There is a lot of nutritional misinformation out there. A lot. Although I plan for this blog post to be informative about the body mass index (BMI), it might also become a place for me to vent, just a little! 🙂 Nutritional misinformation is something that I am really passionate about dispelling, as I strongly believe this is one of the many contributors to the development of eating disorders (this was definitely so in my case).
What is the Body Mass Index (BMI)?
The BMI is a tool of measurement used by health organizations such as the FDA, USDA, hospitals, schools, treatment centers, military (perhaps someone in the military can tell me something about this), doctor’s offices and individuals in their own home. Underweight, overweight, “normal”, obese are all popular words these days to describe someone who falls on a specific range in the scale.
This is a general measurement tool that has many flaws, as you will read below. Unfortunately, treatments for medical health are often based on this scale alone (as it was in my case–see below), which may lead to poor mental, emotional and physical health in the long run.
Why the BMI Fails to Accurately Determine Your Future Health
Since the BMI is a general tool, it only applies to the general population. This is the same story with the Food Pyramid. No one person is the same. We all have different personalities, ethnicities, genetics, speech, preferences, dreams, goals, etc. Applying a general standard upon individuals is a plan for failure, no matter if it is in health or other areas of life.
Some individuals who are tall, athletic and have muscles can be categorized as being overweight or even obese, even though they have relatively little body fat. These same people are active, fit and very healthy according to medical tests, yet the BMI tells them otherwise. This scale, which has no scientific merit for this specific individual, tells them a lie.
Perhaps you aren’t incredibly tall, muscular or athletic. You could not have the same body type as the example above. Perhaps you are as tall as the example above (say, 6′ 1″), but you are smaller boned. You still excel in your health because that is your body type. If you are skinny because you are small boned and genetically thin, the BMI scale is still against you.
Individuals with fat around the stomach, or excess fat around the entire body, may be more susceptible to heart disease, diabetes and stroke. These same individuals can be at a “healthy” or “normal” weight according to the BMI scale, making it a dangerous measurement to use to assess the future health of these individuals.
Increases the Risk for Eating Disorder Behavior?
Anorexics are more likely to refuse to be at a “healthy” weight based off of the BMI chart, for their age and height. They want to be “underweight” and will constantly and purposely limit their food intake and increase their exercise in order to have a smaller BMI than they did a few weeks ago.
Numbers are deceiving, and to an anorexic’s mind, or to the mind of any eating disordered person, numbers represent a definition of themselves. Instead of defining people by numbers, that are skewed and do not represent a person fairly, we need to abolish the BMI system and find a new method of measurement that takes into account all factors already mentioned in this post — lifestyle and genetics. As the saying goes, “Genetics load the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger.”
BMI does not take into account muscle mass, genetics and personal metabolic rate, physical activity or diet, making it a relatively useless tool to determine health. I am naturally thin due to my genetics, as well as my lifestyle. I believe we are all naturally designed to be trim and fit, although someone my same age and height might not excel at my same weight — we are all individuals with individual health.
A few years back, when I was trying to gain back my lost weight to restore my health, my doctors put in orders to the dietitians that I needed to weigh 20 lbs more than I did when I was healthy. This required me to consume 5,000 calories a day! In order to fit the BMI chart, I had to eat this way for the rest of my life. Stuffing my face full of food and being incredibly uncomfortable was not what I wanted for my future. It would have made my whole life about food, when there is so much more.
As soon as I reached the weight that was on the chart, I would obviously lower my calories, but only to “maintain” that BMI acceptable weight for my height and age. Due to my genetics, however, and slowly increasing physical activity, I lost weight. This just resulted in the yo-yoing of calories from my doctors, leading to a caloric mess.
That’s when mainstream health stopped working for me. I ditched the doctors and the BMI scale, and just ate based off of what my body was feeling. Thankfully, my body has resettled itself to its genetic, natural state. Calories do not matter anymore, and I don’t have to count them, because I no longer desire to be at a certain weight just to fit a general standard.
Do Not Follow the BMI Recommendations
You don’t have to listen to what I have said. I’m not sure if I even thoroughly explained everything I feel about this tool. Hopefully I have turned on some lightbulb in your brain, however, to start questioning our general standards for health. One-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work, and will never work. You are like a snowflake – unique, and your health cannot be defined by the BMI chart, or any chart for the “general population”.
Other Ways to Measure Body Fat and Health
A caliper test may be helpful in measuring body fat, which can be accomplished by some doctors and many dietitians and nutritionists. Large chambers are sometimes used to accurately test body fat, but I worry about any radiation or EMF’s that are emitted throughout the body during the process.
Making sure that you are eating natural, healthy foods, getting plenty of safe sun exposure, plenty of sleep, plenty of water and enough exercise and rest, can help you get to the body you want. Making sure you decrease body fat, especially around the waist, hips and stomach, as this is dangerous and is related to diabetes and heart disease.
What do you think about the BMI? Do you use it? Is it helpful? Do you define your health based off of this tool? Leave me a comment down below and let me know what you think. 🙂
This is The Healthy Advocate.