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Looking beyond the number on the scale.


For most the New Year is time for making resolutions and developing new routines. Weight loss and fitness are topics that often come to mind, this may be result of watching the scale creep up, over the holiday season.  I thought by touching on the subject in December, it would be a way of recognizing that healthy changes can be made at any time.

 Body weight is often the key measurement used by individuals to determine health.  When the scale is up, you may feel sluggish, and have a negative view on life.

Although the scale value is a commonly used parameter, I am going to discuss a few others.

Body Mass Index

 When weight is combined with height and added to a formula (Weight in kilograms / (Height in meters2)  the body mass index of an individual can be determined.

Health Canada groups BMI into the following categories:

  • underweight (BMI less than 18.5)
  • normal weight (BMIs 18.5 to 24.9)
  • overweight (BMIs 25 to 29.9)
  • obese (BMI 30 and over)

Research demonstrates that higher BMI’s have been linked to many health problems including:  type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, obstructive sleep apnea and respiratory problems, hypertension,  and cardiovascular disease.

Some of the drawbacks of the BMI calculation is that values can be over or underestimated in very muscular adults and young adults who have not reached their final growth. In adults over 65, where muscle loss is common BMI and becomes less accurate.

Want to find out your BMI – Diabetes Canada has an online calculator http://www.diabetes.ca/diabetes-and-you/nutrition/bmi/

Waist Circumference

Waist circumference is an additional measure that can provide indications of abdominal fat, excess weight around the middle becomes a concern due to the link to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Increased risk is demonstrated in values above the following:

  • Men – 102cm (40in.)
  • Women – 88cm (53in.)

Bioimpedance Analysis (BIA)

Another method of analysis that I utilize in my Naturopathic practice is bioimpedance analysis (BIA).  The testing itself requires attaching two electrodes to the body (foot and hand of same side of the body), through which a small electrical current is passed.

Image source: http://www.proactivehealthresources.com/Services.html

The values are computed and demonstrate a specific breakdown of body tissues and result in detailed health information.  The following information and graphic demonstrate the values determined by BIA screening.

Fat Mass (FM) is the total amount of stored lipids in the body and consists of the following types of fat:

Subcutaneous Fat is located directly beneath the skin. Subcutaneous fat serves as an energy reserve and as insulation against outside cold.

Visceral Fat is located deeper within the body. Visceral fat serves as an energy reserve and as a cushion between organs.

Fat-Free Mass (FFM), also called Lean Body Mass (LBM), is the total amount of nonfat (lean) parts of the body. It consists of approximately 73% water, 20% protein, 6% mineral, and 1% ash.

Fat-free mass is further divided into body cell mass and extracellular mass:

Body Cell Mass (BCM) contains all the metabolically active tissues (living cells) of the body, including muscle cells, organ cells, blood cells, and immune cells. BCM includes the “living” portion of fat cells, but not the stored fat lipids. BCM also includes water inside living cells. This water is called Intracellular Water (ICW). The main electrolyte of intracellular water is potassium.

Extracellular Mass (ECM) contains all the metabolically inactive (non-living) parts of the body, such as bone minerals and blood plasma. ECM includes water contained outside living cells. This water is called Extracellular Water (ECW). The main electrolyte of extracellular water is sodium.

Why does this all matter? 

Having this information allows a window into the body to examine the inner make up.  Having normal distributions of mass and fluid are associated with improved immunity, better metabolic function (energy use), productivity, and of course longevity.  As part of a treatment plan this tool allows me to track progression of health objectively.

Sample report of BIA that can be completed in office – CLICK HERE


The take home message is that the number on the scale is not always the best measure of wellness.

Although the measurement tools discussed can demonstrate trends, it is important to consider that other risk factors for disease such as unhealthy eating, lack of physical exercise, tobacco and alcohol use. 


Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/weights-poids/guide-ld-adult/qa-qr-pub-eng.php

Biodynamics – Clinical Desk Reference for BIA Testing

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