At the start of 2022, I talked about some of my goals for the year. Among the things I mentioned was a focus on a sustainable nutrition and eating program to help me meet my goals. Allison and I talked about a rigid meal planning structure that we were going to maintain for six weeks, and then re-evaluate. Well, it’s been six weeks and I want to talk about progress as well as some harsh truths.
So, first off, let’s start with the status check. In six weeks I’ve gone from 223 to 209 lbs. I didn’t really do anything particularly special during this period except carefully plan my meals around a calculated amount of calories and a mixture of protein/fat/carbohydrates. I feel good about this progress, but this is well-tread ground for me as I’ve historically stayed within the bounds of 210 to 225 for the last 15 years.
The catch is that we’re going to keep doing this through the end of June and then re-evaluate where we’re at once again. We’ve gone this far with zero eating out (including take out), cooking all food fresh ourselves, no alcohol, no soda, or any sweets.
At a certain point, though, I understand that the scale is really not a good determination of where I’m at health-wise, and there are better ways to do this. I want to share an easy one with you, and then provide a minimum standard to shoot for.
The “Gut” Check
While I was on active duty, a part of the Air Force’s physical fitness test was a tape measure around the waist. I, and many others, always took issue with this part of the test. It’s not that we thought it wasn’t relevant, but that it counted for so much of your score relative to the strength and endurance components. For example, out of a possible score of 100, the pushups and sit-ups only counted for 10 points each.
The end result was a fitness test that greatly favored skinny dudes who could run, and did not really reward people for being strong. Make of that what you will, it’s not really the point.
While I took issue with the weight of the tape test, it’s not without some scientific background.
Excess Body Fat
One of the biggest predictors of health problems is a high amount of body fat. It contributes to a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, blood pressure, and just a generally higher level of mortality. The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a rough approximation of body fat, but it is really designed for populations, not individuals.
Since BMI only looks at height and weight, it does a terrible job distinguishing between a well-muscled individual and someone with a high amount of body fat. I had friends in the military who were body builders with body fat percentages in the single digits that routinely popped up as “obese” during these assessments.
Since body fat is the better predictor of health problems, we should focus on that. The trouble for most people is that getting an accurate assessment of body fat is difficult or expensive to do on a regular basis. Things like bod pods, DEXA scans, and immersion tanks are the best tools available, but they are relatively rare and can cost hundreds of dollars per session to use.
So what’s the better way?
The Lowly Tape Measure Test
Since the classic military fitness test was less about actual combat performance and more about controlling for general health risks, it makes sense that the tape measure test became part of it. As I understand things now, my main issue was not that the tape test existed- but merely how it was implemented.
For this, I want to refer back to the work of Dr. Phil Maffetone. I first introduced him to you when I talked about a better way to do cardio. For years, Dr. Maffetone has been on a crusade about the population becoming “overfat.” He’s careful to separate this from the old definition of “overweight”
In his articles, he suggests a simple way to check if you are overfat. On a cadence of about once per month, take a tape measure and put it around your waist at the height of your belly button. Make sure it is level all the way around, and don’t cheat by sucking anything in or squeezing the tape.
What does it say?
If you gawk at the number for being so much larger than your pant size, that’s ok. Most modern pants don’t actually sit at the waist anymore.
For me, as of February 2022, it measured at 39 inches- even though I loosely wear size 34 jeans. While the average person might not perceive me as fat, I know I’m also genetically lucky in where I tend to carry excess fat. That helps me give a different appearance than what is actually true.
Now that you have the waist measurement, you need to go to step two and divide it by your height.
The Waist/Height Ratio Target
Your waist measurement around the belly button should be no more than half of your height. So the ratio for waist divided by height should be 0.5 or less.
I am 6’1″ tall, so I’ll use 73″ as my height for this. Dividing my 39″ waist measurement by 73″ yields a 0.53 ratio. In order for me to get out of the “overfat” range, then I need to get the waist measurement down below 36.5″.
If you’re like me, with a waist/height ratio higher than 0.5, then we’ve got some work to do with burning fat (and not just losing weight). How you get there is a bit personal to you, but for me I know it’s a combination of continuing the good nutrition habits that I’ve started, staying on top of exercise, and keeping my stress levels in check.
A Minimum-Capable Standard?
I have a bit of an internal debate about including this measurement in my thoughts about a minimum capable citizen. On one hand, I do believe physical fitness and health is a huge component of being a prepared and capable individual. This “quick rule” method of giving yourself a gut check is a useful tool in that arsenal.
On the other hand, this is also a highly personal thing and I know a lot of people don’t like being told things they don’t want to hear.
Hmmm…what do you think?