With the recent few hot, sunny days, I thought it would be helpful to write about factors to think about when considering getting your body ready for summer. For many people, that means losing a few pounds to look good in a bathing suit or a pair of shorts, but where do we get our idea about what a healthy body image is? Is it really the media? What role does exercise play and how many calories do we need to burn to lose a pound of fat? How do we know what a healthy body weight is for us; is it really off some chart? Is weight for height the best indicator of reduced health risk? What about waist circumference? What food or drink may make it harder to lose a few pounds or easier to lose a bit of fat around our middles?
Healthy Body Image
Getting ready for summer often has a great deal to do with what we think about ourselves and what we think we ‘should’ look like. Factors that contribute to our body image range from the media (TV, movies, advertising), what our friends and family think, to our own self esteem and feelings of self-worth. A recent study [Vanvonderen & Kinnally, 2012] of 285 female undergraduates found that comparison to media figures was associated with an internalization of a ‘thin ideal’, but comparisons with one’s friends and one’s own self-esteem were the strongest indicators of body dissatisfaction.
Body Mass Index (BMI) as a Measure of Healthy Weight
The measure of Body Mass Index (BMI) or the Quatelet Index dates from 1832 and has become a standard for measuring who is “normal” weight, who is “overweight” and who’s “obese”.
BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight (in kilograms) by their height (in meters, squared) and for our American friends, by multiplying weight (in pounds) by 705, then dividing by height (in inches) twice.
A person with a BMI of
- 18.5 to 24.9 is considered to be at a healthy body weight
- 25 – 29.9 is considered to be overweight
- anything over 30 is considered to be at various stages of obesity
- 30.0–34.9 is considered class I obesity
- 35.0–39.9 is considered class II obesity
- Anything over 40 is considered class III obesity (also called ‘morbidly obese’) and this can increases a person’s risk of death from any cause by 50% to 150%.
But using BMI alone as an indicator of healthy weight has some drawbacks as it says nothing about a person’s body composition, distribution of fat or fitness level. Very muscular people may have a high BMI but be mostly muscle and have very little fat, whereas very inactive people may have a normal BMI but a higher fat percentage than ideal. As well, there are differences between ethnic backgrounds. Studies have found that people of Asian descent have high risks of many diseases such as diabetes at BMIs that would be considered ‘normal’ for white people whereas many African-Americans may have high BMI measures, but no associated health risks.
Waist Circumference versus BMI as a Measure of Risk
People that carry their weight around their middles have been known for some time to be at increased risk – so called “apples” versus “pears”. Increased waist circumference and fat carried around the middle (known as ‘central adiposity’) is associated with higher incidence of diabetes and heart disease, as well as death from those diseases. A recent study [Staiano AE et al] looked at data from 8061 adults (aged 18-74 years) in the Canadian Heart Health Follow-Up Study (1986-2004) and found that BMI and waist circumference predicted higher all-cause and cause-specific death from disease with waist circumference predicting the highest risk for death. Among overweight and obese adults, a large waist circumference was a much stronger predictor of death from heart attack than BMI.
Diet and Exercise
Although people often focus on diet when they’re trying to lose a few pounds, being active also is an important component. When you’re active, your body uses the calories in the food you eat as a source of energy, rather than storing the excess calories as fat. To lose a pound of fat requires either burning an extra 3500 calories, eating that many fewer calories or a combination of both.
The nicer weather in the spring and summer makes burning a few extra calories easier; whether it’s throwing a Frisbee around with a few friends, hopping on a bicycle to go to the store or going for a power-walk at the local track, it’s all good! If you’re more competitive, there’s tennis or squash and if you’re team oriented there is always football, soccer, baseball or a good Canadian game of street hockey. Even a swim in a cold, clear lake counts as exercise if you do it long enough!
Whatever activity you choose, the important thing is to do it regularly. Aim for at about a 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity or an hour and a half of vigorous aerobic activity spread throughout the week. How do you know if it is vigorous or “aerobic” enough? If you are working up a sweat but can still carry on a conversation, it “counts”.
Does Beer Really Cause Beer Belly?
With the NHL Hockey playoffs in full swing and summer BBQs often including a “cold one” just around the corner, many people have asked me if beer really the culprit in “beer belly”? While beer has many health benefits (see http://www.bbdnutrition.com/2013/05/04/stanley-cup-special-the-health-benefits-of-beer/) each bottle or can (355 ml / 12 oz) of regular beer does have about 150 calories and since each pound of weight gain is related to an extra 3500 calories we ate or drank, regularly drinking beer can definitely contribute to weight gain. In those predisposed to carrying their weight around their middles, as well as those with family risk of diabetes and/or heart disease, there really is the need to calculate the ‘cost’ of those cold ones, As for whether beer itself is the culprit behind “beer belly”, I will be addressing that in an upcoming article. Stay tuned.
Green Tea Powder, Weight Loss and Abdominal Fat Loss
A 2009 combining of data from 11 green tea catechin studies found that people that consumed between 1 – 4 tsp of green tea powder (matcha) per day lost an average of 1.31 kg (~ 3 lbs) over 12 weeks [Hursel]. Even with such small amounts of weight loss, the total amount of abdominal fat decreases 25 times more with green tea powder than without it and the total amount of subcutaneous (under the skin) abdominal fat decreased almost 8 times more with green tea powder. For more information on these findings as well as a recipe for a cool, refreshing matcha drink, please click on the following link http://www.bbdnutrition.com/2013/04/18/matcha-in-weight-and-abdominal-fat-loss/
Now is the Best Time to Lose Weight
People often think of New Years in terms of timing to lose a few pounds but research has found that half of those that started the New Year with a resolution to lose weight, eat healthy or get in shape had already given up only one week into the year! By the end of the month, more than 80% percent had given up!
A landmark study from the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology found that those that made weight loss goals at times other than New Years were actually 11 times more likely to be successful than those that made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight [Norcross et al]. So “now” is the best time, whenever “now” is.
More than a Resolution
Studies show that losing weight takes a lot more than a resolution, but a plan and time and support until the changes become new habits.
Research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology [Lally et al, 2010] found that it takes about 66 days (i.e. 2-3 months) to actually create a habit, so starting now and having a plan and support to sustain the changes through the summer will enable you, not only to lose weight, but keep it off.
BetterByDesign Nutrition’s Registered Dietitian can design an Individualized eating plan just for you; based on your body measurements and composition, medical history, familial risk factors, as well as your lifestyle and food preferences. Having a plan designed to meet your own weight loss goals within your time-frame can make all the difference!
We are able to support you in achieving your desired weight loss, but as importantly, can help you make the habit changes needed to keep it off over the long term.
For more information, please click on the “Contact Us” tab above or on the following link to send our Dietitian, Joy Kiddie a note firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hursel R, Viechtbauer W, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. The effects of green tea on weight loss and weight maintenance: a meta-analysis. Int J Obes (Lond) 2009;33:956–61.
Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C. H. M., Potts, H. W. W. and Wardle, J. (2010), How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., 40: 998–1009.
Norcross, JC et al, Auld lang syne: success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers. J Clin Psychol. 2002 Apr;58(4):397-405
Vanvonderen KE, Kinnally W, “Media Effects on Body Image: Examining Media Exposure in the Broader Context of Internal and Other Social Factors”, Amer Comm Journal, 2012, 14(2)
Staiano AE, Reeder BA, Elliott S, Joffres MR et al, Body mass index versus waist circumference as predictors of mortality in Canadian adults. Int J Obesity, 2012 Nov;36(11):1450