3 Ways to Track Your Body Composition That Are Better Than BMI

Easier isn't always better. Never has this been more true than with body mass index, or BMI.

A measure that takes into account one's height and weight, body mass index has been used since the 1800s as an easy way to estimate body composition and, by extension, health. After all, coming across a scale and tape measure isn't too difficult. To calculate your BMI, that's all you need.

BMI has been strongly linked with America's most common diseases, conditions and causes of death, including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and even cancer. That means, as BMI goes up, so does your risk of serious disease. For instance, an adult male who stands 5 feet, 10 inches and weighs 170 pounds would have a BMI of 24.4, which is the upper end of what is considered healthy. (A BMI of 25 is considered overweight.) That same BMI number would apply to a woman who is 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 142 pounds.

BMIs of 40 or higher are linked with a significantly shorter lifespan, with the average person with a BMI of 55 to 59.9 living 13.7 fewer years compared to the average person with a normal BMI of 18.5 to 24.9, according to a 2014 review published in PLOS ONE.

"When studying large populations, we need an easy way of accessing body composition," explains Dr. Lisa Neff, an endocrinologist who specializes in diabetes and metabolism at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "That's why BMI is the marker most often used in health outcomes research. However, when we are studying BMI, what we are really hoping to get an assessment of is body fat. That's the primary detrimental aspect of body composition. When we talk about risk, it's body fat, or excess body fat, with which we are really concerned."

But unfortunately, BMI and body fat are anything but the same thing. BMI is all about quantity and body fat looks at quality. For instance, if you have a high BMI, you could either be overweight (aka overfat) or, on the flip side, you could just really be muscular and have a perfectly healthy or extremely low body fat percentage, explains San Diego bariatric surgeon Dr. Julie Ellner. And, in fact, 2016 research published in the International Journal of Obesity shows that BMI incorrectly labels more than 54 million Americans as "unhealthy." That's nearly half of all overweight men and women – and 29 and 16 percent of those classified as obese or severely obese, respectively.

Meanwhile, if you have a normal BMI, you could be healthy – or you could be silently suffering from normal weight obesity, often referred to as being "skinny fat." With normal weight obesity, weight and BMI check out fine, but body fat levels are just as high as they are in those typically considered obese. The same 2016 study found that more than 30 percent of people with so-called "healthy" BMIs have poor cardiometabolic health – that includes hypertension, high cholesterol, excess inflammation and/or insulin resistance. That's exactly what BMI is supposed to help identify, and why your doctor probably has a BMI chart hanging in the exam room.

While athletes, bodybuilders and anyone who regularly strength trains is at risk of being mislabeled as overweight or obese, BMI is most likely to miss normal weight obesity in women as well as older people who may be suffering from age-related muscle loss known as sarcopenia, according to Neff. In many such older individuals, weight can actually be quite stable, she notes. In many men and women, as muscle levels wane, metabolic rate dips and any potential weight loss is mediated by an increase in fat. Year after year, weight stays about the same, although body fat percentage gradually grows, increasing the risk of obesity-related illnesses.

Better Than BMI: Body Fat, Waist Circumference and Waist-to-Hip Ratio

Since BMI is really just an estimation of body fat, it makes the most sense to stop tracking your BMI and start evaluating your body fat percentage, Ellner says.

"My advice to patients is to get a good body composition scale for home use," she says. "It will calculate body fat percentage and will give credit to the patients who work out and are above-average healthy, while putting those who are at a 'good weight' but are unhealthy on notice that they need to change their program."

These scales aren't 100 percent accurate – technology still has a ways to go before consumer scales are on par with expensive dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scans, underwater weighing and caliper skin-fold measurements at determining exact body fat levels, but they are as precise as anyone vying for good health or healthy weight loss needs. While there is no one mutually agreed upon healthy body fat range, body fat percentages greater than roughly 21 in men and 31 in women point to obesity. Men and women need to maintain levels of body fat of at least 3 and 12 percent, respectively, for optimal physiological function.

While waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio, like BMI, estimate body fat indirectly, they focus on where you store the fat that you have. That's because visceral fat, which lies in and around the vital organs, is more highly correlated with chronic disease compared to fat stored elsewhere in the body, Ellner explains. "Abdominal obesity" is strongly linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, regardless of BMI, according to the Journal of Cardiovascular Disease Research.

Per the American Heart Association and National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a waist circumference of greater than 35 inches in women and 40 in men is a marker of abdominal obesity. A waist-to-hip ratio (divide your waist measurement by the circumference at the largest part of your hips) of greater than 0.85 in women and 0.9 in men also denotes abdominal obesity, according to the World Health Organization.

To track your waist circumference, wrap a flexible measuring tape or string around your waist, marked by the top of your hipbones. Divide that number by the circumference of your hips at their largest point, and you'll have your waist-to-hip ratio.

By K. Aleisha Fetters, Contributor | April 21, 2017, at 4:08 p.m.

The Best Fat-Loss Workout of All Time

Your Lean-Body Plan

What is the quickest way to shed weight, build lean muscle, and reveal a toned and sexy physique? The answer is simple: A combo of strength training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). It's not revolutionary, but this regimen has been proven time and again to be the best training method to get a lean body in the least amount of time. You'll crush calories, build fat-burning muscle, and avoid plateaus.

I'll admit that as a woman, I was hesitant to start lifting heavy weights. In my mind, weight lifting equated to a "bulky" and "thick" body. But I quickly learned that this couldn't be farther from the truth. Muscle is metabolically active, meaning that it burns calories even at rest. The more muscle you have, the more fat you will burn. Just remember that muscle is more dense than fat so don't rely on the scale to track your progress. You will see the amazing results in the mirror and feel them every time you pull on your skinny jeans.

This workout combines strength training and HIIT to give you a rock-solid core, lean legs, and defined arms.

You'll need: A pair of dumbbells (10-20lbs), a jump rope.

How it works: Do 1 set of each exercise without resting between moves. Repeat the entire circuit 3 times. If you're short on time, you'll still get a great workout by doing 1 full circuit. For best results, do this workout 3 days per week. To make it more challenging, increase the weight for each exercise.

Single-Leg Deadlift

This exercise targets the glutes and hamstrings, giving perfect definition and lift to your booty.

How to do it: Grab a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip and hold them at arm's length in front of your thighs. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Shift your weight into one leg. Without changing the bend in your knee, bend at your hips and lower your torso until it's almost parallel to the floor (keep the weight as close to your body as possible). Pause, then return to standing. Your back should stay naturally arched during the entire movement. Do 8 reps each side.

Split Squat Jumps

These powerful jumps blast calories and engage every muscle in your body.

How to do it: Come into a lunge position with both knees bent. Make sure your front knee is directly above the ankle. Bring both arms back as you lower down into a lunge. Explosively, jump off the ground and switch feet in the air. Land softly in a lunge position with your other foot forward. Keep switching at a quick pace. Make sure to keep your chest lifted and swing your arms forward as you jump. Do 5 jumps per side.

Squat to Press

Squats are excellent for slim thighs, a tight butt, and sculpted hamstrings. By adding the press, the core and shoulders are engaged the entire time.

How to do it: Grab a set of dumbbells and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your elbows and bring the weights to shoulder height. Lower down into a squat by shifting hips back, like you are sitting in a chair. Come back to standing and press weights directly overhead. Lower the weights back to shoulder height as you immediately lower into your next squat. Continue the movement at a quick pace for 10 reps.

Broad Jumps

Similar to other jumps, this exercise burns calories quickly, keeps your heart rate up, and engages every muscle. Broad jumps will also improve overall athletic performance.

How to do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Quickly extend your arms behind you while bending knees even more. Explosively jump forward (as far as you can) while swinging your arms forward. Land softly (by bending your knees) in a solid, athletic position. Try not to bounce or wobble at all and use your core to stay solid. Do 8 reps.

Plank with Dumbbell Row

Nothing beats planks when it comes to strengthening your deepest abdominal muscles, which flatten out the stomach. Plus, the row builds strength and definition in upper back, shoulders, biceps, and triceps.

How to do it: Grab a set of dumbbells and come into plank position with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Brace your core as you lift one dumbbell off the ground in a rowing movement. Bring the weight back to the ground and switch sides. Continue alternating at a quick pace. Make sure to keep hips as still as possible and legs engaged the entire time. Do 8 reps per side.

Jump Rope

Jumping rope is a quick way to get the benefits of cardio without spending a lot of time on it.

How to do it: Make sure to stay light on your feet and keep your chest lifted. Use your wrists more than your arms to swing the rope. Try to keep elbows fixed in place. Jump rope for 1 minute.

Walking Lunge with Bicep Curl

his exercise builds strength in the quadriceps, core, glutes, and upper body. Doing single-leg exercises like this improves balance and stability, as well as dynamic flexibility in the knee, ankle, and hip joints.

How to do it: Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand tall, holding the weights by your sides. Take a big step out into a lunge. Bend both knees, keeping front knee directly above ankle. Drive off the ball of your big toe to come up in a standing position. Keep your foot off the ground as you curl the dumbbells up toward your shoulders. Keep elbows fixed in place. Continue by stepping the foot that is lifted forward into a lunge. Do 10 reps on each leg.


Sprints are a very efficient way to improve athletic performance and keep the entire body lean and strong.

How to do it: Start in a lunge position with your back at a 45-degree angle, weight shifted forward. Drive through your big toe to take bounding steps forward. After about 10 yards, rest for 30 seconds before starting your next sprint. Quickly shift your hips forward to repeat the forward movement again. Do 5 sprints.

by Nora Tobin


Why You Need to Eat Fat to Burn Fat

It gets a bad rap, but adding some fat to your diet may be the key to a slimmer you


For a long time, we thought avocados were good for nothing but ready-made guac and a decent California burger every now and then. But these little nutritional hand grenades were having an explosive impact on our diets for all that time. How so?

They’re infused with a key nutrient for maintaining healthy weight: fat.

Wait…fat can help us maintain our weight? Fat doesn’t make us fat? In a word: exactly.

Fat is not something to avoid. For starters, it’s essential for normal growth and development. Dietary fat also provides energy, protects our organs, maintains cell membranes, and helps the body absorb and process nutrients. Even better, it helps the body burn fat, says nutritionist and owner of Nutritious Life meal system, Keri Glassman, RD, who recommends that about a third of any weight-loss plan’s calories come from dietary fat.

BUT: Not all fatty foods are created equal. While pizza, French fries and hamburgers can contribute to weight gain and deterioration of health, the dietetic community is learning that the overall nutritional content of these foods — not their saturated fat — is what’s to blame. Sure, research from 50 years ago found that saturated fatty acids, a type of fat that’s “saturated” with hydrogen and typically solid at room temperature, raised LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.

But a reevaluation of that research has shown that they raise HDL (good) cholesterol just as much, if not more, protecting the body from unhealthy cholesterol levels and heart disease, says nutritionist and national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association Tara Gidus, RD. “Instead of making any one thing in the diet a villain, we need to look at total caloric content as well as quality of food, what are we eating that is ‘good’ and helping our body’s immune system and cells to stay healthy.”

Most of the fat that you eat — especially if you want to lose weight — should come from unsaturated sources, both monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA), Glassman says. Why?

These good-for-you foods (like fish, seeds, nuts, leafy vegetables, olive oil, and of course, avocados) pack tons of nutrients. Besides removing LDL cholesterol from arteries and promoting a healthier heart, unsaturated fat can help you burn fat big time without cutting calories.

A 2009 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, found that participants who consumed the most unsaturated fatty acids have lower body-mass indexes and less abdominal fat than those who consumed the least. Why?

The unsaturated folks ate higher-quality foods. Not long ago, manufacturers marketed low-fat and no-fat everything, and consumers responded by chowing down. It’s healthy, right?

Wrong. All wrong. Besides stripping our bodies of a much-needed nutrient, low- and no-fat diet movements have increased obesity rates. Why?

It turns out that fat provides a big component to the foods we love: Taste. When food manufacturers removed fat from their foods, they had to load the foods with sugar and salt, which are nutrient-free, to increase flavor.

Here are other crucial ways fat can help you slim down:

Fat Burns Fat

The body needs three macronutrients for energy: Carbohydrates, protein, and fat. A gram of fat packs more than twice the energy of a gram of the other two. “When you don’t have any fat in your diet its like you don’t have fuel to burn calories,” Glassman says. The body requires energy to keep its metabolism properly functioning, and a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming fatty acids can boost metabolic health.

What’s more, “old” fat stored in the body’s peripheral tissues—around the belly, thighs, or butt (also called subcutaneous fat)—can’t be burned efficiently without “new” fat to help the process, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Dietary fat helps break down existing fat by activating PPAR-alpha and fat-burning pathways through the liver.

Think of mealtime like baseball spring training: young, hungry players (new fat) hit the field and show the general manger (the liver) that it’s time to send the old, worn-out players (subcutaneous fat) home. And away they go.

Fat Keeps You Full

Fat isn’t the easiest nutrient to digest, so it sticks around in the digestive system for more time than many other nutrients. MUFAs may also help stabilize blood sugar levels, according to Mayo Clinic. That means you feel full longer, and you won’t feel the stomach-growling urge to raid the refrigerator after mealtime.

In fact, diets with high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, a type of PUFA that the body can only acquire through food, create a greater sense of fullness both immediately following and two hours after dinner than do meals with low levels of the fatty acids, according to a 2008 study from University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain. It’s no surprise that dieters who consume moderate levels of fat are more likely to stick with their eating plans than dieters who consume low levels of fat.

The result? More weight lost.

Fat Makes You Happy

Everyone says that dieting, not to put too fine a point on it, stinks. Eating yummy foods makes you happy, and it turns out low-fat versions just don’t do the trick for one surprising reason: We can taste the fat — not just the salt, sugar and other goodies in food.

Recent research from Purdue University shows that our taste buds can detect fat in food, which helps explain why low-fat foods don’t curb our fat cravings. According to the research, fat may be an entirely different basic taste than what we’ve long considered the four mainstays: sweet, salty, sour and bitter.

On an even happier fat note, omega-3 fatty acids can boost serotonin levels in the brain, helping to improve mood, increase motivation and keep you from devouring a large pizza like it’s your job. 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men have suffered from diagnosed binge-eating disorders, while millions more people are occasional emotional eaters, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health.

Fat Builds Muscle

“Eating good fats along with an effective exercise program can increase muscle,” says trainer and owner of Results Fitness, Rachel Cosgrove, CSCS, who notes that increasing muscle mass is vital to increasing metabolism and burning calories both in and out of the gym. In a 2011 study published in Clinical Science, researchers examined the effects of eight weeks of PUFA supplementation in adults ages 25 to 45 and found that the fat increases protein concentration and the size of muscular cells in the body. Previous studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids stimulate muscle protein synthesis in older adults and can mediate muscle mass loss due to aging.

Fat Makes Food Better for You

Many nutrients including vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, meaning that the body can’t absorb them without fat. If your body isn’t absorbing nutrients properly, that can lead to vitamin deficiencies and bring on dry skin, blindness, brittle bones, muscle pains, and abnormal blood clotting, according to Gidus.

These vitamins are also key to maintaining energy, focus, and muscle health, all of which contribute to a healthy weight. Vitamin E, for example is a powerful antioxidant and helps maintain your metabolism, while the body’s levels of vitamin D predicts its ability to lose fat, especially in the abdominal region, according to a clinical trial from the University of Minnesota Medical School.

So while you can pile your salad high with nutrient-rich spinach, tomatoes and carrots, you really need to thank the olive oil for sending the salad’s vitamins your way.


Should we consider skipping breakfast?

For years we have always been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  It is the meal that jump starts our metabolism.

Where is all this evidence?

In a recent paper, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers approached the breakfast question with a healthy dose of skepticism.

They analyzed dozens of studies looking at one particularly interesting relationship: breakfast and body weight. And asked the question: Is the evidence really that strong?

A little background first.

Many nutrition experts claim that breakfast is so important because it helps with weight management. (They also think that skipping breakfast leads to weight gain and obesity.)

Interestingly, it’s this supposed causal relationship between breakfast and body weight that forms a cornerstone belief of the “most important meal of the day” movement.

Unfortunately for this movement, the link is weak. And it’s correlational, not causal.

In essence, we know there’s some relationship between breakfast and body weight. But we don’t know what the relationship is. Or whether it’s important.

With that said, back to the study.

In analyzing dozens of individual papers — called a meta-analysis — the researchers concluded that the link between breakfast and body weight is “only presumed true.”

In other words, the idea that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is more of a “shared belief” than a research proven conclusion.

Here’s how it works.

Since we’ve heard it so often — heck, some of us have even said it — the phrase “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” becomes part of our cultural lexicon.

Then, because we believe in it culturally, any information that runs counter it is assumed to be wrong. Even before we evaluate the evidence.

Interestingly, according to this published research, it’s not just regular people who commit this error. Nutrition experts and researchers do the same thing.

In fact, when they really dug into the literature, they found four extremely serious problems:

1) researchers were offering biased interpretation of their own results,
2) researchers were improperly using causal language to describe their results,
3) researchers were misleadingly citing others’ results, and
4) researchers were improperly using causal language when citing others’ work.

All this to say that researchers aren’t immune to bias.

In fact, when it comes to the relationship between breakfast and body weight, many researchers are so committed to the shared belief that eating breakfast is the right thing to do that they — often unintentionally — misrepresent their results and the work of others.

How important is breakfast really?

Of course, we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater here.

Just because some research is biased — or incomplete — doesn’t mean that it’s meaningless. So let’s start with some of the proposed benefits of eating breakfast.

In the literature, eating breakfast is consistently associated with:

· decreased overall appetite
· decreased overall food consumption
· decreased body weight
· improved academic performance
· improved blood sugar control

If we stopped there, of course we’d presume that breakfast skipping is a dumb move.

However, we can’t stop there. Because the majority of this evidence is observational. It suggests there’s a relationship — a correlation — without proving cause.

For example: It could be that people who are “healthy” for other reasons — like the fact that they work out more or benefit from a higher socioeconomic status — also eat breakfast. While those who are “unhealthy” — because they don’t exercise or live below the poverty line — skip it.

In this case, breakfast just happens to co-exist with health rather than cause it.

So here’s the bottom line: When examining research that actually controls for all the variables and looks at cause and effect, the results are pretty mixed.

In other words, breakfast looks to be beneficial for some of us. But not for others.

The strongest of this evidence suggests that breakfast is most important for malnourished or impoverished children. But, for other populations, it seems to bejust another meal. No better. No worse. Completely negotiable.

Are there benefits to skipping breakfast?

There’s also the new data showing that skipping breakfast might not be so bad after all.

Folks with Type 2 diabeties, for example, did better in this study when they skipped breakfast altogether and ate a larger lunch.

Other folks who were told to skip breakfast ended up eating less overall compared to breakfast eaters.

And skipping breakfast is also just as effective as eating breakfast for weight loss.

Of course, we can play dueling studies all day long. I can show a study suggesting one thing. You can find a study suggesting the opposite. And, in the end, when it comes to the value of breakfast, we’d be at a scientific stalemate.

Which is why I often look at what’s happening outside of the literature.

The breakfast skipping movement.

In the popular media and across the web, an interesting breakfast counter-culture is cropping up. A virtual army of people intentionally skipping breakfast are sharing a host of health benefits they’ve experienced since getting rid of their morning meal.

This movement is part of a larger one known as intermittent fasting; the most popular form involves skipping breakfast each day, extending the overnight fast from dinner the night before until lunch the next day.

There are other types of fasting that involve even longer fasts each day, extending the overnight fast from dinner the night before to dinner the next day. And other types that even suggest skipping meals for one or two entire days each week.

And the reported health effects of an intelligently designed intermittent fasting program read like a laundry list of live longer, live better benefits including:

blood lipids, blood pressure, markers of inflammation, oxidative stress, and cancer

Cell turnover and repair, fat burning, growth hormone release, and metabolic rate

Appetite control, blood sugar control, cardiovascular function, and neuronal plasticity

And, yes, many experts believe that skipping breakfast is part of the magic here.

(To read more about intermittent fasting, including a review of the most popular types and a summary of my own personal experiments, click here.)

So, will skipping breakfast be better for me?

Maybe yes. Maybe no.

Preliminary evidence suggests that skipping breakfast can:

· increase fat breakdown
· increase the release of growth hormone (which has anti-aging and fat loss benefits)
· improve blood glucose control
· improve cardiovascular function
· decrease food intake

However, the truth is, most of this research has been done in animals, with only a few conclusive human studies. So, while intriguing, there’s certainly no guarantee that these changes in our physiology will actually lead to long-term benefits.

In fact, many times, immediate changes are corrected for, and balanced out, later. That’s why acute changes don’t always lead to chronic ones.

Also, anecdotally, skipping breakfast seems to be a mixed bag.

Many report great results from skipping breakfast and having fewer, but larger, meals each day. Others report that it provides no benefit. Yet others report some really negative effects, such as decreased energy, lack of focus, and disrupted sleep.

Clearly eating breakfast — or skipping it — is not a panacea. Of course, no nutritional solution ever is.

What to do now.

The take-home message here is pretty simple: Breakfast is optional.

(Which means it’s not “the most important meal of the day.”)

  • If you love breakfast, are doing well with eating it, and feel like it’s helping you accomplish your health and/or fitness goals: Keep at it!
  • If you’re not a breakfast person, function really well without it, and are accomplishing your health and/or fitness goals: there’s no harm in waiting until later.

Of course, I’d also be remiss if I didn’t remind you that  matters too. But that’s another topic for another day.

By: John Berardi, Ph.D.


Interview with Dr. Jason Fung: Author of Unlocking the Obesity Code

Good news -- all those diets you've been on that didn't work were set up to fail. Dr. Jason Fung is the author of "The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss," and says counting calories and cutting fat aren't the keys to losing weight.