The scale isn’t your only tool in determining how fit and healthy you are. Other measurements, like body fat percentage, waist circumference, and BMI tell as much or more about your overall health and fitness picture as the number on the scale. Here’s the best news: All of these can be improved on a plant-based diet.
If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you know how obsessed with the scale you can become. Yet while knowing your weight can be a useful tool, it only gives you a fraction of the story. Other measures like body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference, both of which are tied to body fat, play into this as well. Here’s the scoop on what each of these measurements indicate, how you can check them at home, and why you should eat even more plants to improve all of them.
The skinny on measuring your body fat
How many times have you heard people refer to fat as a four-letter word? Maybe you’ve even said the same. Here’s the catch: When people say this, they’re usually referring to the “pinch an inch” type of fat, essentially the kind that sits right under your skin. Yet subcutaneous (or surface) fat isn’t the big issue. Instead, you need to direct your attention to two other types of fat in your body, namely visceral and intramyocellular fats which sit deeper and cause more harm.
While intramyocellular fat are essentially fat droplets stored in muscle cells, visceral fat is the fat in your belly, around your waist and around your organs, and both lead to poor health. “Increase in intramyocellular fat leads to insulin resistance that can cause a myriad of problems, diabetes included,” says Kim Scheuer, M.D., plant-based lifestyle medicine physician and founder of DOKS Lifestyle Medicine in Aspen, Colo. Meanwhile, visceral fat is even more indicative of disease, as it causes inflammation in the body which is paramount to heart disease and many other chronic diseases.
So how can you check your body fat? There are several ways, including the gold standard of hydrostatic weighing where you’re dunked underwater while holding your breath, DXA which is similar to bone testing, and skinfold calipers that pinch the fat you can squeeze. Yet there are drawbacks to each. The first two require special equipment while the calipers check only subcutaneous fat and aren’t that accurate, Scheuer says.
Fortunately, there are ways you can keep tabs on your body fat at home, and the first is BMI. While BMI has come under fire as less than ideal as a way to gauge the population, many experts still consider it a useful tool. “BMI is an excellent indicator, as it’s practical and easy to determine, and it reliably correlates with the percentage of body fat and body fat mass,” says Charles Elder, M.D., internal medicine physician in Portland, Ore.
To determine your BMI, divide your weight (in kilograms) by your height (in meters) squared. If you know both, you can use a BMI calculator to do the match for you. In general, a BMI of…