Is your waistline the canary in the coal mine?

What is your waistline telling you?

I am hearing from people more and more that they are gaining weight during this pandemic. Yes, being at home is making it difficult and our routines have flow out the window.

Now is the time to be in our best health so we are better prepared to fight COVID.

What is the connection between our waist and health?

Could our waistline be the canary in the coal mine?

Your waistline is just one of the three key measures of your overall health. Two other important considerations are body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratio.

Body Mass Index

Your BMI is a rough measure of body fat. There is a reference at the end of this post that will do the calculations for you.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines the following BMI recommendations for adults.

Below 18.5Underweight
18.5 – 24.9Normal or healthy weight
25.0 – 29.9Overweight
30.0 and aboveObese
BMI Recommendations from the CDC

Waist-to-Hip Ratio

Your waist-to-hip ratio helps show how much weight you carry on your hips, thighs, and buttocks. To calculate, measure your waist circumference and your hip circumference. Then, divide your waist measurements by your hip measurements. Do it! Get that tape measure out. You need to know.

Doctor measuring a man's waist
Waist/Hip measurement. What is yours?

According to the World Health Organization, your risk of metabolic complications, such as type 2 diabetes, increases when a man has a waist-to-hip ratio result of more than 0.9 and a woman has a result of more than 0.85.

Your COVID risk

People who are heavier seem to be at higher risk for COVID.  The reason is unclear at this time.  There is discussion about increase inflammation in the blood vessels and there could be more inflammation in those who are heavier, there may also be other underlying health issues that the person has. Dr. Stephens in a blog post from Houston Methodist stated that “having more fat may help the virus stick around longer due to molecular properties of both fat cells and this particular virus.”  The bottom line is that we still don’t know, but we need to be as healthy as possible.

Studies revealed that waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio appeared to have a more direct link to health conditions than BMI. This may be because BMI is only a general measure of fat. The number cannot tell you where the fat is distributed on the body and in the case of someone with lots of muscle and little fat, the calculated number may not be an accurate indication of body fat.  For that the next level of measurement is using skin fold calipers (I like this more for trending purposes) and the gold standard is underwater body fat measurement and DEXA scans.

Other disease risk

Your risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension increases if you are man with a waistline over 40 inches (101.6 cm) or a woman with a waistline over 35 inches (88.9 cm).

Getting rid of waste from your waist

While you cannot spot treat fat on any specific area of your body, the fat stored around your waist and the distribution of your weight may be influenced by your diet and exercise habits. Here are a few suggestions that may help get things rolling.

  • Move your body for at least 30 minutes, five days a week. Specifically, aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of more vigorous exercise per week. Try activities like walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, and aerobics.
  • Crank up the intensity of your workouts from time to time. High intensity HIIT activities may be particularly effective because it helps boost metabolism.
  • Eat a healthy diet and skip processed foods and fast foods. Healthy choices include whole fruits and vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. Look at labels and try to avoid saturated fats and added sugar.
  • Watch portion sizes. Even eating healthy foods in large quantities may mean you’re consuming enough calories to gain weight. During this pandemic time when we are home, it’s tempting to eat more.  I find that using a smaller plate at dinner helps. It gives you the illusion of eating more, when you are eating less.
  • Drink plenty of water and skip sodas and other sugary beverages that are full of empty calories.
  • Reduce your alcohol intake to the recommended two drinks a day for men under 65, and one drink for women 18 and older and men over 65. One drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.  Again, this is difficult for some during pandemic.  Maybe a wine spritzer instead. Another trick is to drink a glass of water BEFORE consuming any alcohol as sometimes we are just thirsty and trying to re-hydrate.

Takeaway and next steps

If you’re concerned about your waist circumference, consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your health risks, diet, and other weight loss options.

If you are interested in changing your habits, you can reach out to me for a FREE 30-minute zoom consult  (CLICK HERE) and we can work together on building better habits to help change your behavior.

Losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight may help decrease your health risks. But don’t worry if the number on the scale doesn’t look significantly different after your efforts. It may just mean that you’ve replaced body fat with muscle mass. Start today, RIGHT NOW, and let’s get the ball going and get the waste off your waist.


Your waist and how to measure it

Ways to measure body fat

Articles about BMI

World Health Organization

2011 review of studies

Sandi Feaster

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