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Get the skinny on finding your right size

How do you tell if you're the right size? Many of us look at the scale or clothing size, but is that an accurate way to tell what our best size is? We asked Susan Masemer, exercise physiologist, for advice on how to ascertain, and achieve, our right size.

How can I tell if I'm the right size?
First, there is no single right shape or size. We're all unique, with different genetic potential and body composition that dictates our basic body type and build. Your personal right size should reflect your personal goals. Do you wish to enhance your ability to do daily tasks or more fully enjoy recreational activities? Maybe you wish to excel in sports or are you concerned about achieving a toned body for aesthetic reasons? Whatever your personal goal, it should include attaining your best health.

Are there some tests that can help us determine whether we're the right size? 
There are a number of measurements that can provide some insight. Calculating your BMI (body mass index) is easy to do and can give you a general sense of how healthy your weight is, especially if you are not physically active. However, it may not be the most accurate measure of a person's ideal weight. BMI can't differentiate between lean weight (muscle) and fat. It is biased against a person who might register as overweight according to BMI standards, but is mostly muscle. A more accurate indicator is to measure your percentage of body fat. 

What can our waist measurement tell us?
When it comes to extra body fat, it's all about location, location, location. Fat located in your abdomen is called visceral fat, or toxic fat. It's considered dangerous because excess fat stored in the gut cavity can release toxins around your vital organs. People who carry extra weight around their waist rather than their hips are at a higher risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The risk goes up with waist measurements greater than 35 inches for women and greater than 40 inches for men.

What are some mistakes to avoid when trying to achieve our right size?

  • Avoid comparing your body to someone else's, especially someone you see in the in the media. Your body is simply different than theirs. Plus, photos in the media may have been airbrushed or otherwise manipulated.
  • Women miss an important opportunity if they don't add strength training to their exercise routine. Adding muscle provides a more sculpted appearance, plus more muscle burns more calories. The idea women will get too bulky from strength training is a myth.
  • Don't take an all-or-nothing approach by binge dieting, cutting out important nutrients or starving yourself. It's not healthy or sustainable. 

Do you have any tips for those who want to achieve their right size?

  • Know that you can make improvements in your body shape by accumulating more physical activity throughout the day. Several small activity sessions can provide significant and pain-free benefits. You don't need to join an expensive gym, attend grueling training classes or hire a personal trainer to make great progress. Begin "where you are" and increase your efforts to reach your goals. If you desire an athletic looking or functioning body, know it will take a bigger commitment of time and intensity.
  • Start simple by logging your eating and exercise habits. Keep track on an app, or even paper. Wearable activity trackers are very popular and help keep you accountable to yourself.
  • If you're struggling, seek expert help. Meet with a registered dietitian or exercise physiologist. A fitness trainer is fine, too, if he or she is highly credentialed. A health and wellness coach can help you put together a realistic strategy.

Any final words on finding the right size for ourselves? 
Don't let someone else set unrealistic expectations for you. Find real experts to help you determine what body shape will help you meet your needs and goals. It is important to re-check your body composition from time to time, to make sure you are maintaining a healthy balance of muscle and fat.  We tend to lose a significant amount of muscle each decade of life—especially if we are not doing strengthening activities.  It is important to maintain muscle, which in turn keeps us strong and our metabolism revving for optimal calorie burning and weight maintenance.

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