No one size fits all

size and BMI

According to the Body Mass Index (BMI), I’m obese. And according to the NHS, for my height and build, I should be a minuscule 7st 3lb. I mean… what!?

I’m not ashamed to say that I carry a little extra weight than I’d like. In fact, I’d say that if I shifted about 10lbs I’d be happier and healthier. But for a website that is looked to for reliable and safe advice, I’m shocked that it would point me in the direction of losing nearly four stone to achieve a basic ‘healthy BMI.’ I’m pretty certain that if I reached a weight as low as 7 stone I would look unhealthy, I’d be weak and there wouldn’t be much left of me!

Nevertheless, I take on the advice that I may not be in the best possible weight bracket for my body, and so I am (like many of us) taking steps to ‘lose weight’ gradually and steadily. By taking regular exercise and practising intuitive eating, through to getting a good night’s sleep and taking care of my mental health.

What is BMI?

BMI uses your height and weight to work out if you’re a healthy weight, underweight, or overweight. But is this way of measuring flawed? 

“BMI is the best method we’ve got, there’s nothing else that comes close to helping us. But you have to take it with a pinch of salt.” – Femedic

The call for a new way to measure

Increasingly researchers and health experts are speaking out to say BMI isn’t the perfect measure of health we once thought. In 2016, UCLA concluded that ‘tens of millions of people who had overweight and obese BMI scores were in fact perfectly healthy.’ And to add further shock, the same study found that more than ‘30 percent of those with BMIs in the “normal” range — about 20.7 million people — are actually unhealthy based on their other health data.’

BMI doesn’t take into account the full picture of someone’s health. It can’t distinguish between fat and muscle. It certainly doesn’t account for every body shape either. So, without all of this information taken into account, is the BMI, not a dangerous measuring tool that is severely outdated?

Making it personalised

As a general rule, your BMI is calculated to give a rough idea of where you are on the scale when it comes to being medically assessed. This scale was developed purely to measure the weights of large populations and wasn’t intended to be used to look at the health of individuals.

No one size fits all.

The link between weight and health is not straightforward. We know that being overweight can lead to health conditions just as being underweight can. But if you are (like me) being told you’re obese by a scale, and you’re suffering from body dysmorphia, low self-esteem, or even an eating disorder… it could be the tipping point for so many people.

The femedic said: “Why can’t we take other factors into account? Anorexia and other eating disorders have the highest mortality rates among psychiatric conditions, and early intervention has been proven to drastically improve your chances of recovery. It can work at the other end of the spectrum too, as people who are classified as ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’ have been talking about trips to the doctor for something such as, for example, sinus pain, and found themselves being lectured on their weight. Indeed, our dependence on BMI is arguably more dangerous for overweight people: due to societal stigma, people immediately jump to the conclusion that an overweight person’s health problems must be related to their larger size.”

What is the alternative?

So whilst BMI may perhaps give a broad view of the majority of the population there are other ways you can check your weight-based health more accurately.

One of the main alternatives that people have used is waist measurement. Fat stored around your stomach or important organs is the most dangerous, and by measuring your waist and focusing on the measurements around your abdomen, you can get a clear idea of where you are on that front.

The Body Volume Indicator, or BVI, is a tool that calculates the ratio, comparing your total body volume with the volume of your abdomen, a measurement that can be taken manually or using an app.

Of course, there are plenty of ways to assess your weight and health. But it’s also important to focus on being the healthiest version of you. 

There are people on the curvier side that are extremely active with flawless diets, that drink lots of water and do everything by the book. There are slender people that eat poor diets, hardly exercise, and rely on a fast metabolism to keep their svelte shape. Every single person is different and when it comes to our health and weight, it should be personalised to our own bodies and needs.

In summary, we’re not saying to put your head in the sand about being under or overweight. It should definitely be something you deal with head-on and get the help you need. But the BMI scale isn’t necessarily going to give you an accurate or healthy goal to achieve. It also shouldn’t be a way to shame people about the body type they have, and we feel the scale needs some serious reworking – if it’s going to remain a standard of medical practice assessment.

If you are worried about your weight, we highly recommend that you speak to your GP, contact Hoop (hoopuk.org.uk) or eating-disorders.org.uk.

What you had to say:

“‘Oh look at you Skinny Minnie!’ is what my sister said to me when she saw me get undressed one week after my suicide attempt. I’d lost nearly two stone in six weeks and I was being praised for my weight loss! Skinniness doesn’t equal health. In fact, fast forward two years and I’m curvier but a lot happier and healthier. That speaks volumes.”

“The BMI says that I’m obese. But when I was a stone lighter than I am now, I lost my shape. I just don’t think BMI takes into account the curves some of us women have. I’d rather be classed as obese than lose what I feel makes me a woman.”

“I agree that BMI is outdated. But I don’t think it should be used as a way for overweight people to shirk the responsibility they have to look after themselves and get down to a healthier weight. There should be better information available for people to assess their health that takes into account age, ethnicity, sex, level of fitness, and more.”

“BMI is extremely dangerous to those suffering from eating disorders. Imagine being given a ‘normal’ BMI rating when you’re falling further and further into the hell that is anorexia.”

Useful Links:

https://www.businessinsider.com/new-best-way-to-tell-healthy-weight-2017

https://vocal.media/longevity/is-it-possible-to-be-fat-and-healthy

https://www.itv.com/thismorning/articles/weight-issues-helplines

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