By Dr. Mercola
While it's a common belief, your body weight does not always accurately reflect your health.
Your weight tells you nothing about your body's composition, nor does it indicate where hidden fat might be accumulating.
Over the years, you may lose muscle and gain fat but see little change in your weight.
Such a change in body composition may reflect declining health, especially if you have visceral fat packed in and around your abdominal organs.
Visceral fat is associated with a heightened risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
In fact, a recent report found that women drinking two or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day were more likely to develop raised levels of triglycerides and accumulate visceral fat – even if they did not put on weight overall.
"It's entirely possible for someone to be a 'healthy' weight, and have biochemical and physiological evidence of enhanced risk of disease."
Can You Be Skinny and Still Be in Poor Health?
The short answer is yes.
It's certainly possible to be thin and unhealthy.
However, overall, there are far more unhealthy overweight people than unhealthy thin people.
The central issue that primes you for poor health is insulin and leptin resistance, which is far more common in overweight individuals than thin.
But regardless of your physical size, measuring your insulin, leptin and cholesterol levels can give you a good indication of whether or not you are "metabolically fit," and whether you're headed toward chronic illness, regardless of your weight.
That said, health problems related to excess weight are definitely more common.
The risks of obesity are fairly well-known by now – obese adults tend to have higher rates of high blood pressure, abnormal lipids, cancer and diabetes, for example.
Your body is designed to operate best when it's at an ideal weight, which varies slightly from person to person. However, carrying around extra pounds will inevitably increase your risk of developing just about every chronic degenerative disease there is, so the idea that you can be overweight and maintain optimal health indefinitely can easily lead you down the wrong path.
How to Measure Your Body Composition
The body mass index (BMI) gauges your weight in relation to height. However, this measurement is rather flawed, particularly for those who are very muscular. These individuals can easily be misclassified as obese (since muscle weighs more than fat) when in fact they're just carrying a lot of muscle and very little fat. The BMI measurement also does not give you any indication of where the fat is located in your body, and this appears to be more important than the amount of fat when it comes to measuring heart risks.
The easiest and perhaps best way to measure your body composition is to simply measure your waist size. Studies have shown that your waist size is a far more accurate predictor of your heart risks than your BMI, as abdominal fat in particular is strongly associated with heart disease. Your waist size is also a powerful indicator of insulin sensitivity, as studies clearly show that measuring your waist size is one of the most powerful ways to predict your risk for diabetes.
Determining your waist size is easy. With a tape measure, figure the distance around the smallest area of your abdomen below your rib cage and above your belly button. If you're not sure if you have a healthy waist circumference, a general guide is:
- For men, between 37 and 40 inches is overweight and more than 40 inches is obese
- For women, 31.5 to 34.6 inches is overweight and more than 34.6 inches is obese
For even greater accuracy, you can resort to hydrostatic weighing, where you get weighed under water. This measures the density of your body, which is then used to calculate how much body fat you have.
Another technique that is gaining support by medical and fitness experts is the bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA). To measure body impedance, an electrical signal is passed through your body. Impedance is greatest in fat tissue, which contains low amounts of water, while fat-free mass, which contains up to 75 percent water, allows the signal to pass through fairly unimpeded. This measurement, along with other factors such as your height, weight, and body type, is then used to calculate your percentage of body fat, fat-free mass and other body composition values.
10 Things You May Not Know about Your Weight
A related article by Prevent Disease lists 10 things you may not know about your weight, but really should. Below are a few of them. (To review previous articles written on these topics, please follow the hyperlinks provided.) For the rest of the list, please see the original article:
- You can change your metabolism: A study of sets of twins where one was fat and the other thin found that fat cells in heavier twins underwent metabolic changes that make it more difficult to burn fat. Physical activity can reverse the effect.
- Stress can make you fat: Stressful circumstances can cause cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods. Stress hormones also increase fat storage.
- Sleep more to promote weight loss: Sleep deprivation upsets your hormone balance, triggering a decrease in leptin (a hormone that helps you feel full) and an increase of ghrelin (a hormone that triggers hunger).
- Sugar is addictive: Research has determined that foods people like excite the same parts of the brain that are activated in drug addicts.
- Antioxidants are also anti-fat: Free radicals damage the cells that tell you that you're full. Get rid of them by eating colorful, antioxidant-rich vegetables.
What's More Important: Diet or Exercise?
If you could choose between diet or exercise, diet actually has far more influence on developing your ideal lean body mass and overall health than exercise. It accounts for about 80 percent of the health benefits derived from a healthy lifestyle, but of course both are necessary for optimal health. Unfortunately, many are confused on this issue and believe that as long as they're exercising appropriately, they don't have to be very careful with their food choices.
This simply is not true.
If you want to lose weight, your first action item should be to drastically reduce or eliminate all forms of sugar from your diet, particularly fructose. Fructose is a major contributor to:
- Insulin resistance and obesity
- Elevated blood pressure
- Elevated triglycerides and elevated LDL
- Depletion of vitamins and minerals
- Cardiovascular disease, liver disease, cancer, arthritis and even gout
You'll also want to cut out most grains, including organic ones, as they break down into sugar in your body. The easiest way to avoid both fructose and grains is to stop buying processed foods, and focus on a diet of fresh whole foods, cooked from scratch instead.
The reason why fructose and grain-avoidance is so important for optimal health and weight is because these are the primary contributors to insulin resistance, which not only hampers your ability to lose weight, but also gives rise to virtually every chronic disease we know of.
Generic and Tailored Fructose Guidelines
As a general rule, I recommend limiting your total fructose intake from all sources to a maximum of 25 grams a day on the average, as long as you're healthy. Of course, if you go over that occasionally and are healthy there are likely to be no problem as your body is designed to adjust to this. It will merely stimulate ancient biochemical preservation genes and cause you to gain fat .This is not healthy in our current environment where we have access to food 24 hours a day and do not need to build up fat stores for intermittent periods of relative starvation.
If you have diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol or are overweight, you'd be wise to keep your fructose consumption below 15 grams a day, including that from whole fruits. (You can see the table in a previous article for a detailed breakdown of how many grams of fructose in most fruits.)
Now, this is a generic guideline that I believe will benefit a majority of people. If you want a more tailored guideline, you can customize it by measuring your uric acid levels.
The connection between fructose, uric acid, hypertension, insulin resistance/diabetes and kidney disease is so clear that your uric acid level can actually be used as a marker for toxicity from fructose.
Dr. Richard Johnson brought this to my attention early last year.
He believes the ideal range for uric acid lies between 3 to 5.5 mg per dl. Anything above that becomes a risk factor for diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and fatty liver. So, if your uric acid levels are below 3 mg/dl, you could consume higher amounts of fructose than the recommended 15-25 grams/day. If your levels are above 5.5 mg/dl, you'd be wise to restrict your fructose consumption accordingly.
If you're overweight or obese, I also recommend limiting milk – both pasteurized and raw – as the lactose (which is a simple sugar) can also impair your ability to lose weight. So drop the milk until you reach your target weight.
Prescriptions for Optimal Health and Weight
Regardless of your current weight and state of health, know that there are certain basic tenets of optimal health and healthy weight that have always remained permanent truths. The following guidelines form the foundation of a long and healthy life, and as a side-effect, will automatically help you achieve your ideal weight, whatever that may be.
- Eat a healthy diet consisting primarily of fresh, whole foods, ideally organic and locally-grown. Aim to consume at least one-third of your food raw.
- Severely limit or eliminate sugar, particularly fructose, and grains from your diet in order to optimize your insulin and leptin levels
- Drink plenty of clean water
- Manage your stress
- Implement a regular fitness program that includes a wide variety of exercises, including: high-intensity interval training, conventional aerobics, strength training, core exercises, and stretching
- Optimize your vitamin D levels, ideally through exposure to the sun, or by using a safe tanning bed, year-round
- Limit your exposure to toxins
- Consume healthy fats, which include saturated fats, and animal-based omega-3 fat
- Get plenty of sleep
Remember, leading a common sense, healthy lifestyle is your best bet to produce a healthy body and mind, and increase your longevity.