By Adele Fawcett, ROHP
Canadians are getting fat! Half of adult men and women are considered overweight and, yearly, obesity rates are rising in adult populations and even in children! Carrying extra body fat negatively impacts health. One of the biggest risk factors for disease and pre-mature death is being overweight and obese. The cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, stroke, various cancers (prostate, breast, gastrointestinal, endometrial), immune dysfunction, joint pain and arthritis, affecting our health and quality of life are deeply connected to the dietary choices, lifestyle and exercise habits within our culture.
Whole industries, and even entertainment, thrive on our insecurities and fears as we struggle with our weight issues, our resulting poor health, and our constant attempts to drop a few more pounds. The good news is that just as our dietary choices, lifestyle and exercise habits can negatively impact our health the reverse is also true. Diet, lifestyle and exercise can also reduce extra fat, creating better health and making disease preventable, manageable, improvable and even reversible in many cases! Your health is in your choices.
This column is a regular new feature in Alive+Fit and will provide you with the information you need to implement positive changes in your dietary choices, lifestyle and exercise. This both is and isn’t a weight loss feature. A major key to good health is in reducing unhealthy body fat levels. So, for conventions sake, this is a weight loss feature. However, we are going beyond ‘diets and weight loss programs’ and are discussing lifestyle changes that take a holistic approach to supporting your health. We will look at stress management, improving dietary choices, exercise, as well as addressing metabolic issues affecting health and hindering fat loss, like insulin resistance and hormone imbalances.
We never measure up to the images we find in magazines, movies, commercials and television shows. The images we see don’t reflect the lives we have or the bodies we live with. They make it normal to look outside of ourselves for answers and are disempowering to our choices. Unfortunately, we become less able to meet our own needs and unrealistic about our bodies and our weight. Suddenly, losing weight is the answer to unhappiness! So we get fixated on losing 10 pounds, 25 pounds, 40 pounds without having any actual idea of how much fat we are carrying in comparison to how much bone, muscles and organs makes up our bodies. We are so focused on our appearance and losing weight, by any means necessary, and often dangerously, that we forget about our health and essential information like what our bodies need to build and maintain life! Just because you are losing weight doesn’t mean you are losing fat and sometimes half that 40 pounds you’ve got your eye on losing is muscle, colon contents or water. Knowing your body composition is a way to take charge of your weight, in a healthy and realistic way.
Determining Body Composition
Beware of guaranteed weight loss programs. A promise to help you lose 40 pounds without taking a measure of your body fat percentage first, so that you know how much lean tissue you have (bones, muscles and organs) can be dangerous. You can’t know how much weight you can safely lose without knowing how much of your weight is fat.
You will need a scale to measure your weight; and either a scale or a hand held device that uses a low level electrical current to measure your body fat as a percentage; and a calculator.
Step 1: start with your total weight: _____
Step 2: find out your body fat percentage as mentioned above (not your BMI): _____
A healthy Body Fat percentage for women is between 20 to 30 30 per cent, for men it is between 10 and 20 per cent.
Step 3: multiply your weight by your body fat percentage to get your fat mass, which provides how many pounds of fat you are carrying: _____
Step 4: subtract your fat mass from your total weight to get your lean mass: _____
Your lean mass is not your ideal weight and your fat mass is not how much weight you can safely lose.
You can use this information to find how much body fat you can lose to reach a personal healthy weight. If we use the middle of the healthy body fat percentage ranges, so for women 25 per cent and for men 15 per cent, we can calculate an acceptable long-term weight loss goal.
Step 5: take your lean weight and divide it by three for women and five for men: _____
Step 6: add that number to your lean weight: ____
This is a personal healthy weight.
Step 7: subtract your healthy weight from your total weight to find out your acceptable fat loss in lbs: _____
Example: of a 175lb woman at 35% body fat
175 x 35% = 61.25 lbs fat mass, 175 – 61.25 = 113.75 lbs lean mass, 113.75÷3 = 37.92, 113.75 + 37.92 = 151.67 lbs healthy weight. So, 175lbs – 152 lbs = a healthy fat loss goal of 23lbs.
This is the first step to re-framing how you think about your body, your weight and your health.
Next, it is vital to become more aware and conscious of your body, how your body is feeling and how you feel about your body. Your body is your companion for your whole life and you need to pay attention to how you feel living in it. Instead of focusing on your weight as the cause or solution to all of your problems, take some time to identify how your body is feeling. Are you achy and stiff? Are you slow and sluggish? Are you sleeping well and feeling refreshed in the morning? Are you happy? Create better body awareness by checking in with yourself periodically to answer these questions. Are there things you are doing that contribute to how you are feeling, that get blamed on your weight when it might be that you are stretching yourself too thin? This is an important way to measure how well you are responding to dietary and lifestyle changes.
Adele Fawcett, BA hon, ROHP, is a registered nutritional consulting practitioner and registered orthomolecular health practitioner at the Valley Nutrition Centre in Greater Sudbury.