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Waist to Hip Ratio Can Spell Danger

Santa Claus torso
December 30, 2015 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

I’ve got some bad news for Santa. He may be busy this time of year, and I’m sure he works up quite a sweat.

But Santa’s physique isn’t healthy. Not even close.

Know how I know? His waist is much larger than his hips. And that—more than any other measurement—is a sign of trouble to come.

Now, Santa may have a special deal set up regarding his health—he’s been around awhile, and he’ll certainly outlast all of us.

But you and I aren’t quite as fortunate.

Today, I’m going to tell you exactly why you should be concerned with your waist-to-hip ratio. And I’ll tell you exactly what you can do to improve it.

The worst kind of fat

If you’ve seen your GP recently, you probably talked about your BMI—your Body Mass Index, which is a ratio of your height and weight. A BMI of 18.5-24.9 is described as normal weight, 25-29.9 as overweight, and 30 or higher as obese.

BMI is used as an approximation of health. But, truth be told, it’s very inexact.

BMI can be misleading because of a few things.

For one, it doesn’t work for anyone athletic. Muscle is much denser than fat, so a lot of muscle can make you seem heavier than you “should” be.

When he was winning Mr. Olympia seven times in a row, Arnold Schwarzenegger famously qualified as morbidly obese according to his BMI.

However, you don’t need to be super fit to have a misleading BMI. You could also simply have a thick bone structure.

If you have a fire hydrant build, this is you.

While I will always note a patient’s BMI, I prefer to look at their waist-to-hip ratio.

This ratio is much more meaningful. Having a high ratio is an indicator of risk for all sorts of issues, from stroke to heart disease to cancer.

The reason is the type of fat we store around our bellies. It’s much more dangerous than “regular” fat.

Not only does fat around the belly surround, press up against, and interfere with our organs.

It also produces much more estrogen than usual—up to four times as much as other fat.

That much estrogen interferes with a host of bodily functions—and causes the body to produce a lot of cortisol.

Cortisol, you might recall, is the stress hormone. It tells your body you’re in a fight-or-flight situation—and that causes your body to dump a lot of sugar into your bloodstream, for quick access to energy.

When we don’t use that energy to run away or fight a bear, it winds up getting converted into fat.

Worse, because we’ve depleted all of our sugar, later in the day we wind up craving carbohydrates to replenish our stores. So not only have you needlessly turned energy stores into fat, but you’ve also set yourself up to eat fattening foods later.

All the while, excess estrogen is increasing your risk of cancer and heart problems. It’s a vicious circle.

And, while BMI can suggest you have this issue, your waist-to-hip ratio is a much more reliable predictor of problems.

How much is too much?

To get your waist-to-hip ratio, you want an accurate measurement of each.

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To get your waist measurement, take a tape measure and find out what your reading is at your smallest point—usually, very close to the height of your belly button.

For your hips, measure at the widest point below your waist—above your legs, and usually encircling the upper part of your buttocks.

Your waist-to-hip ratio is simply your waist measurement, divided by your hip measurement.

For women, a ratio below 0.80—that is, your waist is 80% as large as your hips—indicates low risk. Moderate risk is anything between 0.80 and 0.85, while everything above 0.85 indicates high risk.

For men, the ratios are a bit different. Anything below 0.95 is low risk, 0.96-1.00 is moderate, and anything above 1.00—meaning your waist is larger than your hips—equals high risk.

Four ways to conquer your waist-to-hip ratio

Some of us are unlucky—we’re genetically predisposed to add weight around our midsections.

However, don’t let that be an excuse. You can retrain your body to burn through that fat, and even to store fat differently, given enough time.

  1. Lift weights

Most folks think that aerobic exercise is the best way to burn through fat.

And while that’s true during exercise, aerobic work actually is less efficient overall.

Anaerobic exercise—like weight lifting—has more effect.

That’s because weight lifting grows your muscles. And larger muscles burn more calories—which, in the long run, will have a much greater impact on your fat storage.

  1. Watch what you eat

Obvious, yes—but here are a few tips that will help you further.

You want to eat animal and other proteins earlier in the day. That’s because it takes about eight hours for your body to turn protein into amino acids.

If you eat after 2, you’re quite likely to be sleeping when those amino acids are coursing around your blood. They do no good then. Try to make your evening meals veggie-based, as often as possible.

  1. Watch when you eat

As general rule, it takes 3 hours to turn food into accessible calories.

However, if you go too long without eating, your body will start converting your muscle mass into energy—the opposite of the effect we want.

So try to eat something every 4 hours. That’s enough time to access calories, but not so much that your system cannibalizes itself.

  1. Destress yourself

You know that stress causes cortisol—which ends up adding fat around our bellies.

So be mindful of your stress levels. Do something relaxing or calming during the day. Take a few deep breaths if you feel yourself becoming tense.

When you start on this routine—if you haven’t already—take a few measurements of your body. Waist-to-hip ratio, of course, but also measure your thigh.

If you lose weight, make sure it’s your belly that is losing girth, and not your thigh. Thigh loss indicates loss of muscle—and we want to build muscle.

Most importantly, be aware and monitor your waist-to-hip ratio. If you’re in the danger zone, take the above steps to get out of it.

After all, we all can’t be as lucky as Santa, when it comes to our belly.

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