Waist, BMI or Weight: Which Is Best For Evaluating Your Health?

Being overweight and having too much body fat might seem like the same thing, but this isn’t always the case. In fact, stepping on the scales to measure your wieght can be misleading. And BMI might not be very helpful either. Your waist measurement could be a more significant indicator—or predictor—of potential health problems.

Should we ditch the scale and instead grab a tape measure?

Weight scales don’t know whether you’re a muscular athlete or a growing teenager. And that’s a key issue—body weight is heavily affected by the amount of water stored in your muscles rather than being reflective of your body’s fat content.

What if you’re exercising to lose weight? The scales don’t consider that you might experience a healthy amount of muscle development and that extra muscle has to weigh something! This can be more than a bit disheartening to see you’ve gained weight after working hard at the gym.

Waist Circumference

Do you remember the fruity body shape descriptions – being like an “apple” or a “pear”?  The apple is kind of round around the middle and the pear shape is rounder around the hips/thighs.

THAT is what we’re talking about here.

Do you know which shape is associated with a higher risk of sleep apnea, blood sugar issues (e.g. insulin resistance and diabetes) and heart issues (high blood pressure, blood fat, and arterial diseases)?

Yup – the apple shape!

It’s not because of the subcutaneous (under the skin) fat that you may refer to as a “muffin top.”  The health risk actually comes from the fat inside the abdomen covering the liver, intestines and other surrounding organs.

This internal fat surrounding the organs is called “visceral fat.”

The reason the visceral fat can be a health issue is because it releases fatty acids, inflammatory compounds, and hormones that can negatively affect your blood fats, blood sugars, and blood pressure.

And the apple-shaped people tend to have a lot more of this hidden visceral fat than the pear-shaped people.

So, as you can see, where your fat is stored is more important than how much you weigh.

The Problem with BMI

How about BMI—or Body Mass Index? It, at least, takes into consideration your height. Anything between 18.5 and 25 is considered an average BMI ready. But, a BMI over 25 indicates that you’re “overweight” and above 30 indicates obesity. It’s quick (click here to figure out yours) and doctors will use it to quickly evaluate a patient’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis and even cancer.

BMI doesn’t really measure body fat. You might be a normal weight according to your height, but you can still carry too much body fat and even classify as obese.

BMI doesn’t determine different types of fat in your body.You might have a high BMI, but the fat is stored in your hips. Another person with a similar BMI might have a lot of belly fat – or that visceral fat we talked about – which causes many dangerous health conditions including certain cancers.

Body fat percentage can be difficult to precisely measure. You either need specific equipment or a trained professional. An effective (and cheaper!) alternative is to measure your waist circumference.

Measure your waist

It’s pretty simple to find out if you’re in the higher risk category or not. The easiest way is to just measure your waist circumference with a measuring tape.  You can do it right now.

How to measure your waist

  1. Grab a tape measure!
  2. Wrap the tape measure around your waist at the level of your belly button.
  3. Breathe out normally.
  4. Check the number on the tape measure.Do what works for you, but once per month is a good idea. Set a reminder in your phone to measure it at the same time every month so it’s most accurate.

So, what is a healthy waist measurement?

Most simply, a man’s health is at risk if his waist is more than 37 inches and a woman’s shouldn’t go above 31.5 inches to avoid health complications. (Pregnant ladies are exempt, of course!)


You will get a more specific range if you compare your waist to your hips:

Just divide your waist by your hip measurement (in the same units):

  • For men = above 1 is too high. Aim for below 0.95 to reduce risk of disease.
  • For women = over 0.85 is too high. Below 0.8 puts you at a lower risk of disease.

Of course these aren’t diagnostic tools; there are lots of risk factors for chronic diseases. Definitely see your doctor if you have concerns .

Tips for helping reduce some belly fat:

  • Eat more fiber. Fiber can help reduce belly fat in a few ways.  First of all it helps you feel full and also helps to reduce the amount of calories you absorb from your food.  Some examples of high-fiber foods are brussel sprouts, flax and chia seeds, avocado, and blackberries.
  • Add more protein to your day. Protein reduces your appetite and makes you feel fuller longer.  It also has a high TEF (thermic effect of food) compared with fats and carbs and ensures you have enough of the amino acid building blocks for your muscles.
  • Nix added sugars. This means ditch the processed sweetened foods especially those sweet drinks (even 100% pure juice).
  • Move more. Get some aerobic exercise.  Lift some weights.  Dance in your livingroom. Walk. Take the stairs.  It all adds up.
  • Stress less. Seriously! Elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol have been shown to increase appetite and abdominal fat.
  • Get more sleep. Try making this a priority and seeing how much better you feel (and look).

Here’s a high fiber recipe that we make at least once a week in our house:

Lemon Garlic Roasted Brussels Sprouts


Cook time: 

Total time: 

Serves: 4

Brussel sprouts contain the fat-soluble, bone-loving vitamin K and tons of fiber.
  • 1 lb brussel sprouts (washed, ends removed, halved)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic (minced)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • dash salt and pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. In a bowl toss sprouts with garlic, oil, and lemon juice. Spread on a baking tray and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Bake for about 15 minutes. Toss.
  4. Bake for another 10 minutes.
  5. Serve and Enjoy!

Let me know in the comments below if you found any of tips helpful!

To your health, ease, and joy,









Carolyn S. Barnes, CHC, LMT

Carolyn is an integrative health coach, speaker, Reiki Master and the author of Return to Ease: Gently Reconnect with Your Body’s Natural Mobility and Joy.

She writes and speaks from a personal place–her own journey of healing from various health issues (including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and obesity) and opening to her inner wisdom. Her mission at Return to Ease is to help women who want to reconnect with their personal power and true essence. This integrative process of reconnection allows her clients to align their hearts, minds, and bodies while creating a more sacred life filled with health, ease, and joy.

Carolyn received her coaching training from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, where she learned about more than one hundred dietary theories and studied a variety of practical lifestyle coaching methods. She specializes in helping women who struggle with emotional/stress eating gain control and experience ease with food and their lives. As a result, her clients experience a newfound appreciation of their bodies, no longer obsess over food, and witness an amazing transformation of more ease and joy in their lives.

To learn more about Carolyn, apply to be a coaching client, order a copy of her book, or book Reiki session, please visit her website.

  1. Hi Carolyn, need to check in to say your blogs (if that is what they are known by) are so helpful and informative. I look forward to each one and commend you on your quest to help us all to fix ourselves. It seems you are easy to love. Edythe

    • Dear Edythe, yes they are “blog posts.” 🙂 It is so very nice of you to write; I’m glad you find them helpful! Carolyn

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