You May Need to Lose Less Weight than You Think

Many people set weight loss goals each year. And, if that’s your goal, you possibly turned to a BMI calculator to learn your goal weight based on what it claimed your normal weight range would be. The problem is that BMI might not be the best measurement.

BMI doesn’t take weight distribution or your fat percentage into account. It doesn’t consider how bodies differ between age, gender and ethnicity. Because of that, it’s not the precise measurement we believe it to be.

It really got its origins from a Belgian statistician by the name of Adolphe Quetelet, who sought to initially determine what was considered to be normal weight status for white [Scottish] soldiers in the 1800s,” said Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School. “This was not meant to be extrapolated to the population as a whole.”

The “Quetelet Index,” as it was then known, was used to estimate how likely a person was to suffer from a serious disease or die based on how much they differed from the average. Insurance companies started using it in the 1930s to determine coverage. Doctors didn’t begin to consider it until the 1970s.

Working with an individual patient I say, ‘Let’s look at who you are, as it relates to this number,’” Dr. Stanford said. “How does this number relate to your cholesterol values? How does this number relate to your blood sugar? How does this number relate to your liver function tests? How does this number relate to your ability to move and function? I want to get you to the happiest, healthiest weight for you. What is that number? I don’t know.”

If you are overweight, losing five to 10 percent of your body weight can greatly improve your health. Lower levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides are seen after people lose five percent of their weight. Losing five percent of your weight also improves your blood pressure. Losing seven percent of your body weight can improve your blood sugar health by up to 58 percent. And losing small amounts of weight can significantly improve joint health and help your knees.

Ongoing studies have found that making small, sustainable lifestyle changes does more to aid health than dramatic weight loss. Losing weight slowly over time is more manageable and maintenance and can help you learn healthier habits rather than following strict eating rules. By setting realistic weight loss gains rather than looking toward an ideal, you can meet your goal and have long-term results.    

The problem with BMI is that it tries to make weight and health a single standard equation that everyone can fit into neatly. There are many personal components to health. We all have our own health needs and goals.

Please compare yourself to no one but yourself,” Stanford said. “I think that’s the most salient advice that I can give.”

Banner image: Matilda Wormwood via Unsplash

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