Thursday, July 24, 2014

The danger with keeping a close eye on the scale...

The students filled out some questionnaires regarding their strengths and weaknesses, their short and long-term goals, previous injury history, and a ton of other important pieces of information.  I was struck by some of the goals, especially those around specific "weight loss" goals.  To me, your weight should not be reflected by the number we see on the scale, but in how you feel and the tracking of your energy levels, physical strength and performance.  I turned to a great article from the Harvard Medical Center for some thoughts on this topic. My question:

How do we assess our size in a healthy way, and how do we get away from worrying about being "fat"?!

Harvard Health Publications states that most people have their own "private" way of assessing how "fat" they are -- like feeling your pants getting tight or loose, or catching your reflection in the mirror.  But how do we determine what is body fat, and what is bone structure, muscles, organs, hair... all that other stuff that comprises the mass that is our weight?  There are three common ways in the mix right now:
  • Body Mass Index, BMI -- your weight in kg divided by the square of your heigh in meters.  It's generally a good measure of health risk as most studies show that with an increased BMI comes an increase in cardiovascular disease related deaths.  
    • The down side... BMI does not separate pounds from fat from pounds that are created by fat-free tissue like muscle and bone.  It also doesn't tell us what kind of fat it is.  Could it be from healthy subcutaneous fat that's below the skin which protects us and keeps us warm?  Who knows?! 
  • Waist Measurement -- not about weight or total body fat, but about the metabolically active fat that collects around the organs in our abdomens.  Waist measurement is a great predictor of diabetes and a good indicator of heart disease risk. 
    • The down side... where do you measure "the waist" on the body?  Is it at navel level?  And it just might not be scientific enough to add to more quantifiable things like cholesterol, or blood pressure screenings.  
  • Waist-to-hip ratio, WHR -- your waist circumference divided by hip circumference. Basically a smaller waist and larger hips is usually associated with a decreased right of heart disease, stroke, and other health problems.  
So... what to do?! How do we manage all of this?  What's in a number?

To me... nothing really.

As dancers we are so in-tune with our bodies that we know (quite easily) when we are out of shape, easily fatigued, and not performing at our best.  We don't need to step on a scale to know this info, and I encourage our students to step off the scale, and to begin to understand when they are FEELING their very best.  Muscle weighs far more than fat does in pounds, so when building muscle and developing your fitness you often GAIN weight.  Our bodies fluctuate so much (especially for women) and it's important to pay attention to any rapid weight gains or losses as this could be a sign of a major health issue, but try not to get too caught up in the number.  We must find a way to ignore the information around us in the news about what "beautiful" is and begin to feel what beautiful is.

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