Weight or Waist: Which is the Most Important?

February 5, 2018 , ,

Did you know that it is possible to have a normal weight while still having a high body fat percentage and an increased risk of developing chronic disease? An excess of fat, especially around the stomach, is associated with a higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, fatty liver, sleep apnea and cancers. Heart conditions are the second cause of death in Canada. What’s more, it’s estimated that in the Canadian population, around one in every ten deaths is due to diabetes.

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Weight is Not a Good Indicator of Body Fat

If you use ordinary scales to weigh yourself, it is impossible to know whether weigh loss or weight gain is due to a change in your body fat, muscle mass, or body water. Body Mass Index (BMI) indicates whether a person’s weight is proportionate to their height. However, this calculation doesn’t enable us to determine if someone has adequate body fat. For example, athletes can have a high BMI because they have a lot of muscle mass. In the same way, a sedentary person may have a normal BMI but still have too much body fat if they don’t have much muscle. That is why measuring waist circumference is useful. A change in waist measurement most likely indicates a change in body fat. Often, when people start a weight loss and exercise program, their weight can stay the same while their waist size diminishes, which indicates a gain in muscle and a loss of fat.

A Bigger Waist Size is Linked to a Higher Risk of Chronic Disease

Did you know that not every obese person has an elevated risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases? That’s right, research clearly shows that an excess of fat around the stomach increases your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, regardless of whether you are overweight or have a normal weight. That’s because abdominal fat is an indicator of visceral fat—the fat that accumulates around organs like the heart and liver. This type of fat also causes inflammation. A waist size reduction of just 4cm in people with abdominal obesity comes with a 60% reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

How to Measure Your Waist

Waist size is measured at belly button level. A measurement of over 102cm (40 inches) in men and 88cm (35 inches) in women is considered high and has associated health risks. Measure your waist under the same conditions, ideally when you wake-up, after having been to the toilet and before eating. Make sure to breathe normally and not to hold your breath.

How to Reduce Your Waist Size

  • Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep (under 7 hours a night) is associated with a higher waist circumference.
  • Reduce your stress levels: Stress increases the levels of the hormone cortisone, which triggers the body to store fat, especially around your stomach.
  • Move your body: Performing between 150 and 300 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise is an effective way to reduce waist size. What’s more, active people have half the risk of developing diabetes or cardiovascular diseases compared to sedentary people, regardless of waist size.
  • Eat better: To reduce waist size, it’s recommended to adopt a Mediterranean Diet (focusing on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, olive oil and low fat dairy products), and to reduce sugary drinks.



Kathryn Adel
Kathryn completed degrees in kinesiology and nutrition, as well as a Masters in Sports Nutrition. She is a member of OPDQ and of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She ran track and cross-country at a national level. Kathryn specializes in sports nutrition, weight loss, diabetes, as well as heart and gastrointestinal health. Kathryn is experienced with the low FODMAP diet and she completed the Monash University low FODMAP dietitian's training.

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