This article was contributed by Lisa Ball.
When your aim is weight loss, seeing the pounds come off when you get on the scales each week is usually the focus. However, having a set of bathroom scales, it can be a temptation to weigh yourself more frequently; it is not uncommon for people to step on them daily. Doing so can be futile to your efforts though. Rarely would you see any significant loss of fat mass from one day to the next and owing to differences in fluid balance from day-to-day, your weight fluctuates for this reason. Seeing your weight creep up by half a pound from the previous day can be enough to dishearten anyone, making you question whether the changes you have made to your diet and activity levels have been worth it. While the answer to this is that they have been absolutely worth it, as you’re in it for the long haul to change your lifestyle for the better for good, this can be hard to see when you are fixated on the scales. This is just one reason why measuring waist circumference is beneficial when your sights are set on weight loss.
Abdominal fat and chronic disease risk
Losing pounds is only part of the story; losing inches is the other. Not only does loss of inches round your waist improve your appearance, but doing so offers significant benefits to your health. There is a wealth of evidence that supports the fact that the amount of fat stored around the abdomen is an indicator of someone’s risk of obesity related diseases; people with an “apple shape” are more at risk than those with a “pear shape” who store more of their fat around their hips and thighs. Type 2 diabetes, raised blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease, not to mention mortality, are all higher in the presence of abdominal obesity. The Nurses’ Health Study, which involved more than 44,000 participants, showed that after 16 years those who had a waist circumference of at least 35 inches were twice as likely to die from heart disease or cancer as those with a measurement of less than 28 inches. This research also demonstrated that this held when their body mass index was the same and even when participants had what would be classed as a healthy BMI (less than 25Kg/m2), they were more likely to have died from heart disease if their waist circumference was larger. The risk was three times higher in healthy weight women with a waist measurement greater than 35 inches.
Metabolic differences of fat
So what is it about abdominal fat that makes it so detrimental to health? The answer lies in the fact that the fat around the abdomen is metabolically different to that deposited on the hips, thighs or elsewhere in the body. Abdominal fat is more metabolically active, so releases hormones and inflammatory agents which have a negative impact on levels of harmful LDL cholesterol, triglycerides (another type of fat which is detrimental to the health of the heart and circulation), blood sugars and blood pressure. Therefore not only are over a third of Americans now obese, but the majority also have abdominal obesity, explaining why heart disease remains the number one killer and why rates of type 2 diabetes are soaring. While the complications of diabetes, which include blindness, nerve damage and erectile dysfunction, can be managed with treatment, if left unchecked they can significantly impair quality of life. Seeking to lower waist circumference as part of any weight management program can, however, help to prevent the co-morbidities associated with obesity.
Aiming to reduce waist circumference
According to the American Heart Association, women with a waist circumference greater than 35 inches and men with a measurement greater than 40 inches are at increased risk of health problems. Aiming to bring your waist circumference below these cut off points is therefore the ideal situation. However, if your starting measurement is way off the mark, it is important to take a realistic approach. Just as you might set yourself small goals of aiming to lose a pound of weight a week, apply the same rule when it comes to losing inches from your waist. As with weight, people lose inches at difference rates; measure your waist weekly or fortnightly and set a feasible target based on your own loss.