What Is a healthy BMI? Does our ‘ideal weight’ mess with our heads?

What Is a healthy BMI? Does our ‘ideal weight’ mess with our heads?

What is a healthy body mass index (BMI)? For some, ideal weight will be dictated by the BMI scale – diet companies set goal weights based upon this scale. However, the BMI scale is a poor reference for individual body size – it fails to consider that we are more than our height and weight, that we inhabit three-dimensional space and that our bodies are culturally diverse.

The BMI scale was created by an insurance company in the 1940’s that looked at the weight of clients who were aged 25-35 years old (at the time of making a policy with them), and then made the assessment that if they were overweight they were more likely to die young. The United States government adopted this scale as a norm and thus ...

... the average weight of a 25 year old became the standardised weight we were all meant to be. This ideal weight meant that overnight, half the population were suddenly considered overweight.[i]

The BMI scale has been adopted as a mass evaluation for health – with the myth that being within the healthy weight range guarded against certain health risks. This has been shown not to be the case – indeed, being slightly overweight appears to protect against mortality, and obesity at the very moderate level is not associated with increased mortality. It is only the severely obese that have increased risk factors.[ii]

One thing is certain – population figures are not a good guide for individual perfect weight.

The BMI scale made everyone believe they were fat and should go on a diet.

One commentator has suggested that the wholesale adoption of the BMI scale meant that the belief that there was a weight problem was burned into the American consciousness – everyone was told there was an ideal weight that they should be. This ideal weight has spread throughout the Western world – it has fuelled the diet industry which has burgeoned, based on a consumer market believing they were fat; it has reinforced body-shame and self-loathing for all those who do not readily sit in a healthy weight range, and it has made many to have an unrealistic expectation of the weight they should be, without cultural factors taken into account.[i]

In fact, it was as if we woke up one morning and found that we had a problem that we did not have yesterday (because it never in fact existed), and ever since our sense of self-worth has decayed.

What is more, this idea that everyone had a 'weight problem' was used to market the diet industry, which presented itself as the solution to this terrible problem and caused many millions to adopt dieting as a way of life.[i]

What has emerged in recent times is that whatever has been marketed as the solution to being overweight has failed – for all the diets that have been offered by the diet industry and for all the daily focus on weight, the population in most western nations is getting fatter. The population is actually getting further and further from an ideal weight. Now we really do have a problem.

The ideal weight we aspire to may not be so ideal when it is attained

What we do not see is that even people with what we imagine is the perfect body, who we believe are the ideal weight, are seeking to change something or are unhappy about the way they look.

What if, rather than an ideal weight, we considered that we each have a true weight – a weight that reflects a true expression of who we are. We do not achieve that by relentless dieting, (that does not work), or by trying to achieve that elusive goal weight imposed by the BMI.

We find a true expression of who we are by making a deeper connection with ourselves, that is, by starting to gently pay attention to how we are feeling in our bodies throughout our day: tired, thirsty, hungry, anxious, at ease, rushed, overwhelmed, and instead of brushing them off or silencing them by carrying on, eating, working or trying harder, we start to listen and begin to develop a new relationship with ourselves.

Through this, we can begin to respond to what our body is telling us and give it the time and care it deserves. As this relationship unfolds we begin to bring a new, truer expression of ourselves to the world as we stop battling on, ignoring the clear information our body provides, striving to keep up with the ideals we set for ourselves, and we can begin to give attention to what we truly need and also let go of the things that drive and push us, and in the end find a way to let ourselves be.

A way to this can be found the Gentle Breath Meditation.

When we consider what is a healthy BMI we should keep in mind that it is only an external marker of ideal weight, and it is an unreliable one at that.

What many have found is that as we develop a deeper understanding of what has been going on, we may be able to begin to accept and enjoy our true weight and let go of the idea that there is an ideal weight. We can develop a positive body image from the inside out.

References:

  • [i]

    BBC TV. The Men Who Made Us Fat. 2012.

  • [ii]

    Orpana, HM, Berthelot, JM, Kaplan MS, Feeny, DH, McFarland B, Ross NA. (2010). ‘BMI and Mortality: results from a national longitudinal study of Canadian adults.’ Obesity (Silver Spring) 18(1): 214-218.

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