When Not to Trust Your Scale

No matter what you go in for, the nurse asks you to kick off your shoes and hop up on a cold, rickety balance-beam scale...

Many folks dread the ritual. And if you haven't visited your doctor recently, you're likely to in the coming weeks. That's because cold and flu season (December through early February) is the busiest time of the year for docs.

I've never been one to advocate watching the scale religiously...

A few pounds up or down doesn't reflect your overall health. But doctors measure your height and weight to get a reading known as a body mass index (or BMI).

The calculation for BMI comes by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared. The resulting number falls into a range that puts you in categories of underweight, normal weight, overweight, obese, and extremely obese. Take a look at the table here.

Doctors use BMI as a quick and dirty guide to determining obesity. Now, it's important to keep an eye on your weight. Obesity increases the risk of a lot of issues including diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, and arthritis.

Here's the problem...

BMI doesn't take into account things like muscle mass, ethnicity, bone density, or sex differences.

That means an extremely healthy, well-muscled athlete can fall into the overweight category. Or similarly, a young woman might fall into the underweight category despite good health for her frame.

That's why you shouldn't just follow the BMI as an indicator of health. Many practitioners now use waist measurements to help determine health.

Why Your Waist Size Matters

A great study from our friends across the pond showed that Americans carry more weight around their waist than the English, which increases risk of diabetes. They wanted to know why Americans and Brits had similar BMIs, but Americans have a higher rate of diabetes.

The difference was waist circumference. Americans in the study had larger waist measurements and this... not BMI... had a direct connection to diabetes risk.

A more accurate way to measure yourself is to take your height and divide it in half. Your waist circumference should be that number or less. So an average male who is 5-foot-9 should have a waist of about 34.5 inches.

The reason waist size matters is because of visceral fat. The first layer of fat under your skin is subcutaneous fat (this is the fat you feel when you pinch your skin). Under that layer is the visceral fat – it wraps around your organs. Visceral fat builds as we age, when we eat fatty foods, or don't exercise.

The problem with visceral fat is that it triggers inflammatory responses and can even interfere with insulin. That means it's a contributor to diseases like diabetes and fatty liver.

There's good news though... our favorite diet recently proved to help reduce visceral fat. According to a new study in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism, & Cardiovascular Diseases, folks who follow the Mediterranean diet had less visceral fat than those who don't. The data suggest consuming more unsaturated fats (like olive oil) than saturated fats (like in processed foods) helps keep visceral fat in check.

Similarly, a Spanish study called PREDIMED found that over a five-year study period, people who ate olive oil or nuts as part of the Mediterranean diet had smaller increases in waist size than those who followed a low-fat diet instead.

Remember, your weight or your BMI is not a full picture of your health. Understand the factors that affect it and measure your waist circumference. You can do this with a simple tape measure held around your natural waistline, just above your belly button (and don't hold your breath or suck in your stomach).

And if you haven't tried a Mediterranean diet yet, follow my simple guide for that right here. It will help not only your waistline, but your memory and digestive system, too.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Retirement Millionaire Daily Research Team
January 26, 2017