Hey guys! In this post today I’m going to be talking about something very close to my heart.
Weight has been an issue for me for a long time now, since I can remember pretty much, and for the longest time I’ve been insecure about it. This only got worse when I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (see my posts here and here for more on my experience with PCOS) monitoring my weight has become a part of my life, and regular weight checks at my nurse appointments have put me on edge and made me feel awful about myself. Recently I had a mini-revelation about BMI and it’s uselessness with my condition and I know that many others feel the same way!
What exactly is BMI?
BMI stands for Body Mass Index… but what does that even mean? Well by typing this question into google I was able to find the following answer from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention site:
“Body Mass Index (BMI) is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. A high BMI can be an indicator of high body fatness. BMI can be used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems but it is not diagnostic of the body fatness or health of an individual”
… Well that’s interesting… This reference would suggest that BMI isn’t reliable when calculating the health of an individual. Perhaps I’m the only one, but to me that came as a surprise seeing as my doctors seem to rely on it and that there is actually a BMI calculator on the NHS site, which will proceed to tell you if you are 1. Underweight 2. Healthy weight 3. Overweight. A link for this calculator is here but hold on before you type in your data and cry like I did at the results, because I’m about to tell you why you shouldn’t bother.
As I’ve said, over the past few years I’ve done a fair amount of research on BMI and it seems that EVERYONE is asking why? EVERYONE agrees that it isn’t a useful tool for monitoring the health of an individual. For example, this was said by researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania.
“BMI (body mass index), which is based on the height and weight of a person, is an inaccurate measure of body fat content and does not take into account muscle mass, bone density, overall body composition, and racial and sex differences”
So FINALLY someone with medical knowledge is backing up what everyone’s been thinking. At the end of the day, muscle weighs roughly 3 times more than fat, but BMI only takes into consideration your weight and height – which excludes important details such as the weight of your muscles, your bones, your natural body shape and other things which could effect your overall weight such as race and sex.
Now it’s getting personal…
So what’s my problem exactly? Why have I been so obsessed with BMI?
Well, as I mentioned at the beginning I was diagnosed with PCOS at 18 and at that time I was the smallest I’d ever been. I had a cyst on my left ovary the size of a golf ball (just imagine that in your head for a moment… A GOLF BALL?!) and as a result the pain had led to a complete loss of appetite. I fell out of love with food for the first, and hopefully the last, time of my life. My mum was really concerned about me but I couldn’t even force myself to eat… or sleep…. or just function as a normal human being. At this time I was roughly 8 stone 7lbs, the lightest I’ve ever been. When I was diagnosed I was weighed and my BMI was taken… Drum roll please…
Yep. On that day the doctor told me that I was the PERFECT WEIGHT and that with PCOS it is important to remain on the lower end of the scale in order to improve chances of fertility in later life so maybe I should consider losing a little bit more… Well my mum wasn’t happy with that I’ll tell you that much. She said something along the lines of “Look at her – this isn’t healthy! Don’t encourage my daughter to starve herself! She hasn’t been able to eat due to the pain!!!” Yes, the doctor was only doing her job but if she opened her eyes and took one look at me it would only take an educated guess to realise that she shouldn’t have told me to lose even more weight!
That was the day it began. Ever since then I have had to go to the doctors and be weighed every 6 months in order to pick up the pill, which I need to stop the cysts from growing. My weight now fluctuates between 9 stone 7lbs – 10 stone 7lbs (usually depending on my lifestyle), but I do live a healthy lifestyle on the whole. I absolutely dread my appointments because what do I get told?
And of course I get the TOTALLY offensive “Well… You don’t LOOK ten stone” immediately followed by advise to try to lose at least a stone, fantastic. It’s degrading, it’s emotionally traumatic, and what makes it worse: it’s completely pointless! I get myself so worked up over these appointments because even though I know it’s utter rubbish, a stranger still looks me in the eye and tells me to lose weight. It’s so wrong on so many levels GAH.
My alternative to BMI
My weight stays put at roughly ten stone for the majority of the time, regardless of what my body is actually looking like, so I have turned to a different method to maintain my health and that is by using body measurements.
For me, this method is SO much more accurate than BMI when I’m trying to lose a bit of fat or what have you because I’ve always been very muscly, particularly in my legs (I danced a lot from the age of 3 so my legs are firm as rocks!) and so it comes as no surprise that like many of us… I do have some muscle?! When I lose weight I do it through exercise, meaning that my fat turns into muscle. So whilst I reduce in mass, I stay the same in weight. Using a tape measure is honestly a game changer for me.
As an example: since coming home from University 3 weeks ago I have been eating healthier and tracking progress on the scales and it has come up at ten stone and seven pounds every single time. Out of curiosity I also measured my body and I have lost half an inch off my waist and half an inch off my hips!!!
That was sooooo amazing to see as I don’t usually see any progress being made at all! I honestly could have cried!
My advice to you
If I could recommend you all to do just one thing it would be to listen to your body. Don’t punish yourself for gaining a little, adjust your goals, forgive yourself and keep motivated. We’re all only human at the end of the day – we’re not perfect, and we would be boring if we were. Learn to embrace your insecurities and try something new if what used to make you feel good no longer does. I’m so happy to have ditched the scales and tried something which works far, far better for me. Equally, if the scales do work for you – then go crazy! What I’m trying to say is: don’t let numbers rule your life. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you don’t deserve to be happy. Life isn’t as easy as a scientific formula or a maths equation, so don’t treat yourself or your body like one. Look after yourself and be the best you you can be.
If you’re interested in reading more about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, check out my two-part post about it, here and here, where I go into much more detail about how it effects me both physically and psychologically.
*DISCLAIMER* Please remember that every experience is different and if you have any concerns after reading this, ask your GP. I am not a doctor and I know through my own mistakes to never self-diagnose.
I really hope you’ve learned something and maybe gained some self-confidence in reading this post! Do you have any opinions on BMI? Perhaps you have a medical background and have an explanation for it’s use? Please let me know what you think in the comments below!
Thank you so much for reading! Don’t forget to follow me on my other social media accounts, and feel free to comment below or message me for a chat – I’d love to talk to you.