Look beyond the scale to measure your progress

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In collaboration with: Marla Gold, Health and Fitness Expert
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If you’re set on improving your health, it may be time to stop jumping on your bathroom scale. "Your weight is just one indicator of your health," says Marla Gold, Director of the McGill Cardiovascular Health Improvement Program (CHIP). "There are other ways to assess your health and track your progress." Here’s how.

"How much you weigh shouldn’t be your only guide when assessing your health,” advises Marla Gold. “Weight can be very deceiving — especially if you’ve started a weight-loss and exercise routine. Exercise will change your body composition and increase your lean muscle mass and you may actually gain weight while you lose inches. These changes may not translate to loss of pounds the next time you jump on a scale, but you will look and feel better."

That’s an important thing to understand if you’re trying to lose weight and are getting frustrated. So how can you measure your progress without relying solely on how much you weigh? Marla Gold suggests the following:

  • Put on if you’re taking off. "A good way to check your progress is to try on different clothes," she says. "How your clothes fit and hang on your body is a good indicator that progress is being made."
  • Take it all off. "Standing in front of a mirror naked is another good way to track your progress," she advises. "You’ll be able to see your body shape changing and see how much progress you’ve made."

If you’re looking for more scientific ways to measure your progress, use a combination of methods — such as the ones outlined below — to get the most realistic feedback of your progress and success.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

BMI is a measurement that indicates whether you are within a health weight range for your height. It is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in metres, squared. For example, say you weight 72.5 kg (about 160 lbs) and you’re 1.7m (about 5’ 6”) tall:

72.5 divided by 1.72
72.5 divided by [1.7 x 1.7]
72.5 divided by 2.89
Your BMI = 25.1 (which is classified as “overweight” — see our chart below)

You can also find online BMI tables and calculators that will tell you your BMI based on your weight and height in either metric or imperial measurements.

What your BMI means:

BMIClassification
Less than 18.5Underweight
18.5 – 24.9Normal weight range
25.0 – 29.9Overweight
30.0 and aboveObese

Note, however, that BMI does not provide a breakdown of fat and lean body mass. A person with a higher than normal muscle mass may have a BMI that’s higher than normal. This does not mean that he or she is overweight or obese, so it’s always best to use a combination of methods.

Where you carry your weight makes a difference

Are you an apple or a pear? Are you carrying excess weight around your middle? The answers to these questions may be more important than the number you read on the bathroom scale.

"Your waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio are good indicators of whether or not you’re at a higher risk for certain health issues," continues Marla Gold. "They’re also a good way to track your progress."

Waist circumference

Measuring your waist is an easy way to see if you have too much fat surrounding your abdominal organs, which is believed to increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes. To be in the healthy range, you should have a waist circumference of no more than 102 cm (40 in.) if you are a man, and no more than 88 cm (35 in.) if you are a woman. If you are of Chinese or South Asian descent, your waist should be no more than 90 cm (35 in.) if you are a man and 80 cm (32 in.) if you are a woman.

Waist-to-hip ratio

"Where your body stores fat is another important consideration," says Gold. "Using your waist-to-hip ratio is a good way to assess whether or not you’re at risk for certain weight-related health conditions."

Grab a measuring tape and with one simple math calculation, you can find your hip-to-waist ratio and which category you fall into:

  1. Measure (in inches) your waist at the smallest part.
  2. Measure (in inches) your hips at the largest part.
  3. Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement. The result will give you your ratio.

Example: Say your waist measures 35 inches and your hips measure 42. Your waist-to-hip ratio = 0.8 (35 divided by 42)

What your ratio means:

  • Women — For women the magic number is 0.8; those below are at lower risk; above are at higher risk.
  • Men — Men with a ratio less than 1.0 are at lower risk; more than 1.0 are at higher risk.

Be consistent when measuring

Remember that if you’re using your waist circumference and/or waist-to-hip ratio to track your progress, make sure you’re consistent with where and how you take your measurements.


 

References
  • Feedback, instructions and interview with Marla Gold
  • Alberta Centre for Active Living, Measuring obesity: comparing different body measurements Website
  • Health Canada, Are you an apple or a pear? Website
  • Health Canada, Body Mass Index (BMI) Nomogram Website
  • Heart & Stroke Foundation, Prevention of Risk Factors: Being Overweight Website
  • Mayo Clinic, Waist-to-hip ratio: A risk factor for heart disease? Website

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