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Measuring Fat: Why BMI Is Inaccurate and Weight Scales Don’t Cut It

by Dr. Josh Axe

healthy ways to think about weight loss

If you want to burn fat and lose weight it’s important to understand types of fat as well as the best ways to measure if you’re losing fat.

For anyone watching their weight, and trying to shed a few pounds, the word fat is synonymous with poison. Whether we admit it or not, we all have negative connotations with the word fat. We don’t want to take it in our food, we can’t quite figure out if we even need it in our diets, and of course, we don’t want to be called it!

However, as I’ve mentioned time and again, fat is an integral part of life.

We need fat if we want to live!  Over 60% of your brain and nervous system are made up of fat and cholesterol so they are vital for life. But, how much is enough fat? Too much can have negative effects on our life spans, and our quality of life. How do we measure the fat that’s already inside us? Well, to answer these questions, we need to understand a few things about fat, first.

The Fat Breakdown

There are two kinds of fat inside our bodies:

1.    Visceral fat– this is bad fat! It’s the fat that builds up around our internal organs. Doctors and researchers associate it with ailments such as diabetes and heart disease. Having a lot of visceral fat is unhealthy.

2.    Sub-cutaneous fat– You know the fat that you pinch on your love handles, your hips and your thighs? Well, this is sub-cutaneous fat. You’ll be surprised to find out that this fat isn’t as bad or dangerous as the other fat I mentioned- visceral fat. A study found out that women who had larger hips and thighs produced smarter babies, partly because of the fat that was found in these areas!

As with everything else, balance is key. You don’t want to have too much body fat, nor too little either (which is rare in America). But how do you measure the fat?


The Problem With BMI

One of the most common ways to measure a person’s weight is through BMI. This is a standard equation that measures a person’s percentage of body fat by multiplying weight and height.

The problem with this kind of measurement is that it doesn’t even take into account the amount of muscle a person has. This given formula does not discriminate against fat or muscle. And so, what happens is that if a person has very little body fat, and tons of muscle, he may still fall under the danger of being classified as overweight in BMI standards.  I’ve known many professional athletes, personal trainers, and body builders who were considered overweight according to BMI and some even considered obese when they had a body fat % below 10%!

According to CDC estimates that are based on BMI 34% of American’s are obese.  But when researchers from New York University used a DXA (duel-energy x-ray absorptiometry) scan, which is far more accurate at evaluating body fat percentage, the found BMI found 26% of the group to be obese where they DXA found 64%!

Dr. Eric Braverman, president of the Path Foundation said:   “Based on BMI, about one-third of Americans are considered obese, but when other methods of measuring obesity are used, that number may be closer to 60%.”


Body Fat Percentage is Better than BMI

If measuring one’s fat through the BMI is no longer any good, then what’s the better option?

If you ask me, measuring one’s body fat percentage yields better and more accurate results. In early 2000, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study showing that body-fat percentage may be a better measure of your risk of weight-related diseases than BMI.

Body fat percentage is the total weight of a person’s fat divided by his weight. The fat is classified into essential body fat and stored body fat. Essential body fat is the fat needed to maintain normal body functions and essential reproductive functions.

  • Men should have anywhere from 2 to 4% of essential fat, while women should have 8 to 12%.
  • Women naturally store more fat for various reasons, some reasons are due to hormones and for possible child bearing purposes.


What Should I Do?

I recommend first purchasing a scale that can test both your body fat % and weight.  The Eat Smart company has some good options, like this one: Eat Smart Body Fat Scale

If you’re looking to reduce body fat here are some essentials you should consider:

  1. Set a Specific Goal: Having a specific target is vital when trying to make changes so set goals that are specific, realistic, and have a date and plan that go along with them.  For instance, Goal losing 20 pounds in 6 weeks (September 5th).  And evaluate yourself regularly to see if you’re on track and if not step it up!
  2. Follow my advanced eating plan(See Healing Plate below)
  3. Do burstFIT exercise 3-6x a week: Science has proven you can burn 3-9x as much body fat doing interval (burst) training compared to moderate cardio

What have you found to be the best ways to burn fat?

What are the most common challenges you face when it comes to burning fat and losing weight?

Sources: shape.comwebmd.comnaturalnews.com

About the author...

 has helped thousands of people transform their health and life through his strategies in advanced nutrition, burst training, weight loss, superfoods, healthy recipes and anti-aging. Dr. Josh is a go-to physician for professional and Olympic athletes. He traveled to London as a member of the Wellness Advisory Council for USA Wrestling and Weight Lifting team. For a high intensity workout you can do in 20 minutes a day, check out his burstFIT DVD program .