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Waistline as rough indicator of body fat %?

Answered on March 05, 2014
Created March 04, 2014 at 8:32 AM

I've stopped weighing myself.

I feel that this way, I pay more attention to my body sensations, feel within my pants, belly feel, etc.

In short, I feel that this way I'm more in touch with my body and less guided by outside data and guidelines that have a scientific aura but are finally misleading.

My goal is to look decent and be healthy.

I am and have been for a while OK as far as body fat goes. Yet, I do fluctuate. I'd like to know, therefore, whether these fluctuations mean a gain/loss of fat or not (lean mass?).

I follow my waistline. While I used to actually tape measure it, I now settle for my feel in my pants and belt.

I'd like to know whether I can assume that the changes in waistline that I observe, whether up or down, largely reflect changes in body fat.

I realize this is not precise. But I'm not interested in absolute, precise numbers. I just would like to know whether things are improving on the fat front or the other way around.

What do you think?

Thank you kindly, jackn

Medium avatar

(10611)

on March 05, 2014
at 03:50 PM

When I was losing substantial weight my waist, thighs, chest and shoulders all shrank. I lost weight everywhere, and unfortunately it wasn't all fat. While waistline gave me a good indication, I lost about the same in chest measurement. My ribs and collarbone lost their fat overpad, a lot of the love-handle subcutaneous fat on my waist disappeared, and my thighs quit touching. These were other signs which confirmed real weight loss over 6 months.

F291857fa12a0291688ea994343156dc

(720)

on March 05, 2014
at 03:48 PM

Implementing the concept of using waist measurement to give an indication of bodyfat % would include measuring it under the ~same conditions over a decent length of time. Kinda like monitoring how ones favorite pants feel.

Or just taking a look in the mirror after ones (fasted state?) morning shower/

Not measuring it post carb loading or post 10 or post "all you can eat" buffet... :(

Medium avatar

(10611)

on March 05, 2014
at 03:35 PM

Our waistlines expand after a meal, and shrink back as the food goes down the GI and the water exits through the kidneys. Glycogen is water retention that doesn't go away as fast - about 10g water per g glucose if I remember right. If you're doing something like a 10K and carbo loading before a race you'd probably hold enough of this extra water in your midsection and muscles to make your clothes noticeably snugger.

F291857fa12a0291688ea994343156dc

(720)

on March 05, 2014
at 01:22 AM

@Jackn you're welcome.

I doubt MD's,, RN's or PA's will be using tape.....too weird, too intrusive for most people and WAY too scientific.

i'll have to disagree with your assessment that "waistline changes reflecting body or abdominal, remains open"

It's very clear to me from my own experience (3" lost in waist) and from all the info that I linked to.... waist to height (a rough shape factor) does correlate well to body & especially abdominal fat.

Google body fat images..... lower waist to height ratios clearly indicate lower bodyfat %

F291857fa12a0291688ea994343156dc

(720)

on March 05, 2014
at 01:17 AM

I agree with @thhq weekly changes can be misleading

Medium avatar

(10611)

on March 04, 2014
at 06:59 PM

Over the time span of a week it's difficult to lose or gain more than a pound of fat unless you're obese. But you can easily manipulate your glycogen stores 5-10 pounds. Since a lot of that is stored in the liver, your girth would be noticeably affected.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on March 04, 2014
at 03:11 PM

Correction - MRI imaging, not NMR.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on March 04, 2014
at 02:59 PM

7 years ago I was diabetic with a 42" waistline. I could immediately control the blood sugar by heavy carb restriction. But the permanent fix was to get rid of all that fat packed in my midsection. I never had an NMR done, but there's one in the following that shows what I was concerned about:

http://www.sportstek.net/body-composition-monitor.htm

Once I lost weight my insulin resistance was eliminated and I could go back to eating higher carb levels without losing control of my blood sugar. My waistline is now 35-36".

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7 Answers

0
C1a1a71943e7b27625d1f6f32b2feb6a

on March 05, 2014
at 04:50 PM

Hey thhq.

Yes, I notice the loss around shoulders and chest.

So my question may not be so good. While waist may indeed reflect fat loss largely, loss of lean mass may occur at the same time, but show elsewhere. This suggests that the online calculators which require also chest, arm and wrist circumference to measure body fat % are right.

Not that I'd go to the trouble... And, I'd rather not put go-betweens, but rather try and be in touch with my bod directly.

Glycogen is stored with 3-4g of water, btw,

0
C1a1a71943e7b27625d1f6f32b2feb6a

on March 04, 2014
at 08:25 PM

Hey thhq.

Yes, I agree that a week is short.

I just meant a short period, say several weeks, as will occur during a shift in diet. Really, I mean recent changes in waistline. Can I take them to reflect mainly abdominal fat or not?

Precisely, that's one thing I wonder about: whether changes in waistline reflect short term changes in glycogen and water.

As to glycogen, I'd say two things: glycogen stores will not decline if not on a low-carb diet. As you know, there's a whole school out there practising low-fat. They, too, find their waistline shrinking. In addition, often, the changes in waistline are long-lasting, whereas the glycogen stores are restored. Finally, would changes in the liver show on the outside? I just don't know.

Water, I believe, has to do with the glycogen. Similar considerations apply.

What do you think?

Good to talk.

Jackn

Medium avatar

(10611)

on March 05, 2014
at 03:35 PM

Our waistlines expand after a meal, and shrink back as the food goes down the GI and the water exits through the kidneys. Glycogen is water retention that doesn't go away as fast - about 10g water per g glucose if I remember right. If you're doing something like a 10K and carbo loading before a race you'd probably hold enough of this extra water in your midsection and muscles to make your clothes noticeably snugger.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on March 05, 2014
at 03:50 PM

When I was losing substantial weight my waist, thighs, chest and shoulders all shrank. I lost weight everywhere, and unfortunately it wasn't all fat. While waistline gave me a good indication, I lost about the same in chest measurement. My ribs and collarbone lost their fat overpad, a lot of the love-handle subcutaneous fat on my waist disappeared, and my thighs quit touching. These were other signs which confirmed real weight loss over 6 months.

0
C1a1a71943e7b27625d1f6f32b2feb6a

on March 04, 2014
at 06:01 PM

Hey BobK.

I love the refs.

I studied USAF Captain Swiderski's thesis abstract. It's essentially a literature review, not original research. It mainly says that the waist-to-height ratio is more predictive of fitness than the waist alone measure. This is obviously important to the Air Force in screening members' fitness. To an individual, however, these two measures amount to the same thing, as your height doesn't change.

I've also looked at the other research referred to on that page.

The NHANES paper is an epidemiological observation paper which established the waist circumference associated with disease.

The Hsieh, Yoshinaga and Muto paper apparently set the waist-to-height=0.5 risk borderline as standard. It is an epidemiological Japanese survey. They've also found that waist-to-height correlated better than BMI with heart diesease risk. Finally, they find that among normal weight people, almost half of men have waist-to-height ratio > 0.5, and that this is a good predictor of metabolic disease. I'd add that I've never considered 'normal weight' to be normal. It's defined as BMI of 18-25. I find many people within this range are clearly overweight, and I think that definition is a sad joke. In this regard, it is worth noting that in another paper cited on the page you referred us to, the same lab notes that "Overt obesity is relatively rare among the Japanese despite the high prevalence of metabolic disorders." This makes them particularly eager to find a better measure than weight to assess disease risk.

The main takehomes from the above are that waistline does reflect fitness and health or disease risk. This is very useful.

Yet, the original question, as to changes in waistline reflecting changes in body or abdominal fat, remains open. The above Japanese authors also state that waist-to-height" is an effective index for assessing central fat distribution among Japanese people. This is based on previous work, and, since only the abstract is available, I don't have a reference. I assume, though, it's a population survey, and I take their word for it.

So, do short term, say, over a week, waistline changes mean mainly loss or gain of fat? Though the above findings are correlations, not experiments, and though they observe waist-to-height ratio at one point in time and not changes over time, I'm personally more inclined to believe so now. I haven't been able to find experiments exploring the question, but I haven't tried hard, and my hunch is they exist.

Do you think MD's will finally stop having us climb their scales and start pulling out a tape measure?

For some reason, each time I get a mail link to a post here, the latest post is not yet displayed. As a result, I can only read it in my mailbox. No prob there, but I hope that posting here without seeing your post displayed will still show my post following yours...

Thanks a bunch for the input, BobK.

Jackn

F291857fa12a0291688ea994343156dc

(720)

on March 05, 2014
at 01:22 AM

@Jackn you're welcome.

I doubt MD's,, RN's or PA's will be using tape.....too weird, too intrusive for most people and WAY too scientific.

i'll have to disagree with your assessment that "waistline changes reflecting body or abdominal, remains open"

It's very clear to me from my own experience (3" lost in waist) and from all the info that I linked to.... waist to height (a rough shape factor) does correlate well to body & especially abdominal fat.

Google body fat images..... lower waist to height ratios clearly indicate lower bodyfat %

Medium avatar

(10611)

on March 04, 2014
at 06:59 PM

Over the time span of a week it's difficult to lose or gain more than a pound of fat unless you're obese. But you can easily manipulate your glycogen stores 5-10 pounds. Since a lot of that is stored in the liver, your girth would be noticeably affected.

0
F291857fa12a0291688ea994343156dc

(720)

on March 04, 2014
at 03:38 PM

Waist measurement, actually waist to height ratio, is an excellent predictor of fitness / body fat.

For a man...less than 50% is a good upper limit for "fitness / health"

checkout http://home.fuse.net/clymer/bmi/

there is a link to a USAF thesis about half way down the page

Waist to height is superior to BMI, BMI penalizes well muscled people & does nothing to model "shape"

0
C1a1a71943e7b27625d1f6f32b2feb6a

on March 04, 2014
at 03:20 PM

I used to have a pre-diabetic friend and have read up a great deal on it.

Hats off on your restoring insulin sensitivity. It's wonderful.

Jacknn

0
C1a1a71943e7b27625d1f6f32b2feb6a

on March 04, 2014
at 02:22 PM

Hey thhq.

Oh, I really care more about the abdominal fat indeed, than body fat per se. Your answer makes the necessary distincion.

You seem to think along the same lines, that waistline reflects abdominal fat.

Can you suggest what leads you to believe this?

Thanks for the answer.

jackn

Medium avatar

(10611)

on March 04, 2014
at 03:11 PM

Correction - MRI imaging, not NMR.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on March 04, 2014
at 02:59 PM

7 years ago I was diabetic with a 42" waistline. I could immediately control the blood sugar by heavy carb restriction. But the permanent fix was to get rid of all that fat packed in my midsection. I never had an NMR done, but there's one in the following that shows what I was concerned about:

http://www.sportstek.net/body-composition-monitor.htm

Once I lost weight my insulin resistance was eliminated and I could go back to eating higher carb levels without losing control of my blood sugar. My waistline is now 35-36".

0
Medium avatar

(10611)

on March 04, 2014
at 11:26 AM

I suppose it could be related to % body fat. I've used it as the best indicator of visceral fat, which needs to be controlled for CV and metabolic health. For men waistline should be 36" or less.

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