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Determining Your Optimum Weight

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With the United States being one of the most overweight nations in the world, it is no wonder that the topic of weight loss has become so mainstream. In addition, while the percentage of adults that are either overweight or obese has continued to rise, likewise, the percentages have risen within the adolescent and teen populations as well.

According to results derived from a study conducted by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) in 2007, more than 60% of all Americans aged 20 years and older are overweight. In addition, the study also concluded that nearly one-third of the entire American adult population is considered obese.

Obesity is a serious health concern for children and adolescents as well. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) conducted during the time periods of 1976–1980 and 2003–2006 concluded that the prevalence of obesity in children and adolescents has increased. For children aged 2–5 years, obesity prevalence increased from 5.0% to 12.4%; for children aged 6–11 years, prevalence increased from 6.5% to 17%; and for adolescents aged 12–19 years, prevalence increased from 5% to 17.6%.

The Surgeon General has determined that obesity is responsible for over 300,000 deaths per year - a toll surpassed only by tobacco, to which 400,000 deaths are attributed. In addition, there are several health complications and diseases that have been directly linked to obesity.

Obesity Complications and Diseases

  1. Coronary heart disease

  2. Type 2 diabetes

  3. Cancers (endometrial, breast and colon)

  4. Hypertension (high blood pressure)

  5. Dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides)

  6. Stroke

  7. Liver and gallbladder disease

  8. Sleep apnea and respiratory problems

  9. Osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint)

  10. Gynecological problems (abnormal menses, infertility)

The intent of this article is not to overwhelm our readers with statistics, but rather to discuss the various techniques and approaches used to determine an individual's optimum weight, and thereafter facilitate the obtainment of that body weight. The art of weight loss, or weight gain, is fundamentally straightforward. Simply put, in order for an individual to lose weight, they must consume fewer calories than their body burns in a day.

In other words, if an individual consumes 2,000 calories in a day and their body only burns 1,500 calories per day, they will store 500 calories as additional body weight. Furthermore, if that same individual continuously consumes 500 calories above the number of calories their body burns per day, they will gain 1 pound of body weight in a 7-day period (3,500 calories is equal to one pound of body weight).

By understanding how to correctly determine your optimum weight, you will be able to define your personal weight loss goal. Following this, you will be able to define a fitness routine that will facilitate the attainment of your personal weight loss goal. By taking an active approach to your personal fitness, you will embrace a lifestyle filled with good health, fitness and mental well-being.

Methods and Techniques for Measuring Weight and Body Fat

As previously mentioned, there are several methods and techniques used to measure an individual's body fat level and percentage of body fat.

The following briefly discusses the most prominent methods currently used to determine an individual's optimum body weight:

    measuring waist
  1. Body Weight Measurement - Simply put, this is the weight scale typically seen in most homes and is solely a measure of the total body weight of an individual in either pounds or kilgrams.

  2. Body Mass Index (BMI) - A method of estimating a person's body fat percentage based upon their weight and height measurements.

    Although the BMI calculation is an indirect measurement of body fat, it has been found to be a fairly reliable indicator of body fat measures in most people.

  3. Skin-Fold Caliper - With the skin-fold caliper method, an individual would take pinches of their skin at three points on their body (6 points using the Yuhasz method), and thereafter calculate their body fat percentage.

    There are electronic calipers that sense the correct pressure to pinch and perform the calculations as well.

  4. Bio-Electrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) - With the BIA method (similar to a body weight scale), a device sends a small electrical signal through your hands or feet and uses the data to determine how much of your body is fat and how much is water. Muscle and lean tissue are primarily comprised of water. To perform the body fat calculation, an individual only needs to enter their gender, age and weight.

  5. Height/Weight Charts - Height/weight charts are designed to represent an individual's body mass index. Height/weight charts also provide generic healthy weight ranges for men and women. These charts can typically be found in the offices of medical professionals, nutritionists and dietitians. Several height/weight charts include weight recommendations categorized by body frame type (i.e. small, average or large) and age.

  6. Waist Measurement - Simply put, this method solely measures the waist. Thereafter, the results are compared to data compiled by organizations such as the International Diabetes Federation.

  7. Waist-to-Hip Ratio - The waist-to-hip ratio compares the measurement of the narrowest part of the waist to the broadest section of the hips. Measure your waist between the rib cage and the hip bone as viewed from the front. The broadest hip/butt measure is best determined from the side. Do not pull in your stomach while taking your measurements. Once the measurements have been taken, divide the waist measurement by the hip measurement. The ratio should be no more than 0.9 for men and 0.8 for women.

    For example, a man with a 42-inch waist and 40-inch hips would have a waist/hip ratio of 1.05. As a health indicator, several medical professionals have determined that this ratio is more accurate than the waist measurement alone, particularly for heart disease risk assessment. One study determined that there was an increased risk of heart disease when this ratio exceeded 0.8 for women and 0.9 for men.

  8. DEXA Scanning - DEXA stands for "dual energy x-ray absorptiometry" and is sometimes called DXA. DEXA is primarily used to measure bone density and lean mass, but can also be used to determine fat mass readings. The DXA system uses a body scanner, takes approximately 15 minutes to run, and costs upwards of $100 per session. The DXA scanner is fairly accurate and typically delivers results within a 3% error margin.

  9. Hydrostatic Weighing - Hydrostatic weighing consists of submerging an individual completely underwater while they sit on a scale and expel all the air from their lungs. The technology utilizes the displacement of water and the differing densities of fat and lean muscle mass, and is considered highly accurate. However, very few establishments have a hydrostatic weighing system, limiting accessibility for most individuals.

  10. The Bod Pod - The Bod Pod method of determining body fat levels has been available since 1997, and may be the most accurate method of all. The Bod Pod is an egg-shaped cocoon in which an individual is enclosed for approximately 5 minutes. It works via the same principle as hydrostatic weighing, except the medium is air instead of water. The process is defined as "plethysmography." Since there is no water involved, the process involves less hassle and mess.

While there are several methods and techniques associated with determining an individual's body fat level, several of the approaches are less reliable, less accessible or more costly than others. Hence, the intent of this section of our website is to discuss the techniques that are more common and readily accessible to most individuals.

Be Realistic - Some Fat is Necessary

It is important to be realistic about your actual ideal weight. Many individuals, especially women, set their ideal weight goals at a level that is not only impractical, but unhealthy as well. In many instances, these unrealistic expectations are due to the constant exploitation of public figures (i.e. actresses, actors and models) that are simply too thin.

There are several reasons why the human body needs a certain percentage of body fat to function at its optimum level. First, body fat is responsible for transporting fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K. Individuals with extremely low levels of body fat are much more susceptible to vitamin deficiencies and disease. Second, fat is a great shock absorber and acts as a buffer for virtually the entire body, more specifically the internal organs and nerves. Third, body fat serves as "human insulation" and helps regulate our body temperature. Fourth, body fat contains the largest reserve of stored energy, and when needed, is broken down and released into the human body to support everything from physical activity to internal organ functionality.

Every individual should set one of their personal fitness goals as obtaining their optimum body weight, and thereafter maintaining that level of body weight. However, it is important to remember that each of the methods and approaches used to determine your optimum weight level are rough estimates, and their accuracy will vary from person to person. The primary reasons for these variations include items such as height, lean muscle mass, structural frame size and body shape.

Take the time to determine your ideal body weight using multiple methods. By doing so, you will be more accurately aligned with a realistic weight loss goal. This will allow you to set a weight loss goal that is attainable, thus increasing your probability of obtaining your goal. Once you have achieved your optimum weight, your personal confidence and motivation will improve, increasing your belief that you actually can achieve and maintain a healthy weight level. Once you have obtained your personal weight goal, you may begin to set your personal fitness goals even higher than you originally believed possible.

Each of the methods used to calculate an individual's ideal weight have their benefits and weaknesses in relation to their overall accuracy. For the most part, all of the methods used for calculating an individual's ideal weight fail to take into account the individual's amount of lean muscle mass. In other words, an individual that has a high level of lean muscle mass will inherently weigh more than the typical individual. Hence, all of the methods used for calculating an individual's ideal weight will conclude that the individual is overweight. Since lean muscle mass by volume weighs more than body fat, an individual may be considered overweight even while maintaining a low percentage of body fat. For this reason, the application of common sense is necessary.

What You Will Find in this Section

ideal weight

The following articles under this section of our website are designed to assist you in calculating your ideal body weight level. This section of our website also includes weight loss approaches and tips on how to safely lose weight, and thereafter maintain a healthy weight level.

On a larger scale, our Weight Loss section is designed to facilitate all aspects of good health, fitness and mental well-being.

The weight loss topics under this section of our website include, to name a few:

  • Defining and setting your weight loss and personal fitness goals

  • Fitness programs and routines that are designed to uniquely target your specific fitness goals (i.e. strengthen the upper body, reduce waist, hip, and thigh measurements, improve cardiovascular fitness level, etc.)

  • Dietary and nutritional approaches and programs that are, or can be, tailored to your specific weight loss and fitness goals

It is important to remember that there is more to an individual's overall health than just body weight. In order for an individual to actually be healthy, they must approach health as a lifestyle. True health is obtained through weight training, cardiovascular activity, stretching, proper nutrition and physical and mental rest and relaxation.