depending upon your metabolism, time of month, fluid retention, even natural fluid shifts and elimination. Weighing yourself once a week on the same day and at the same time while trying to lose weight will give an accurate reflection of your progress. The scale can be discouraging, and a week's time between weighing gives your body the chance to stabilise at the new weight.

Aim for a loss of approximately 2 pounds per week, once you've gotten past the first week's usually larger weight loss (usually mainly fluid loss). A study presented at the Obesity Society 2005 Conference shows that those trying to maintain their weight loss are more successful when they weigh themselves daily. It may be because these weight-maintainers are more likely to take action if they've gained weight; they adjust their diet and increase their exercise and get back to their goal without regaining more.

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