Am I Overweight?
Feeling overly stuffed and tight around your waist after having brunch with your girlfriends is something we all can totally relate (because we've all done it!).
And it's surprising how one small thing can truly make us convinced we are fat and overweight and even worry we might just be obese.
But just because you feel overly sensitive about how tight your jeans feel doesn't necessarily mean you are overweight and need to lose weight.
According to Women's Health Research Institute, women constantly mis-judge themselves.
Just as 1 in 4 overweight American women believes her body weight as normal, around 1 in 6 normal weight women regards herself as overweight.
Whether your concern for your weight is a legitimate one or just your sensitivity, it's important to know what's considered healthy weight, overweight and obese, and when to start taking weight loss seriously.
There are two popular and widely used metrics to understand your weight and its health status.
- BMI: Weight (lbs or kgs) based
- Body fat percentage: body fat
Body Mass Index (BMI)
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, BMI is a useful measure of overweight and obesity.
The calculation is simple and takes your weight and height into account.
If you track your weight loss by pounds (or kilos) or measure yourself on a scale, you are by default adhering to the measure of BMI to identify whether you are at a healthy weight.
Weight (in pounds) divided by height (in inches) squared, multiplied by 703.
To find out your BMI score, weigh in on a scale and find your height and weight in the chart below. The chart content was originally published on cancer.org.
According to Harvard School of Public Health, healthy range for BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9.
Overweight is defined as BMI of 25 to 29.99 and BMI over 30 is considered obese.
Though it is one of the most frequently used body fat status measure, BMI formula itself is as old as it can get.
According to Keith Devin from Oregon Public Broadcasting, the BMI is a 200 year old hack.
He reports it was introduced in the early 19th century by a Belgian mathematician named Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet.
He produced the formula as a quick way to measure the degree of obesity of the general populations to assist the government in allocating resources.
Despite its popularity around the world, it is one of the most debated methods of assessing one's fat measure and its health status.
University of Virginia reports BMI has several limits, including:
- May overestimate body fat in athletes and those with a muscular build
- May underestimate body fat in older person or an individual who has loss muscle mass.
- Not appropriate for pregnant women and breastfeeding women.
These limitations come at no surprise since the concern for being overweight and obese is not necessarily the weight itself, but it's the excess amount of body fat.
According to Harvard.edu, at the very basic, the terms "overweight" and "obesity" are used to describe having too much body fat, yet BMI does not distinguish weight from fat to lean muscle, often resulting in mislabeling muscular individuals' health status.
Though limitations exist, Richard L. Atkinson, MD, a researcher and editor of the International Journal of Obesity claims "for 90-95% of the population, it works fine as a general measure of obesity."
If you weigh in to check your status, be aware of the BMI's limitations.
Body Fat Percentage
If you strength train or have an athletic body with a higher muscle mass, you may find yourself in the 5-10% of the population BMI may not work well for.
For athletes, individuals with thick bone structures and/or higher muscle mass, consider assessing your health status using body fat percentage.
On contrary to BMI, body fat percentage measures your body composition. "It is literally measuring what percentage of your body is made up of fat." said Josh Hills, certified personal trainer and Livestrong.com writer.
He adds "it gives a more accurate representation of health, fitness and leanness of someone who is physically active."
Also unlike BMI, what's considered healthy "body fat percentage" is different between men and women, and some organizations even have taken age into consideration.
ACSM’S Health-Related Physical Fitness Assessment Manual recommends the following ranges as your body fat guidelines.
These gender and age specifications are a good thing and Barbara J. Moore, PhD, president of Shape Up! America agrees.
On Webmd.com's Body Fat Measurement article, she writes "It's comforting to know that women can be and should be fatter than men. They have a totally different reproduction function and the higher fat in women supports that reproductive function.".
According to Harvard School of Public Health, there are several ways to measure your body fat percentages:
- Bioelectric Impedance (BIA)
- Under water weighing (densitometry)
- Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA)
Each has its own advantages, but not all options are immediately accessible.
For example, underwater weighing and "DEXA measure your body fat" with best accuracy; however, they are very expensive and in most cases, not available to the general public. Harvard states densitometry and Dexa are typically only used for clinical research purposes.
That leaves us with caliper and BIA.
By any means, skinfold caliper is not an expensive measuring tool ($14.96 - $170 on Amazon.com), yet it is still not a household measuring equipment everyone keeps around the house.
And, unless you have a partner who can help you measure the thickness of your skinfold from various body parts including chest, triceps, subscapular, axilla, suprailiac, abdomen, and thigh, it's a difficult task to complete on your own.
Just imagine, pinching your own triceps with a caliper and peeking its reading. It's not easy!
The last and more practical option to measure your body composition (without anyone's help! meaning in privacy!) is Bioelectric Impedance (BIA) scale.
They are basically conventional bathroom scales with body fat monitors. On Amazon, you can find one in the range of $50 to $250.
It's a portable, convenient, easy and fast way to get a read on your body fat percentage, but its accuracy can vary depending on the brand and quality of the scale.
Another factor that can lessen the accuracy of the body fat percentage measure on BIA is your hydration level, said Shape Up America.
Because BIA equipment sends safe electric current through your body to measure the body mass and water to estimate your body fat percentage, dehydration can cause overestimation of your body fat.
To aim higher accuracy, measure your body fat percentage under the same, consistent scenario such as you weigh in the first thing in the morning after drinking a glass of water.
This consistency also helps you understand the changes in your body fat percentage with less variance in your hydration level.
Going from Overweight to Being Healthy
Whichever method (BMI or Body Fat Percentage) you employ, it's ultimately the fat content you are trying to measure and any sign of excess fat in your body is what's alarming you of possible health risks.
If you find yourself being overweight or obese under either method (but more preferably body fat percentage), it may be a legitimate sign you need to lose weight to improve your health.
Before getting into how to go from being overweight to being healthy, it's worth noting the difference between losing weight and losing fat.
While it's more conventional to focus on losing weight when you are overweight, the faster and more efficient way to slim down, achieve a healthy weight and keep it the weight off actually is to lose fat.
According to Livestrong.com, typically, when you lose this excess fat, you also lose weight.
Yet, when you focus on losing weight, you will end up losing much more than fat, which will eventually cause weight loss plateau and increase likelihood of rebounding.
For both aesthetic purposes and improving your overall health, you have much more to gain from losing your excess fat.
- "One in 4 Overweight Women View Themselves as Normal Weight." Women's Health Research Institute. N.p., 13 Dec. 2010. Web. 21 Aug. 2015.
- "Assessing Your Weight and Health Risk." Assessing Your Weight and Health Risk. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Aug. 2015.
- Scott, Jennifer R. "What Is Body Fat? Definition, Effects and Links." Http://weightloss.about.com/. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Aug. 2015.