What is BMI?
Updated: Jan 2
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Whenever you are trying to lose weight or get healthier a BMI Chart always seems to be the go to reference point to determine the healthy weight range we should be. But does this magical weight range really tell us how healthy we are? Does it give us the full picture?
BMI (Body Mass Index) charts first come about way back in the 1830’s when a Belgian astronomer, mathematician, statistician and sociologist (but not a doctor!) by the name of Adolphe Jacques Quetelet created a formula that used peoples gender, height and weight to determine whether a person was underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. It was created at the time to assist the government in allocating their resources.
Although a great scientific and mathematical equation, albeit on a broad scale, it is in my opinion a formula that shouldn’t be the be all and end all when analysing your healthy weight range.
I can't see how a person's health can be determined simply by the three factors of their gender, height and weight alone when it doesn't take into account their body composition. Your BMI can’t tell you how much of your weight is fat, water, bone or muscle weight. The formula just assumes that if your overall weight in relation to your height doesn’t fit within the ‘normal weight’ range from the equation you are overweight or underweight (never in my lifetime has it ever shown me in the underweight range though!), but determines you are unhealthy.
But what about someone who works out a lot, a body builder for instance? They are going to weigh heavier due to a large muscle mass (read about muscle weighs heavier than fat debate here) would put them in the overweight or even obese category when they are far from it, giving them a false impression to their actual health, especially when having muscle weight is far better than having fat weight.
It’s the same for someone, who, according to the BMI chart is classed as healthy by being in the ‘normal weight’ range when in fact they may actually be what's called a ‘skinny fat’ person and have a lot of visceral fat smothering their internal organs. As you can’t physically see it, they don’t realise it’s there, but is putting their health dangerously at risk.
Like anyone who has tried or is trying to lose weight and get healthy, during my journey I was often told what my recommended BMI and healthy weight range should be. As I got closer and closer to these magical figures, which everyone talked about as their ‘goal weight’ my body was still very squidgy and not the body I thought I would’ve had whilst being in my healthy weight range.
You hear people say “it’s understandable, it’s excess skin, you must expect that from losing over 9st (126lbs) of weight” but I knew there was a difference between excess skin and carrying excess body fat and I was right. By this point I was already weighing myself on my own body composition scales which were telling me a lot more about my true health, more than just my weight and height alone!
At 5’1” I weighed 8st 8lbs (120lbs) and according to my BMI I was 22.4 and within the healthy weight range of the recommended 7st -9st 6lbs. No longer classed as morbidly obese, obese or even overweight for the first time in my life I should have been happy. But no, I had more information to hand, I knew how much of that weight was fat as my body composition scales told me it was 30.2% and my visceral fat was 5. I was completely happy with my visceral fat reading as between 1-9 was classed as normal and my organs weren’t smothered in fat but my body fat % on the other hand, my subcutaneous fat, although still in the normal range for my age between 21.0 - 32.9% it was way up there at the top end.
Having this extra insight into what was going on inside, what my body was composed of, meant I didn’t get disheartened by being at my ‘goal weight’ but not having the body I dreamt I would have. I knew I could do something about it! I needed to burn off this excess fat and turn it into muscle weight (which I am still working on today!) which would mean my actually physical weight might not change, I may even put on a few pounds (in muscle), but I will be a lot healthier (and look better in my clothes!) carrying less body fat.
So although pretty much all health professionals use it, I personally don’t pay attention to my BMI (Body Mass Index) because for me it doesn’t give the whole picture. People argue that body composition scales aren’t completely accurate either but for me I swear by them. They give me a base marker to work with and for me having some idea of what is going on inside of me is far better than having none. So, if my weight fluctuates I can have a little more insight into what maybe causing it - and yes it may well be muscle mass!
I try to keep my blog posts short and sweet as I know an overload of information can become mind boggling so be sure to check out my other posts here.