Healthy Weight: The Importance of BMI and Other Numbers

Worrying About Your Weight Numbers Only Makes Things Worse

To Reach Your Healthy Weight, Fuhgeddaboudit…

It’s one of the paradoxes of the age. To reach your healthy weight, you best forget about your weight – especially the numbers associated with it.

The Truth about the BMI

Experts in this area acknowledge that judging a person’s health on the basis of the BMI is highly flawed.

A review of 97 studies that looked at a combined sample of 2.88 million people showed that those who fall into the “overweight” category of the BMI are actually the longest-lived.(1)

Weights that fall into the “obese” range of 30 to 34.9 are not associated with any greater risk for disease than lower body weights.

The BMI also fails to consider how much muscle a person has on their body, as compared to the amount of fat.

According to the BMI, buff celebrities such as Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt are too heavy.

Unfortunately, the exact opposite is true these days. It seems just about everyone worries about:

  • the number on the scale
  • how many calories they eat
  • if they’ve done enough exercise to burn said calories
  • how many carbs they’ve consumed
  • their body mass index (BMI)
  • how they just can’t seem to even get close to the idealized image of beauty (or handsomeness).

It’s no mystery why the worry. The weight of the nation is the focus of countless media stories. When you walk into the doctor’s office, if you fall into the “overweight” or “obese” range of the BMI, you’re likely to be admonished to lose weight if you want to be well – even if you just came in for a sinus infection (true story).

The Pursuit of Weight Loss Can Lead to Poorer Health and Weight Gain

The problem with trying to lose weight is that for the average gal, health gets lost in the process.

Consider these commonly-occurring situations.

  • Jane, 19, weighs in at “overweight” on the BMI scale. Her doctor encourages her to lose a few pounds in the interests of her health, even though she is perfectly healthy according to other medical measures. She starts a diet that restricts carbs and loses a few pounds. But over the next few months, she finds herself thinking about and craving carbs at all times and starts eating any she can get her hands on at night. She gains more weight than she lost, and starts another restrictive diet. A lifelong battle with weight has begun, and it’s a battle that commonly creates health problems.
  • Felicia, 49, is diagnosed as pre-diabetic. Her doctor tells her to lose weight. To make that happen, she starts eating healthier and exercising regularly, but the scale doesn’t budge. It seems that these lifestyle changes don’t impact her weight, so why bother?

Ironically, if the intent is to become healthier, a focus on weight commonly has the opposite effect because health and a healthy weight are not dependent on arbitrary numbers. They are based on how a person feels and other measures of health such as levels of blood pressure, sugar, cholesterol and more.

Ultimately, how we feel is likely our best individual measure of well-being. And that’s a big bonus because if the changes we make help us feel better, we’re more likely to keep going with our efforts

Changes That Truly Help You Be Healthy

  • Discovering food you enjoy that makes you feel great and leaves you feeling well after you eat it
  • Physical activity that connects you to the pleasure that can be found in moving your body regularly
  • Peace of mind that comes from knowing that a life well lived, not a number on a scale or the size of your clothing, is your best foundation for health and happiness.

(1) Flegal KM, Kit BK, Orpana H, Graubard BI. Association of all-cause mortality with overweight and obesity using standard body mass index categories: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA. 2013;309(1):71-82.

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