Your BMI Means Nothing!
Tired of constantly hearing about your Body Mass Index (BMI) and how this relates to your health? What does your BMI say about your health? The answer to these questions is nothing!
Why Was BMI Created?
Your BMI was a formula that was created about 200 years ago by a mathematician in order to provide a quick, overall assessment of obesity in a population. It was never created to be a measure of an individual’s level of fitness or health (and nor does it do this!).
What is BMI?
BMI is simply a calculation of your weight and the square of your height. Medical professionals use this number to determine if you are underweight, normal, obese, or morbidly obese. However, this measure doesn’t take into account an individuals’ muscle mass. Most of us recognize that muscle mass weighs more than fat. This measure also doesn’t take into account your waist size or any other measures related to your size. Think about NFL football players. Almost all of them would fall into the obese category and yet they have very low percentage of fat and are very healthy and in shape.
What About My Weight?
Your weight is also just a number! I have worked with people at all different weights. Simply looking at a person’s weight or BMI does NOT tell me anything about their health! Yes, we know from research and statistics that a higher weight or BMI has an increased risk to develop some medical diseases. Research can only assess your risk or indicate a correlation, but it can’t say that your weight causes these other medical issues. There are many unaccounted for variables in research that we may later discover is more responsible for these health conditions other than your weight or BMI. I have worked with individuals of all different weights and some of the most medically unstable patients I have worked with have been underweight or normal weight.
How Do I Assess My Health?
Your health can be assessed by several other more valid measures. Some of these are things like your A1C (glucose in your blood), blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, electrolytes, and red/white blood counts. These measures do indicate your health and possible medical conditions. They can be impacted by your exercise level and genetics. Talking to your doctor about your lab work and vitals (other than your weight) will give you a much better indication of how healthy you are.
How Do I Assess My Level of Fitness?
Your level of fitness can be assessed by different ways. One simple way is asking yourself how you feel when you are active. Do you have trouble catching your breath? How does your body feel when you are moving? Our heart rate and blood pressure can also give us an indication of our fitness level, but these measures are also impacted by our genetics.
Why Does Everyone Make a Big Deal Out of My BMI?
Our culture is obsessed with appearance and being the “ideal image” and being thin. BMI is a quick and easy formula that can be assessed and even carries a diagnosis which helps providers bill insurance companies for additional services and get reimbursed at a higher rate. Many medical professionals will tell you that the reason they are concerned about your BMI is because of the increased/decreased risk you are at for some medical problems based on this number. The United States is overly focused on BMI and I believe this meaningless number is just another way for some medical professionals to shame individuals with higher a BMI. Some medical professionals will only perform certain surgeries or even meet with patients if their BMI is in a specific range.
Is My Weight/BMI The Cause for My Medical Issues?
Your weight or BMI is not the cause for medical problems. Yes, your weight and BMI can increase your risk of developing certain medical problems, but it isn’t the cause. Your joints can hurt for many reasons rather than just because of your weight (and rarely does your weight ever cause a joint problem, but can make an existing joint problem hurt more), your blood pressure or cholesterol may be elevated if you have a higher BMI, but this isn’t necessarily because of your weight. I have worked with many people that have a normal BMI but have struggled with these medical problems. These measures can be greatly influenced by your genetics, the foods that you eat, and the amount of movement you do.
Will I Be Healthier At A Lower Weight/BMI?
I do not think that it is ever helpful to focus on your weight. It is simply a number, it is not who you are! Therefore, I do not think people need to lose weight. We may however, want to focus on finding ways to nurture our bodies that help us to feel better (more energy, sleep better, etc). It may be helpful to add some movement that our body enjoys into our day. This does not mean forcing yourself to go to the gym! This can look like walking your dog, doing yoga, or going swimming. If you struggle with disordered eating finding a therapist who specializes in eating disorders can be very helpful. Learning how to honor your bodies your level of hunger/fullness, recognizing when we are eating for emotional reasons, and figuring out patterns of our eating can be valuable in helping to nourish our bodies.
Tonya McFarland, PsyD, CEDS, LP
Certified Eating Disorder Specialist
1030 Johnson Rd, Ste 323
Golden, CO 80401