The Body Mass Index (BMI), for years which was considered the gold standard in health measurement by both the medical and weight loss industries, has recently come into question. The American Medical Association (AMA), “the big league” in the world of medicine, is now saying,
"Hey - wait! The BMI isn't all that and a bag of chips - and it isn’t telling us the whole story we once believed it did.”
Just in case you aren’t sure- the BMI is calculated by dividing a person's weight in pounds or kilograms by the square of their height in meter or feet and inches. The problem with BMI lies in its oversimplification of human body composition. One pretty massive
limitation of BMI is that it does not account for the composition of body weight. Human body weight is made up of muscle (lean mass), fat, bone, water, and organs, each contributing differently to our health.
Muscle tissue is denser than fat tissue, meaning it takes up less space for the same weight. Therefore, athletes and individuals who work out regularly and have high muscle mass might register as 'overweight' or 'obese' on the BMI scale, despite being in excellent health.
Similarly, as we age, we tend to lose muscle mass and gain fat, even if our weight stays the same. This shift in body composition could falsely lead to an 'ideal' BMI number, while the individual might be at risk of health problems due to increased body fat.
The BMI also doesn't tell the story of how the fat is distributed in the body. For years, research has shown that individuals with more fat around the middle (apple-shaped bodies) are at a higher risk for conditions such as heart disease and diabetes compared to those who carry excess weight around the hips and thighs (pear-shaped bodies).
The American Medical Association, among other organizations in the medical industry are finally acknowledging these limitations. Just two weeks ago they began recommending the use of other health indicators alongside BMI. These might include waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, and body fat percentage, which may give a better insight into body composition and fat distribution and possible health risks. The understanding is growing that health metrics should be as diverse as we are!
A brief tangent to share my two cents:
While I appreciate that medical organizations need to establish standardized health measurements as a guiding system for the industry, it's worth mentioning that standardized formulas tend to be "one size fits all" and often depersonalize patients' care. The push for a new, standardized approach has tweaks my concern that it might just impose another rigid structure that may overlook the individuality of the patient being treated.
One of my personal experiences which, while not directly related to weight issues, exemplifies how impersonal the medical industry can sometimes be. When I had broken my ankle, the doctor who saw me didn't seem to come into my room to speak to Erica - the person with a broken ankle. Instead, he came in to talk to 'the ankle.' True story, I overheard him telling his assistant, just outside my open door, that he was going to 'speak to the ankle’ and then walked into my room. When he greeted me, I simply said, “hello, I am the ankle.”
These experiences have strengthened my belief in the importance of treating patients as whole individuals, rather than fitting them into a set of standardized measurements or problem areas. We need to ensure that our health care system acknowledges and works with our unique needs and experiences, rather than boxing us into predefined categories - underweight, normal weight, overweight, obese, morbidly obese.
As a health and happiness coach, I've long emphasized that the road to health and happiness isn't about conforming to a one-size-fits-all model. It's about adopting a lifestyle that helps you feel your best: nourishing food, regular exercise, and most importantly, a positive and empowered mindset.
For many years, I was deeply rooted in the weight loss industry's narrow mindset, often equating my value with the number on the scale or a BMI calculation. Mind you, at the time of my involvement, I didn’t see the problems that I saw in hindsight. Through personal experience, education, and professional growth, I've come to understand that we are so much more than these numbers.
Absolutely, we are so much more than mere physical entities or a set of numbers. As mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives, we exist in a rich web of relationships. Our lives are sprinkled with unique interests, concerns, and ambitions. We experience bustling schedules, we fight/struggle with inner voices and life's challenges, and relish moments of happiness and joy. Our quest for health should not overlook these beautiful truths but instead embrace our complete, vibrant selves.
I'm committed to helping you navigate these changing perspectives, challenging long-held beliefs, and shifting the focus from mere numbers to overall well-being. Because every woman deserves a vibrant, confident, and fulfilled life. It’s time to shatter the chains of negative self-talk, place health and happiness at the forefront, and truly THRIVE.
We can use the scientific advancements to our advantage and redefine health on our own terms. Because, at the end of the day, life isn't just about surviving, but about enjoying every moment and living to the fullest.