How to check if you are a healthy weight

There are several ways of doing so: the BMI calculator, body fat measurement and waist circumference measurement.

The first one is the BMI calculator. This is a system which checks your ‘Body Mass Index’ (BMI) by performing a calculation dependent upon your height and weight.

This formula enables you to see where you placed in the weight spectrum.

Note: body mass index does vary slightly according to gender.

There are two types of measurement used for this purpose: imperial and metric.

All you have to do is to type in or select your height and weight from two options and the BMI calculator will do the rest. However, bear in mind that this is an average figure only. It will vary for athletes, pregnant women, children and the elderly who have special requirements.

For example, someone who plays rugby will have a greater amount of muscle mass and will weigh more than the average person. As a result of this they will score higher on the BMI scale. They could be technically ‘obese’ but will probably have a lower percentage of body fat than a normal person.

BMI results

  • Under 18.5 = underweight
  • 18.5 to 25 = healthy weight
  • 25 to 30 = overweight
  • 30 to 40 = obese
  • Over 40 = severely obese
  • 50 or above = morbidly obese

If your BMI is less than 18.5 then you are classed as underweight. This is not an ideal state to be in as being underweight can have its own set of problems.

Try to gain around 2 lbs a month until you reach a healthy weight.

Note: see your GP if you notice any unexpected weight loss.

At the opposite end of the scale, if your BMI is 30 or above then you are classed as obese. This too, is not an ideal state of affairs as being obese can lead to a whole range of health problems.

Changes will need to be made to your diet and lifestyle in general, but first of all, see your GP who is best placed to advise you on this. He or she can devise a weight loss plan which will ensure that you lose weight slowly and safely.

Body fat is important for a whole range of functions which include appetite control, blood sugar regulation, hormone production and bone health. The problem is when we have excess body fat.

Excess body fat is stored around the hips and thighs in women and the abdomen in men. Women have higher levels of body fat as a result of the hormone oestrogen although their fat distribution changes after the menopause. Fat is then stored around the waist (similar to men) rather then the hips.

But too much body fat can affect hormone production as well as increasing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure,
fatty liver and some cancers.

How is it measured?

Body fat measurement includes skinfold calipers, body fat scales and hydrodensitometry.

Skinfold calipers are the cheapest method. There are many different types of callipers but they all behave in much the same way in that they give a body fat reading.

Often used in universities and gyms. The person responsible for the measuring will ‘pinch’ an area of your skin to see what percentage of body fat it contains.

Men and women are measured differently. The chest, abdomen and thigh are measured in men whereas the triceps, suprailiac (just above the hip bone) and abdomen are measured in women.

Body fat scales contain a set of metal electrodes which pass an electrical current through your body. This current finds it harder to pass through fat than muscle so the harder it is the more body fat you have.

This type of scale can either be the normal type of scales that you stand on or a hand held device with the electrodes in the handles.

This device relies upon the amount of water in your body so if you take a reading before drinking water and then another afterwards you will find a discrepancy between the two.

The most accurate form of measurement and also the most expensive is the underwater weighting or hydrodensitometry. This is considered the ‘gold standard’ in body fat measurement as it gives accurate, repeat measures.

It works on the principle of displacement of water to body fat. Bone and muscle are denser in water whereas fat tends to float. So, if you have more muscle than body fat you will weigh more in water (and will sink) which means a lower amount of body fat. However, if you have more fat than muscle then you will float which means a higher percentage of body fat.

For this test you are expected to blow all the air out of your lungs before being submerged in water.

As you can imagine this is a costly and time consuming procedure that requires a great deal of expertise. Plus the participant has to be relaxed about being submerged under water.

We know about body fat distribution and how it is stored differently between the sexes. Women store fat around the breasts, hips, thighs and buttocks which gives them their characteristic pear shape. Men on the other hand store fat around the middle which leads to an apple shape instead.

However, some women can be apple shaped instead of pear shaped. We tend to be categorised as either apples or pears.

Unfortunately, having too much fat around the middle can be riskier than excess fat around the hips and thighs. It tends to be stored deeply below the skin in the abdominal region. It can cause cholesterol levels to rise which turn can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

A good way of assessing your risk is by waist measurement. Take a tape measure (the ones you buy at a haberdasher), breathe out and place the tape measure around the narrowest part of your waist. Then measure the circumference.
Ideal waist measurements for men and women are:

Men: 37 inches

Women: 32 inches

These are baseline measurements only.

The greatest risks remain for men with a waist measurement over 40 inches and women with a waist measuring over 35 inches.

So, if your waist circumference is more than the baseline measures, then you are at increased risk of serious health problems such as heart disease.

Some experts have suggested that a waist-hip ratio is a far more accurate measurement. This means measuring the amount of fat around both your waist and hips to see if you are apple shaped.

The best way to do so is to take stand relaxed, and naked. Take a tape measure and place this around the narrowest part of your waist (around your belly button). Make a note of the measurement.

Then place the tape around your hips. Measure these at their widest point which is usually around the buttocks. Make a note of the measurement.

Then divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement which will give you your ratio.

For example, if your waist is 33 inches and your hips are 39 inches then your waist-hip ratio is 0.85.

If your ratio is more than 0.8 (women) or more than 1.0 (men) then you are said to be apple shaped. This does place you at greater risk of health problems than your pear shaped counterpart.

There is another type of shape which is called the ‘chilli’ shape. This is characterised as a tall, thin shape – almost tubular hence the reference to a chilli pepper.

This may seem like the ideal shape but it does signify being underweight which can cause problems. If you are this shape then you may need to gain weight in order to be healthy.

If you are a healthy weight or have managed to shed a few excess pounds then the next question is how to maintain your new weight.

Healthy weight Guide Index:

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