Here’s why you shouldn’t worry about your BMI (+other health myths)
If you are looking for the answer to “How much should I weigh?”, scrap the BMI. One thing that fires me up more than any other when it comes to health is how many scientifically incorrect myths are pedalled as fact. The reason? The diet industry wants to make money off you hating yourself, and won’t let the truth get in the way of a profitable ad.
My friend, you’ve been lied to. We all have.
Some of the lies are easy to spot – for example, most of us are now wising up to the fact that neither ‘detox’ tea, appetite-suppressing lollipops or belts that resemble torture devices are responsible for the Kardashians’ bodies, in spite of the gusto with which they spruik them on Instagram. Hopefully, we’re learning to switch off from this kind of messaging on social media.
Some myths, however, are more insidious. They exist within commonly accepted narratives around body size and health, and they’re pushed by the very systems we trust most with our health.
The BMI is bullsh*t. Seriously.
History lesson alert: The body mass index was invented by a statistician, not a medical professional, Adolphe Quetelet nearly 200 years ago. He developed an equation of height (m)2/weight (kg) to assess population health trends, not individual health.
As such, BMI doesn’t take into account muscle mass, age, sex, fitness, race, or any other metric. In other words, it’s a Euro-centric, gendered, pretty arbitrary, and flawed measure that has absolutely no way of measuring your health. It’s not only incorrect, it’s frankly astonishing that it’s still in use. If you’re interested in a much better alternative, I’ve written about it here.
If BMI is BS, then how can we measure health?
You know what can measure your health? How much energy you have. Your blood pressure and a blood test. Whether you like yourself and feel at peace. Can you move your body freely, without getting puffed out easily? Are you free from aches and pains and feel strong?
Of course, health is different for all of us including those with different abilities. So a good doctor will take into consideration you as a whole person instead of looking at a measure as arbitrary as height and weight.
‘Calories in / calories out’
Oooft, this one really gets me. You’ve probably heard it uttered by someone who hasn’t bothered educating themselves on even the most fundamental concepts of human physiology or metabolism. Or maybe your judgmental uncle said it one Christmas as a way of pooh-poohing anyone who dared mention struggling with their weight.
The out-dated idea that the answer to weight loss is simply consuming fewer calories than you expend is simplistic at best and downright dangerous at worst. It fails to take into account body composition, bio-individuality, food quality, hormonal issues and the way they affect metabolism, food security, mental health, and the physiological impacts of restrictive diets.
You need to detox your body
Anyone who tells you this is a fraud, or an uneducated, or maybe both. The idea of ‘toxins’ floating around inside us and making us (GASP!) fat are the workings of diet culture villains. Firstly, our bodies detoxify themselves without the help of teas, smoothies or juice ‘cleanses’. They actually do a great job of it, because if they didn’t, we’d die. The next time you’re tempted by the claims of a gorgeous, active-wear-clad person who got their qualifications from the University of Instagram, remember this. No juice or powder is going to clear your body of toxins – your liver and kidneys, underappreciated little troopers that they are, (along with your skin and lungs) will take care of that for you.
If you want to get really fired up, you can check out some other examples of the worst health advice on the internet here. Because one of the biggest hurdles standing between you and freedom from diet culture is the wall of lies it sells us as fact. As an accredited and practising dietitian, I feel a responsibility to use actual science to chip away at that wall, one bullsh*t brick at a time.
If you’d love some non-BS recipes to eat for actual health and help you ditch dieting for good, check out Back to Basics. Try it free for 7-days. It’s health info but without the calorie counting or BMI nonsense – pinky promise.