You don’t need to be a fitness pro to know that obesity can cause a whole slew of health problems from heart disease to diabetes to high cholesterol, and the list goes on. Not to scare you or anything but the question is: Are you overweight? It’s not always that easy to tell. For years, the “gold standard” for calculating your obesity risks has been the BMI (Body Mass Index) Formula and now people are saying BMI is a load of BS. Well, is it?
What is BMI? This form of body measurement was created by a mathematician almost 200 years ago and in his own words, it was not meant for individual assessment. That’s because BMI was developed to show a population’s, not an individual’s, risk for health problems. In fact, he even stressed that it could not and should not be used to tell a certain individual’s fatness. Wait, what? Let me guess.
For years, your doctor has been tell you to follow BMI to assess your risk for heart disease and other obesity related ailments. Whoops. It’s not your fault. We are a society that craves instantaneous results so naturally we are attracted to whatever is the quickest and easiest way to do anything. We can’t wait to try the latest diet pills, box lunches, food compressed in bars for meals on the go, fad diets, quick fix workouts, oh and of course, measuring health with any simplistic formula.
So how does BMI work (or not work)?
Body Mass Index is a formula where you divide your weight in kilos by your height in metres squared. The resulting number is supposed to directly correlate to how “healthy” you are in terms of body fat. The Normal range for BMI is 18.5-24.9, Overweight is 25-29.9 and Obese is anything over 30. The problem with this scale is that it doesn’t take into account people who are physically active or someone who is extremely frail or underweight like an elderly person whose height slowly dwindles.
Check this out: When I plug in my height and weight into the ever popular but quite inaccurate BMI calculator, I log out at about 26. Yup, according to the BMI Index, I am overweight. I work out 4-7 days a week, avoid gluten, dairy, and refined sugar, seldom drink alcohol, and get all of my essential vitamins and nutrients from a variety of fruits, vegetables and healthy proteins. I guess my muscles are photoshopped after all! Now that we know how BMI works, read on for the reasons that BMI is not your best means of measuring body fat.
THE 5 REASONS BMI IS A LOAD OF BS
1. IT’S NOT ACCURATE The formula doesn’t take into account muscle and bone density. People who are physically active and resistance train develop a lot of lean but dense muscle tissue that makes us weigh more. Developing healthy muscle tissue also increases bone strength and bone density. So someone who is physically active will have a lower body fat percentage but a higher BMI.
2. IT RELIES ON IDEAL WEIGHT BMI suggests that there is an “ideal” weight for someone at a certain height and age. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be lumped into a number grouping where some formula is supposed to tell me what the “ideal” is!
3. IT’S MANIPULATIVE For years, insurance companies relied on this formula because they could charge higher rates to people with higher BMI’s. If someone was physically fit they would require less health services. However, if they were deemed “overweight” due to the BMI formula then the insurance companies could keep collecting higher rates but not have to pay out many claims because that person is actually healthy.
4. IT DEFIES LOGIC To say we can use one single formula to determine someone’s health is absurd! There are so many factors that need to be taken into account including nutritional habits, smoking, body fat, cholesterol, alcohol abuse, and the list goes on and on.
5. IT’S MISPLACED BMI does not take into account where your body fat is placed. We all store body fat in different areas of our bodies and some are worse for our health than others. So if BMI isn’t the right measurement, then what is? Of course, there are all sorts of reliable ways to get your body fat checked including body fat calipers, bioelectrical impedance, dexascan, CT scan, and air displacement, just to name a few. But here’s a quick and easy way to know if you are healthy or not.
How to measure your body fat Start by being truthful with yourself when answering the following questions:
- How do you feel?
- When you get up in the morning are you tired?
- Are you sore all day long for no apparent reason?
- Do your joints hurt?
- Do you get out of breath by simply looking at a flight of stairs?
- Does the thought of putting a pair of gym shoes on make your skin crawl?
- Does your pantry look like a marketing ad campaign for processed goods?
- Is your vegetable and fruit drawer in your fridge empty?
If the answer to more than one question is a big, fat YES, then you may need to make a few changes. Next, if you’re a numbers person but you don’t want to go to the doctor to do some sort of fancy body fat test (Note: “acceptable” body fat according to the American Council on Exercise is 25-31% for women 18-24% for men) then just grab your tape measure and measure the circumference of your waist.
If you hold more weight in your midsection that means you have an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. If a woman’s waist measures 35 inches or more (40 inches or more for men), then you need to get your health in check!
There is no surefire way to tell if you are healthy or not but stick with this advice: Work out a few times a week for at least 30 minutes, incorporating both resistance training and cardiovascular training to get your heart rate up, eat clean fresh foods, and avoid alcohol, sugar, and processed foods. Get regular checkups, and let your doctor know you want more than just a standard BMI measurement.