Monday, June 17, 2013
What is your optimal weight? Maybe it is the one that minimizes your waist-to-weight ratio
There is a significant amount of empirical evidence suggesting that, for a given individual and under normal circumstances, the optimal weight is the one that maximizes the ratio below, where: L = lean body mass, and T = total mass.
L / T
L is difficult and often costly to measure. T can be measured easily, as one’s total weight.
Through some simple algebraic manipulations, you can see below that the ratio above can be rewritten in terms of one’s body fat mass (F).
L / T = (T – F) / T = 1 – F / T
Therefore, in order to maximize L / T, one should maximize 1 – F / T. This essentially means that one should minimize the second term, or the ratio below, which is one’s body fat mass (F) divided by one’s weight (T).
F / T
So, you may say, all I have to do is to minimize my body fat percentage. The problem with this is that body fat percentage is very difficult to measure with precision, and, perhaps more importantly, body fat percentage is associated with lean body mass (and also weight) in a nonlinear way.
In English, it becomes increasingly difficult to retain lean body mass as one's body fat percentage goes down. Mathematically, body fat percentage (F / T) is a nonlinear function of T, where this function has the shape of a J curve.
This is what complicates matters, making the issue somewhat counterintuitive. Six-pack abs may look good, but many people would have to sacrifice too much lean body mass for their own good to get there. Genetics definitely plays a role here, as well as other factors such as age.
Keep in mind that this (i.e., F / T) is a ratio, not an absolute measure. Given this, and to facilitate measurement, we can replace F with a variable that is highly correlated with it, and that captures one or more important dimensions particularly well. This new variable would be a proxy for F. One the most widely used proxies in this type of context is waist circumference. We’ll refer to it as W.
W may well be a very good proxy, because it is a measure that is particularly sensitive to visceral body fat mass, an important dimension of body fat mass. W likely captures variations in visceral body fat mass at the levels where this type of body fat accumulation seems to cause health problems.
Therefore, the ratio that most of us would probably want to minimize is the following, where W is one’s waist circumference, and T is one’s weight.
W / T = waist / weight
Based on the experience of HCE () users, variations in this ratio are likely to be small and require 4-decimals or more to be captured. If you want to avoid having so many decimals, you can multiply the ratio by 1000. This will have no effect on the use of the ratio to find your optimal weight; it is analogous to multiplying a ratio by 100 to express it as a percentage.
Also based on the experience of HCE users, there are fluctuations that make the ratio look like it is changing direction when it is not actually doing that. Many of these fluctuations may be due to measurement error.
If you are obese, as you lose weight through dieting, the waist / weight ratio should go down, because you will be losing more body fat mass than lean body mass, in proportion to your total body mass.
It would arguably be wise to stop losing weight when the waist / weight ratio starts going up, because at that point you will be losing more lean body mass than body fat mass, in proportion to your total body mass.
One’s lowest waist / weight ratio at a given point in time should vary depending on a number of factors, including: diet, exercise, general lifestyle, and age. This lowest ratio will also be dependent on one’s height and genetic makeup.
Mathematically, this lowest ratio is the ratio at which d(W / T) / dT = 0 and d(d(W / T) / dT) / dT > 0. That is, the first derivative of W / T with respect to T equals zero, and the second derivative is greater than zero.
The lowest waist / weight ratio is unique to each individual, and can go up and down over time (e.g., resistance exercise will push it down). Here I am talking about one's lowest waist / weight ratio at a given point in time, not one's waist / weight ratio at a given point in time.
This optimal waist / weight ratio theory is one of the most compatible with evidence regarding the lowest mortality body mass index (, ). Nevertheless, it is another ratio that gets a lot of attention in the health-related literature. I am talking about the waist / hip ratio (). In this literature, waist circumference is often used alone, not as part of a ratio.