It is a wonderful product of evolution - the camel's hump. The hump allows the camel to store fatty tissue, which if it stored in its body would insulate it too much. And that won't work in the desert.

The camel breaks down the fatty tissue, and gets enough energy and water as well to use. While there are a lot of complexities in the system, I think we all understand that the hump allows the camel to survive and thrive in a harsh environment.

Morocco, Sahara.
Photo by Sergey Pesterev / Unsplash

The human body's ability to store fat is a similar evolutionary marvel. We lived in times when calories and food was scarce. So, when we could store extra body fat, it was a boon. Each kilo of body fat is close to 8000 calories of energy. That's ample energy to fuel a lot more than one marathon! Isn't that wonderful?! As hunter-gatherers, we needed this energy store.

Growing up in the typical TamBrahm household, being a little pudgy and chunky was praised. You look healthy would be chimed by all aunts and grandmothers at the family weddings and gatherings. And if you looked skinny, you got an earful.

Times have changed. We have abundant calories today. Storing fat is not a required skill anymore. But our bodies and evolution does not change that quick. We have to change culturally i.e. lead a healthy lifestyle.

The line in the sand

We should aim to have a healthy relationship with food, with our body, and have a solid rudder about where we are going. The noises around us, the skinny images that are thrust upon us, the washboard abs that everyone seems to have - these just send the wrong signals across.


While it is important to reject those notions, we cannot completely reject the need for health and fitness in our lives today. We do not need to have a 6-pack, to be ripped, to look like an actress from the movies. We still need to find a reasonable line in the sand to be on the right side of.

Fitness lifestyle
Photo by charles gaudreault / Unsplash

The only reason I bring up carrying abdominal fat as an issue is because there's a simple line there calculated by scientists. Being on the wrong side of that line means that you are susceptible to health issues and disorders, like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes etc. Over the long-term, they will lead to a drop in quality of life.

Being on the right side of that line, we see a significant drop in all those issues I just mentioned. It is accessible, and very possible to be on the right side of this line, have much better health and quality of life, and still enjoy our lives. Beers with friends, drunken wine nights, chocolates and ice-creams and pooris - they can and should all feature in our lives.

Enter the waist-to-height ratio

Measure your height. It hasn't changed in a few years, so your old data point is valid.

Measure your waist, around the belly button. Your pant size wont do. If you don't have a fabric measuring tape, that's fine. Use a piece of string, and you can find an app on your phone and measure out that string.

Having a waist-to-height ratio that's under 0.5 i.e. your waist should be half of your height. You can read more about this ratio over here.

There has been extensive research since the 1990s on the use of Waist-to-height ratio (WHR) as an indicator of health status (and to spot health risks early) and using WHR in addition to/instead of BMI and other measures.  The research indicates that WHR appears to be a more predictive indicator of health risks by using a simple boundary value of WHR of 0.5.

Here are a few examples. If you are 6 feet tall and have a waist of 40 inches,

  • 72 inches tall. 40 inch waist. 40/72 = 0.56. You want to be at 36" or lesser.
  • 65 inches tall. 30 inch waist. 30/65 = 0.46.

Having a waist-to-height ratio below 0.5 does not mean you will see your 6-pack, nor do I know what it means in body fat percentages. It is irrelevant. Separate your aesthetic goals from your health goals.

I want to promote health and fitness, and be reasonable doing it. And a good line in the sand about "Do I need to lose fat?" is the waist-to-height ratio. If you are below the 0.5 mark, your goals of body composition are not about health. And that's okay.

If you are above the 0.5 mark, do mull it over. A healthy, sustainable lifestyle can get you there. You do not need drastic diets or a "workout 2 hours a day for 3 months" approach at all.

What about weight? What about BMI?

BMI for Arnold and Danny DeVito

I'll leave you with this, to answer part of that question.