We Are Never Getting Back Together: The BMI Scale

Weh-heh-heh-hehlllll…. this post has been a long time coming. This particular issue has loooong been one that I’ve had strong feelings about, but recent developments have really begun to grind my gears. Maybe it’s because I’ve changed my fitness routine that I’m facing it more head-on, but damn if I’m not righteously pissed at what that crappy height-weight ratio has done to my brain.

plate curls

Some background:

The body mass index scale (BMI) was established in the early nineteenth century – so, you know, it’s vintage – by a guy named Adolphe Quetelet who was working on what he called “social physics” and the BMI was meant to measure obesity rates in populations. Seems simple enough, but therein lies the problem.

This crude scale, which calculates your BMI indicator by diving your weight (in kg) by your height (in m), really only measures tissue mass as a whole and doesn’t take into consideration your body composition at all. So, when calculating your BMI, it doesn’t matter if you carry more belly fat or are a body builder – the numbers on the scale are the only ones that matter.

Though science has advanced significantly since 1830, this calculation, unfortunately, has not. In 1973, scientist Ancel Keys said of the BMI calculation: “…if not fully satisfactory, [it is] at least as good as any other relative weight index as an indicator of relative obesity.”

Um. WAT.

That’s basically saying “this calculation we’ve been using for more than 100 years is pretty bad, and even though we have new math and new science things that would probably be more accurate, it’s fine.”

And thus we see how society has adopted BMI as the accepted, “easy” indicator for who is overweight and what a “normal” body type looks like.

Numbers. We’ve been conditioned to respond to numbers with a positive or negative reaction regardless of the type of work we’re putting in at the gym or how our body is built. Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 7.13.06 PM

That’s total crap if you ask me. And I say that as someone who is just as susceptible to those reactions as anyone else: according to that scale, I’m overweight.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who thinks the scale is a loser. Recently, Hellogiggles published an article discussing a recent study that debunks the BMI scale as a measure of health. It’s a good read and definitely preaches to the choir – as an athlete, I’ve long felt misrepresented by the scale.

From the time I was 3, I’ve been involved in some sort of athletic activity. I played basketball from the time I was 6 through college. I was a double varsity athlete in high school and was voted “Most Likely to be on the Cover of Sports Illustrated” my senior year. I skied, snowboarded, ran, and hiked every year of my childhood. As an adult, I’ve continued playing the sports I love and began running and lifting weights. I love being active and I know I’m a pretty healthy individual.

For equally as long, I’ve been able to find things about my body I didn’t like. Or a thing, rather. No matter how active I’ve been, I’ve always – always – had a little belly. My teammates all had nice flat tummies and I was over here with my belly pudge. I also always weighed just a little bit more than my friends. Not a lot. But enough that I never really liked to bring it up. But I actually didn’t think too much about it because I was so athletic, and I would say that growing up, I had a very healthy relationship with food and body image.

As an adult, however, I’ve encountered instances where the numbers on the scale have predetermined something about me to someone else, and that’s really not a good feeling.


If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that in the last 6 months or so, I’ve really taken to lifting weights in favor of running or cycling. I’ve built a ton of muscle and I’m so proud of the strides I’ve made. The gainz have been in my favor.

But, gainz in the gym also mean gains on the scale. Muscle is more dense that fat – a fact many of us are familiar with. More muscle therefore equals more weight. Not a bad thing, right? If one’s goal is to build muscle and strength, you want this result. I want this result.

Unfortunately, because society has warped my brain, I still have a hard time with this paradox. Stepping on the scale at my doctor’s appointment last week and seeing “158” blink at me from the display, I felt… disappointed. Like all the work I’ve been doing in the gym wasn’t helping. Like all of that 158 pounds was sitting right around my tummy and everyone could see my gross muffin top.

I texted my lifting partner (who is also my boyfriend) and whined. His response was perfect: “Muscle mass. You squat 185 pounds for reps. That happens. Ignore the number.”

After some more whining from me and some more rational words from him, I felt better. He was right. That number is just a number. It doesn’t say anything except how much gravity is affecting my body mass, and that’s a pretty empty statistic.

I still have my hang ups, but I’m working really hard to focus on making progress in the gym and reaching my fitness goals – which have nothing to do with the number on the scale or what the BMI says that I am and everything to do with feeling good about what my body is capable of accomplishing.

Weight a Minute

There was a point in my life that I weighed myself every day. That’s right. Every. Single. Day. I was definitely obsessed, if not on the edge of disordered. Truthfully, I was driving myself a little crazy.

Until one day, I just stopped.

I decided that it wasn’t healthy for my mind to be so wrapped up in the numbers. So the morning visit to the scale ceased. I was mindful of my food but no longer tracked every morsel I consumed. I continued to work out. And I was content.

2013 brought many good things my way, including more half marathons, shorter races and workouts with my trainer at the gym. However, I injured myself in September and that put a damper on what I was able to do physically. My miles shrank but my food intake continued as though they hadn’t.

(You see where this is going, don’t you?)

I weighed myself the other day for the first time since the summer. I wasn’t all together surprised by the number but I will admit that I wasn’t happy with it either. That’s not to say that I’m not happy with myself, because I am. I’m at a good place, a much different place than I was when I was the girl weighing herself daily.  Generally speaking, I’m pretty awesome.

But I would like to work hard to get back down, weight wise.

At my leanest, I was at 144. This was in 2012, when I was tracking everything – my weight, my food, my workouts – everything.

By the end of last summer, I was at 152 – I tracked my workouts, but that was basically it.

And now, here I am, at 156. I knew I was gaining weight. I could tell by the way my clothes were fitting mostly. I think that I tend to have a bit of body dysmorphia so no matter when I look in the mirror, I always see the same thing – whether I’m 10 pounds lighter or 20 pounds heavier. That doesn’t help matters.

What I do know is this: I need to make a change.

Rather than focusing on the numbers (since that hasn’t really worked well for my psyche in the past), I’m going to try to present things to myself in more than/less than fashion. For example…

More water and less 180 calorie drinks

More water and less bazillion (slight exaggeration)  calorie drinks

More homecooked, less takeout. More veggies, less cookies. Smaller meals throughout the day and smarter choices.

I’m going to leave the numbers bit of things in the trusty hands(?) of my Fitbit One and myfitnesspal.

Treadmill outranks couch (that's "my" spot that everyone steals - and I'm going to let them steal it.)

Treadmill outranks couch (that’s “my” spot that everyone steals – and I’m going to let them steal it.) And outside will outrank treadmill when it’s not 3 degrees.

And I plan to continue my exercising. I don’t think that I’ll feasibly be able to add things like hot yoga back into my schedule but I would like to hit the 10,000 step goal set by the Fitbit each day. (Okay, fine, maybe focusing a little bit on numbers isn’t the worst thing in the world.)

No excuses, no whining. I’m ready to get this done. I can and I will!

What sort of challenges or goals are you looking forward to tackling in 2014?