Why You Should Stop Worrying About Your BMI (and What to Do Instead)
For thousands of years, a lean, toned, athletic body has been the gold standard of physical status and attractiveness. It was a hallmark of the ancient heroes, gods, and goddesses, and it’s still idolized today.
With obesity rates over 35 percent here in America (and rising), however, it would appear that reaching that brass ring must require youth, top-shelf genetics, or a level of understanding, discipline, and sacrifice far beyond the capabilities of most people.
This isn’t true. The knowledge of how to achieve peak fitness is easy enough to gain — you’ll learn everything you need to know in my new book Muscle for Life — and it doesn’t require as much willpower or self-denial as you may think.
Before you can do it, though, you must disabuse yourself of some of the biggest myths and lies people are told about fat loss and gain and learn the real science of getting and staying lean for life.
Addressing these fictions head-on is crucial because only a fraction of everything you could learn about fitness produces most of your bottom-line results.
So long as you understand and apply those principles and techniques correctly, you can afford to be ignorant of most else and can stay in fantastic shape for the rest of your life. Run afoul of them, however, and you’ll struggle with your fitness until the end of your days.
The first trap you must escape from is making getting in shape more complex than it needs to be.
This tendency is exemplified by an article the Wall Street Journal published on January 30, 2020, titled “Weight Loss Is Harder than Rocket Science.” The gist of the piece was how the math behind the body mass index (BMI) is harder to apply to weight loss than the math of rocket science is to rocketry.
Many people would agree, having tried and failed to lose weight many times themselves and witnessed countless abortive attempts by others. Well, I have good news for you:
While the human metabolism is complicated and weight loss isn’t easy, the science is straightforward. It’s just different from what many doctors, trainers, and coaches believe.
The emphasis on BMI is a perfect example of how many experts miss the mark. The idea behind it is this: in order to know if someone is over- or underweight, their height must be taken into account, since taller people are naturally heavier than shorter ones.
To calculate BMI, you divide weight (in kilograms) by height (in meters squared), producing a number that represents the relationship between these dimensions.
Doctors often use BMI to monitor how a patient’s weight is likely to affect their health, categorizing them according to simple criteria:
- Underweight = BMI of less than 18.5
- Normal weight = BMI of 18.5 to 24.9
- Overweight = BMI of 25 to 29.9
- Obese = BMI of 30 or greater
If your number is too high, you may be told to lose weight, and if it’s too low, to gain weight. There’s a kicker, however: BMI was never meant to serve as a proxy for the health of specific individuals, only to reveal trends in a population.
In other words, a lone person with a high or low BMI may or may not be over- or underweight, but a large group of people with a high or low average BMI will likely include many over- and underweight individuals.
For instance, I weigh 197 pounds and have a six-pack, but my BMI is 25.29, suggesting I’m overweight and should slim down. Likewise, there are many people who have a “normal weight” BMI with the health problems of an obese person (elevated cholesterol, blood sugar, etc.).
How can that be?
BMI doesn’t take into account your body composition — how much muscle and fat you have. This is crucial because it’s not excess body weight per se that negatively affects our health, but excess body fat. “Excess body weight” in the form of muscle actually has the opposite effect on the body, enhancing our health.
For this reason, one of the first major mind-set shifts I like to see in my readers and followers is for them to pay less attention to their weight and more to their body composition. So long as muscle and body fat levels are going in the right direction, we don’t much care about your body weight.
That’s also why my new book Muscle for Life provides realistic and sustainable diet and training plans for people of all ages and abilities who want to rapidly transform their body composition.
Click here and pre-order your copy now:
Go for it!
P.S. Another example of the importance of body composition:
While we may say you want to “lose weight,” what we really want is to lose fat, not muscle; and if we say you want to “gain weight,” we really want to gain muscle, not fat.
This is especially important to understand for people new to strength training, who can expect to gain a considerable amount of muscle in their first six to twelve months — muscle that’ll mask some or much of the fat weight lost along the way.