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Don't Rely on BMI

Trust your body. There are far better indicators of health.

Know your body.

This is something I touched upon in an earlier article concerning weight loss, and is something I'm passionate about debunking when it comes to the pursuit of a healthy weight. BMI, or "Body Mass Index," is supposed to be a rough indicator of what your weight (or mass) should be in relation to your height. Categories include underweight, normal, overweight, obese, and extremely obese.

The problem is that many people become obsessed with BMI and the labels it gives—either making you feel bad about your weight or giving yourself an excuse to lose more. But BMI is a generalised scale based on the population as a whole, in one part of the world, it does not account for individuality. It's up to you to account for that and realise it.

Muscle weighs more than fat and not everyone's bones weigh the same.

Don't fear the muscle.

First things first, muscle weighs more than fat. BMI does not take into account how active you are or the amount of muscle mass you carry. BMI gives the average tendencies across the population as a whole, it doesn't take into account certain key differences between individuals.

For example, genetically certain individuals are prone to carrying more muscle mass in the first place. Such as myself, I put on muscle mass relatively quickly and I know I have an athletic frame that carries more muscle than the average lady. I also know I have more muscle because I engage in strength and conditioning based exercise such as martial arts and kettlebell practise.

First I must also stress that BMI charts are inconsistent. What one chart tells you is different to the next, but overall, I found out the following.

When I am not necessarily at my fittest, but also know I am still active and would certainly not be considered "fat," I walk around at about 75kg. Now, I am a taller than the average woman and, therefore, larger in the first place (175cm), but speaking to other female athletes of a similar height, this is an absolutely healthy weight. Sometimes we will even go as high as 80kg with building of muscle, which incidentally holds water, adding more weight (fat does not). BMI, however, would tell you that I was verging on overweight. This caused me a lot of distress in the past and I want to tell anyone reading this that it absolutely should not. BMI is not an accurate depiction of what is a healthy weight for YOU.

There is also the joke that larger people will say they're "big boned." Apart from height, this doesn't hold true. However, it is true that not everyone will have the same bone density and weight. Though not as much of a factor, it is still yet another one to consider.

On the other side of the scale, when I lost 15kg—down to 60kg—I was clearly unhealthy. Friends and family were concerned. I was skeletal to the point where I was hurting my tailbone when sitting down in the bathtub. But BMI would, on this end, tell you I was far from underweight. I was absolutely "healthy." At this time, I was losing weight rapidly and unhealthily. The mantra I repeated to myself was, "You're still at a healthy BMI, far from underweight," as an excuse—even when indulging in unhealthy habits. It can't be that bad if I'm still a healthy BMI, right? Wrong. Remember, don't rely on BMI.

I want all those people obsessing over BMI like I did to STOP right there. It's a basic indicator. Like you know if you shake a stepper or Fitbit loads, it will count the shakes, as well as your normal steps? It gives you an idea of how many steps you took, but you know that it's not entirely accurate. I'd say that when you start getting into obese territory or underweight territory, then it's a very strong indicator that shouldn't be ignored. But BMI should never be bible in isolation from considering all other factors.

And it should not demotivate you. For example, if you're not particularly sporty, but just started to do any kind of activity that causes you to gain muscle—weights, conditioning, team sports, dance, whatever it may be—remember that muscle weighs more than fat. Don't be disheartened if you slip to the "far side" of the BMI healthy weight range.

Trust how you look and feel instead of focusing on weight.

Love yourself.

At the end of the day, you know if you look and feel great. That's a good indicator that you are doing something right. If you want to monitor your progress, see how your clothes feel on you, loose or tight? Use measuring tape if you would like. Look at your increase or decrease in muscle tone. Are you active? Do you feel energised? How do you feel getting to the top of a set of stairs? If you feel tired and dizzy that could be due to carrying too much weight or not enough.

The thing to take away from this is love your body, enjoy the process, and take into consideration multiple factors in your journey towards health.

I hope you enjoyed that. If you want to support the production of more new material, please feel free to tip. If you have suggestions for what you'd like my next article to be, please email [email protected]