Are you dieting excessively, or thinking you're spared from heart diseases because you're shopping in the "small" section of the departmental store? A couple of health experts give us the low-down on some hard truths, and dismiss common misconceptions -- they might paint a vastly different, and potentially frightening, picture of your health status.
1. Body Mass Index (BMI) is no longer an accurate indicator of one's health.
Dismiss what your Health Ed classes taught you about the Body Mass Index (BMI). "Clearly, the precision to address body fat composition is not reflected in such an index," says Adjunct Asst. Prof Dr. Alvin Ng Chee Keong, interventional and nuclear cardiologist at Raffles Hospital. In other words, while it does give you a crude indication of your body's fat composition, it vastly inadequate in predicting body fat percentage, fat deposition pattern, and subsequently, obesity-related risk factors.
2. It's important to know your body fat percentage and composition.
The main reason for the inadequacy of the BMI is its failure in taking into account the proportion of subcutaenous fat (fat deposited under the skin) to visceral fat (fat deposited in the abdomen and around the heart). And this is where the danger lies. "[Visceral fat] appear to act as an additional hormonal organ, producing and discharging hormones or chemicals that increase the degeneration of the body, resulting in increased incidence of diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and of course, coronary artery disease," Dr. Ng elaborates.
3. Your weight is a poor indicator of body health too.
Feeling disheartened about not seeing a major drop when you step onto the scales after yet another threadmill-pounding session at the gym? Give yourself a break and stop looking at those judgmental digits on the scale. "Muscle has much greater density than fat -- it is possible to get visibly slimmer without a significant drop in weight or even with a slight increase in weight," explains fitness trainer Deepa Primalani.
To put it simply, when you lose fats (that are converted to muscle), you might actually see an increase in weight due to the higher density of muscle, but look slimmer as muscle take up less space. To do this, Primalani recommends a "combination of cardio and resistance weight training to reduce fat and build muscle".
4. Want to lose weight and body fat? Dieting excessively could lead to the exact opposite effects.
The last thing you want to do when you're putting in the hours at the gym in hopes of losing weight and body fat is to diet excessively -- you might end up with the exact opposite effects. "If you do not eat adequately, your body then burns muscle for energy and it starts to hoard fat." This leads to the phenomenon more popularly known as "skinny-fat".
According to Primalani, any initial weight loss you might see will actually be muscle loss. "In addition to leading to higher body fat percentage, over-exercising and under-eating also leads to irritability, depression, heart problems, nausea, among other medical conditions. Eating disorders may also develop."
5. To paint a better picture of your body health, a machine that provides breakdowns of your body fat percentage is much more useful.
While we're not asking you to throw out the weighing scale the very next chance you get, a machine such as the the HBF-375, which uses state-of-the-art bioelectrical impedance technology to measure your weight and body fat percentage, would give you a better idea on overall body health.
Additionally, the HBF-375 also offers readings for BMI, resting metabolism, and visceral fat levels. It's not cheap, that's for sure, but it's the essential tool for fitness enthusiasts and anyone who wants to start monitoring their health and fitness levels. The Omron Healthcare Body Fat Composition Monitor Model HBF-375 is available at S$330.10 at major retail pharmacies (Guardian, Unity, Watsons), departmental and electrical stores (Harvey Norman).