So, we heard you’ve been stress-eating a little bit lately. (Who hasn’t?!) A lot of us are home more all of a sudden, and we’re a little too conveniently located near our fridge for one thing. And instead of walking down the hall to chat with our coworkers, these days we’re barely budging from our Zoom squares. Plus think fast: When’s the last time you wore anything with an actual non-stretchy waistband?
At HealthCentral, we know that wellness is much more than a number on a scale—and yet, if you’re like us, you may have a sneaking suspicion that these past few months haven’t been exactly a boon to your body. It’s time to assess the damage before it’s too late. From old-school to high-tech, there are multiple ways of thinking about body weight. We gathered a variety of DIY measuring methods—none give you the final word on the state of your health, but taken together, you’ll get a more complete picture on where you stand. Do try these at home…
Why it works: A rough estimate of whether the number on your scale is healthy based on your height and weight, your Body Mass Index (BMI) is a good indicator of your risk factors for certain conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
DIY: To determine your BMI, divide your weight (in pounds) by your height (in centimeters) squared, and multiply that number by 703. Been a minute since you’ve hit math class? No sweat: Plug your numbers into this BMI calculator:
The caveat: While this measurement can estimate whether most people’s body fat percentage is in a healthy range, it doesn’t account for the fact that very fit people may weigh more because of the muscle they carry.
Experts say: “BMI can be useful to assess your health risks, but it doesn’t tell you how much fat versus lean mass you have,” says certified personal trainer Chris Gagliardi, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “If an athlete and a sedentary person were the same weight and same height they would be placed in the same category, for example, whereas one person might be more highly fit than the other.”
Why it works: Relative Fat Mass aims to give a more accurate measurement of body fat percentage than BMI, by using your height and waist circumference to measure your whole-body fat total. All you need is a measuring tape (for the most accurate measurement, place the measuring tape right at the top of your hip bones and draw a circle around your waist).
DIY: To determine your RFM, follow this formula:
- Men: 64 - (20 x height in inches/waist circumference in inches) = RFM
- Women: 76 - (20 x height in inches/waist circumference in inches) = RFM
The caveat: Although experts find this method to be more precise in determining body fat percentage compared to BMI, the technique is relatively new, so there are no longitudinal studies as of yet to compare RFM numbers with disease risk, as there are with BMI.
Experts say: “Relative fat mass is a better measure of body fatness than many indices currently used in medicine and science, including the BMI," according to Orison Woolcott, M.D., who co-designed the method with colleagues at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
The Waistband Method
Why it works: Pants don’t lie! Using a physical garment as a daily morning gauge is a simple and foolproof measuring tool.
DIY: Find a pair of pants with a non-stretch waistband and slip them on when you wake up every morning as a daily measuring tool.
The caveat: Time-of-month bloating and an occasional big meal might sway results from time to time, and this method only tells you about your weight gain relative to when you bought the pants—not where you stand in absolute terms.
Experts say: “When we’re working from home in our stretchy waistbands, we’re not getting the feedback we need on our waistline,” says Deborah Horn, D.O., medical director for the UT Center of Obesity Medicine and Metabolic Performance in Houston. “Trying on the same pair of pants or skirt every day is a simple, yet helpful way to get a sense of what’s going on.”
Why it works: If you carry more weight around your middle than your hips, you may be more likely to develop certain conditions like diabetes and heart disease. This method, which measures the difference in circumference between the two areas, helps determine your risk for these and other health problems.
DIY: To measure your waist, wrap a tape measure around the midpoint between your lowest rib and the iliac crest (your main hip bone), and at the largest circumference point of your hips. For exact instructions, follow this video by ACE Fitness pros. Then, plug your numbers into our chart.
The caveat: The American Heart Association recently reported that waist circumference alone is the best indicator of a heart attack, especially in women.
Experts say: “While these measurements do correlate well to morbidity and mortality data, it’s difficult to get an accurate measurement,” says Horn. “Even some of my colleagues have a hard time with it sometimes, because you need to measure in a very specific place.”
Body Part Circumference
Why it works: Don’t hang your measuring tape up just yet: You can choose any body part—arm, leg, toes (just kidding)—and get a sense of your health and fitness progress by taking before-and-after measurements.
DIY: Want to shrink your waist? Build your biceps? Tighten your thighs? Pick a part, any part, and measure the circumference now, then schedule weekly check-ins with yourself to re-measure and assess your progress as you follow a healthy eating and exercise routine. Since this is a method of relative gains and losses, there’s no need to use a tape measure if it makes you uneasy. “I have clients who don’t want to see any numbers, and they simply use a piece of string to mark their progress,” says Gagliardi.
The caveat: The girth of your thighs or biceps varies substantially at different points along the muscle. Measuring even just a few centimeters north or south of where you measured last week can affect the numbers, so try to find “landmarks” on your body to get a consistent reading (a freckle or mole can help!).
Experts say: “Don’t fall into the line of thinking that you can spot-reduce a particular body part by doing sit-ups to get flat abs,” says Gagliardi. “You can’t reduce fat on a specific part of the body.” But you can work the muscle underneath, so that when you lose the fat via a healthy diet, you’ll be able to see more muscle definition (hello, six-pack!).
Body Fat Percentage
Why it works: The number on the scale might not seem terribly high, but knowing how much of your flesh is made up of muscle versus fat can be a better indicator of your overall health and fitness level.
DIY: You might remember the days when assessments were done with a glorified pair of tweezers, known as calipers, that rudely pinched your skin to see where the lean stuff ended and the blubber began. Ouch. Today, smart scales are making it easier than ever to test your body fat percentage at home. They transmit an electrical signal from your feet and scan your body. (Try the Fitbit Aria; $50).
The caveat: In general, you get what you pay for. Cheaper models may be less accurate than professional-grade scales that you’d find at a clinic.
Experts say: “These scales use a slightly less-sophisticated version of what you’d see in a science lab,” says Gagliardi. “They give you a fairly accurate reading, though, and the technology has come a long way in recent years.”