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Is BMI a Useful Measure of Weight Loss? BMI and Weight Loss Explained.

Losing weight is a modern obsession. As we become more in-tune with our bodies and what is good – and not good – for us, change becomes essential. Finding out if you are healthy weight or not can be tough. For years, the Body Mass Index (BMI) was the go-to solution to see if we were in proportion with our body weight.

What is a healthy weight for you? BMI and Weight Loss.
What is a healthy weight for you? BMI and Weight Loss.

Using a formula that calculates your body height with your weight, you can quickly learn how “healthy” you are under BMI grounds. However, please note that BMI is probably not the one-size-fits-all tool that we had once assumed. Let’s take a look at the BMI, why it was such a useful force for good and why, today, you might do well to look at BMI in a different light.

Why Should I Measure BMI?

Many people use BMI to determine their ideal weight. For example, according to conventional use for BMI, staying within 18.5-24.9 indicates a healthy weight. If you fall outside of either 18.5 (underweight) or 25 (overweight) then according to your BMI, change needs to happen.

Is 18.5-24.9 REALLY Ideal?

I recommend that you look to measure your BMI more intelligently. Many people will look to use this number to help determine every part of their lifestyle, but it’s vital to note that there are some serious limitations in the way that BMI operates. BMI use in weight loss is not always the most valuable metric. BMI alone is not enough.

Limitations of the Body Mass Index

Muscle Mass is Not Fat Mass.

One of the most common reasons why you need to take a look at BMI with a skeptical view is that BMI does not take into account the importance of fat and muscle. Naturally, this means that someone who has more muscle may be in the wrong category. It also means that you might be in an ideal BMI range, but have too much fat and not enough muscle.

It’s an often used example, but super athletes in the past like Michael Jordan would have been in the wrong BMI count. They would have been ‘overweight’ as the average person is not cut to shreds with muscle and physical power.

Fat Distribution Matters

Not all fat is created equal. Many poeple with a “normal” BMI still carry a dangerous amount of belly fat. We all know someone with skinny arms and legs but a round belly. Belly fat is among the most dangerous fats and is far more important to deal with than other type.

So, Is BMI Useful For Weight Loss?

BMI is useful in that it’s quick, easy, free and gives you a broad guideline. However, for the reasons we mentioned until now, it is by no means a catch-all solution. Context is key, and knowing your BMI alone is not enough.

Other Ways To Track Weight Loss

Numbers on a scale have just as many limitations as the BMI – different people are built differently and the numbers can’t tell you that. For example, I’m built like a bird and am actually overweight at 115 lbs. My husband, who has a big frame, is underweight at 175 lbs. So here are some other things to consider:

  • Energy level. Being over or underweight is a stressor, so energy level can be a great indicator of your body’s overall health.
  • Strength. If you feel strong in your body then you’re doing something right. This doesn’t have anything to do with how much you bench press, it has to do with how well your body holds up to your everyday stressors.
  • Tone. If you can see changes in your muscles when you use them, then you’re doing something right.
  • Weight Distribution. Very few of us are lucky enough to have our weight distributed evenly over our whole bodies. Most of us have a place that fat collects (think belly, hips, thighs, butt). Use your problem area as a benchmark for weight loss. If that area is becoming more proportional to the rest of you, you’re doing great.
  • Fit of Clothing. I know that if I go through a sedentary period and then start working out again or re-connect with my focus on health, the first thing I notice is that my clothes fit better. This happens before the numbers on the scale change (and sometimes I gain weight at first but my clothes fit better). This matters.

BMI is great as a tracking tool or a rough guideline, but there are so many more important factors in weight loss that this shouldn’t be your only guide.

HELP! Weight Loss Stopped and I Don’t Know Why.

I can’t begin to tell you how many of you I’ve had in my office literally sobbing your eyes out because you’re doing everything right and you were losing weight, but weight loss stopped.  It’s a horrible feeling to feel like you’re “failing” at weight loss. Things were going great – the pounds were steadily coming off and then all of a sudden everything stopped moving.  A few weeks went by and things kept not moving.  Eek!  This is when people  freak out.

I want you to take a deep breath, and relax.  You are doing awesome.  AWESOME. This is totally normal.  It’s just that your plan for how things are going to go and your body’s plan for how things are going to go are two really different things, and they have to be because your body’s number one priority is keeping you alive. Believe me, that’s a really good thing.

Losing weight is not just a matter of digesting a few fat cells for your body.  It’s a big deal!  Say you lose 15 pounds.  For the “average” person (arbitrarily picking 150 lbs as average) that’s 10% of their body weight.

Weight Loss Stopped – What Is Really Happening?

Take a look around your living room or your office or wherever you happen to be sitting right now and picture taking 1/10th (that’s 10%) of the stuff out.  So if there are 10 pictures on the wall, take out one.  If there are 10 pieces of furniture, take one out.  For every 10 books, decorative items, pillows, etc… take out one.  So, for everything in the room, for every 10 pieces of everything, one piece has to go. Seriously.  Once you’ve done that take a look around.  If your house is anything like mine, taking out 10% of everything makes it look like a gap-toothed jack-o-lantern.

After I take 10% of everything out of the room, then I have to take some time to re-organize.  I’ve got to move stuff around and sort through what’s left to make the room work again.  Your body has to do the exact same thing with weight loss – it’s got to re-organize.  So if weight loss stopped it’s probably because your body has a bigger priority at this moment.  Did you know every pound of extra fat has about a mile of extra blood vessels supplying it?  Eek! Your body has to do something with all of that too, because frankly in the grand scheme of things it’s more important to circulate your blood effectively than it is to meet your weight loss goals.

Weight loss stopped? It's because your body has to take the time to rearrange the furniture.

Weight loss stopped? It’s because your body has to take the time to rearrange the furniture. Looks good, right?

Losing weight isn’t a quick and easy process for your body – it’s actually tremendously hard work and takes a lot of shifting of hormones, blood vessels, musculoskeletal support, inflammatory levels and toxins.  Weight loss in real-life is different from what you see on TV and if you don’t remember about that then read through this to remind yourself. If you’re hitting a plateau in your weight loss, and weight loss stopped suddenly, that is completely okay.  In fact, it’s great!  It means that you have lost enough that your body needs to move stuff around so just let it happen and keep doing what you’re supposed to be doing.  The weight loss will start again – your body just needs to take a minute to collect itself.

So, It’s Normal That Weight Loss Stopped – How Long Until It’s A Problem?

If after 6 weeks you’re still stalled out, then talk to your practitioner or whoever you are working with to lose the weight. In that case there may be something blocking you like a hormone issue, a detox issue or a food sensitivity – if you aren’t familiar with weight loss blockers take a look at this. But seriously let your body have six weeks before you freak out and every day keep reminding yourself that your body is a beautiful thing that is doing it’s best every day to keep you alive.  Your body wants you to be happy and healthy and whole.  It’s changing everything in the background so that you can be healthy and wonderful and then move on to the next phase of weight loss.

The bottom line is: go easy on your body.  Go easy on yourself.  Breathe and let this whole process unfold the way it’s going to – it doesn’t have to look exactly like you thought it would for it to be going exactly right. Sure, weight loss stopped – now thank your body for it because it’s busy keeping you alive.  Your body is making sure your heart, lungs, hormones, neurotransmitters and everything else are keeping up with the process. Your body is taking care of a whole lot of stuff that keeps you moving on a daily basis and it’s really important to honor that process and allow your body a little room when it needs to reorganize the furniture.