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If weight correction is on your mind, STOP measuring your body mass index (BMI)! We are not made up of kilograms and inches! Instead read our latest blog series on yoga and weight management. This blog series from The Yoga Mile will give you deeper insights into healthy weight management concepts and techniques based on yogic principles.

Part 2  looks at the reasons – physiological and mental – behind abnormal weight gain. Part 3 looks at the various health risks from obesityPart 3 looks at the various health risks from obesity. Part 4  looks at how yoga helps in managing weight. This blog will look at the idea of ‘ideal body weight’ and how to measure the same!

The idea ­­of an ideal body weight

It is said that nature has no copies. And that’s true! We all have different finger prints, different DNAs, different voices and so how can there be a strict standard on body weight! So indeed, there’s none. That said, nature does strive for order in some way. That yearning for completeness and fulfilment can be seen in the way nature manages to ensure unity in diversity. For example, though every banana leaf is different, each banana leaf is similar to the other. One of the ways nature manages to do this is probably through its magical ratios. We all know of the popular ‘Golden ratio’ or ‘Fibonacci sequence’ that operates in nature. In fact the German psychologist Adolf Zeising wrote about ‘Golden ratio’ as a universal law which governs all forms organic and inorganic and finds its fullest realization in the human form!

So yes, while there is no ideal body weight, we can all still go by certain ratios to arrive at that figure on the weighing machine which helps us live life in vigour, keeps us light in head and body and also offers some graceful weight to our gait! 😊

First of all: What makes up the human body?

Physics talks to us in the language of atoms and molecules, so let’s give that a shot. If we look at atoms, 90% of our weight consists of Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen and Nitrogen. In terms of molecular forms, water, protein and lipids make up 90% of our weight. This still doesn’t help too much as we cannot practically go about measuring these values in our body! But as we start seeing our body in the form of tissues and organs, we get a more holistic picture in the form of mass contributed by muscle, fat, bones and various organs.

Human body as seen from the lens of Ayurveda

Ayurveda, the ancient Indian science of health views human body as made up of seven interconnected sheaths.

  1. Rasa or Juice – Hormones, enzymes, plasma, inter and intra-cellular fluids etc.
  2. Rakta or Reddened – Red blood cells, bile etc.
  3. Mamsa or Flesh – Muscles, ligaments, skin etc.
  4. Medas or Concentrated water – Fat, sebum etc.
  5. Asthi or Bones – Bones, teeth etc.
  6. Majja or Marrow – Bone marrow, nerves etc.
  7. Shukra or Luster – Semen, glow etc.

The genius of this perspective is that it looks at body in a more holistic fashion whereby various biological functions and systems are intrinsically connected to the lifestyle concepts related to food, sleep and metabolism. As you see, right at the middle of this spectrum, lies ‘Medas’ or the ‘fat’ – the critical factor in weight management. Now let’s look at the ratios that can help us not only measure our “Medas” but also help us to figure out our idea weight!

Two foolproof ratios which can help us find our ideal weight

1. Body Fat Percentage

Fat happens to be the most defining factor when we compare normal weight, under-weight and over-weight conditions of the human body. Any change in lifestyle directly impacts the fat mass percentage in the body and quite rapidly so! Advanced Human Nutrition by Denis Medeiros, Robert Wildman depicts how between a lean body and an obese body, fat happens to be the most differentiating factor as in the given figure. (I guess the blue bars represent the Lean man and Grey ones do the Obese man)

Body composition of a lean and a morbidly obese man. Graph from Advanced Human Nutrition by Denis Medeiros, Robert Wildman

Graph from Advanced Human Nutrition by Denis Medeiros, Robert Wildman 

When we say body fat – we are talking about adipose tissues in general. However, there’s more to fat as we get into the thick of the matter! Body fat includes essential body fat and storage body fat. Essential body fat is required to maintain normal bodily functions as it provides the necessary lubrication to all internal organs and the necessary cushioning to the structures of our bones and muscles. Storage body fat provides reserve energy for emergencies, and provides the necessary margin for safety and balance through ups and downs in life.

Essential fat requirement for men is 2% to 5% of body weight and for women, it is 10% to 13% of body weight (source: Acefitness.org). Storage fat requirement for both men and women suffices at about 10% to 15% of the body weight.

Together, the essential body fat and ideal storage body fat give us the ratio of body fat considered healthy in men and women. When fat percentage increases beyond healthy levels, it starts interfering with the normal functioning of organs throughout the body – imagine an organ inside the body cavity with walls closing in on it – yes! because when we gain fat, we gain it on the insides rather than the outsides, so basically, too much fat leads to suffocation of the intricate biology inside of us as the lining of body tissues get thicker; thereby hampering the normal process of effective consumption, digestion, absorption and elimination. To add to this, too much body fat also burdens and pressurizes the skeletomuscular structure – especially of the back and the legs.

Thus, for women, 20% to 30% fat in body is considered healthy, with younger women ideally on the lower end of the range. Similarly, for men, 10% to 20% fat in body in considered healthy with younger men ideally on the lower end of the range (Source: Article in Healthstatus).

Body Fat Percentage - A Quick Look

How to know your ideal body weight to adhere to using body fat percentage?

Your ideal body weight will be that which lets you remain in the safe range of body fat percentage for your gender i.e. 20%-30% for women and 10%-20% for men.

How to calculate your body fat percentage right now!

Healthstatus.com provides an interesting body fat percentage calculator on their site, which I happened to try and found quite reliable as a quick reference. They say on their site that this body fat calculator is based on the body fat algorithms developed by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corp and the YMCA.

Why body fat percentage measurement is better than body mass index (BMI).

The body fat percentage is a critical measure of the fitness level of a person as it directly looks at the body composition without being coloured by variations in height and weight.

2. Waist-to-Hip Ratio (WHR)

Keeping the stereotypes of beauty and fashion industry aside, and looking strictly from a health perspective, waist-to-hip ratio is not only a great indicator of overweight/underweight conditions, but also of one’s life span!

Think of it. All the vital organs are situated in our abdominal region – kidneys, liver, spleen, pancreas, small and large intestine, excretory and reproductive organs. These are organs that are directly involved in digestion, absorption and elimination of the nutrients we feed ourselves. Nature being a great architect, has designed terrestrial mammals is such a way that hips are larger than the abdomen – hips are natures safe way to store fat (where it doesn’t interfere with any organ’s functioning) which also doubles up as a counter balance to weight of the head and the shoulders for a smoother carriage in various sitting, moving, lying down or standing postures – not to mention the natural cushion it provides when we sit!

When body fat percentage goes above healthy levels, body begins to store it in areas other than the hips, especially the abdomen – body’s visual indicator for us to correct our lifestyle and prevent our intricate inner biology from the suffocation impending upon it. Similarly, when body fat percentage goes below healthy levels, the result starts to show in the form of hips losing their padding, which means that the storage body fat is on its way out – body’s visual indicator for us correct our lifestyle and prevent essential body fat from following suit.

Thus, in a way, waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is a direct visual indicator – a ‘dashboard’ of sorts of our body’s software – for us to check our health in the blink of an eye!

According to WHO, abdominal obesity is defined as a waist–hip ratio above 0.90 for males and above 0.85 for females.

Waist-to-Hip Ratio - A Quick Look

How to know your ideal body weight to adhere to using WHR?

Your ideal body weight will be that which lets you remain in the safe range of the ideal waist-to-hip ratio for your gender i.e. 0.85 for women and 0.90 for men.

How to calculate your waist-to-hip ratio right now (using a measuring tape)!

The World Health Organization (WHO) protocol suggests measuring waist circumference at the approximate midpoint between the lower margin of the last palpable rib and the top of the iliac crest. For hip circumference, the widest portion of the buttocks are to be considered when measuring.

Why waist-to-hip ratio measurement is better than body mass index (BMI).

US National Library of Medicine suggests in an article that considering WHR helps predict cardiovascular diseases much more accurately. (Source: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) This must be so because of the intrinsic connection of vascular health to the level of fat deposits around the viscera.

As you may have noticed, the ideal ratios for a woman differs from that for a man because she has been entrusted by nature with the biological capacity to nurture a life inside her, which requires her to carry more storage and essential fat compared to men and also helps during pre-natal carriage though effective postural balance through a lower WHR.

In the photo: Silky Agarwal