BMI: Is it worth the anxiety?

As regular readers will already know, we are gourmands, and not necessarily gourmets. [For those of you who aren’t sure of the technical differences between these two terms, a gourmet is a connoisseur of fine food and drink, a gourmand is a person who is fond of good eating, often indiscriminatingly and to excess.] And, because of these proclivities towards caloric overkill, we’re edging towards what until recently I had considered to be a pleasant roundness in places, a sort of cherubic rubicundity, if you will. I say I felt this way until recently because I was tempted earlier this week by the sage words of none other than the great Jeffrey Steingarten to calculate my BMI.

BMI, or body mass index, is the standard way that doctors calculate a person’s total amount of body fat vs. the ideal weight for their height. It’s quite a simple calculation of weight divided by height, but its outcome has great importance for ones’ health. Apparently, the ideal BMI is 21 which, I suspect, was the age at which my BMI was last at that number, and at which age I accurately resembled the hollow-cheeked, lank-haired student that I was. A BMI above 28 means, among other things embarrassment & shame at the beach, in clothes stores, and when faced with stairs, but more sinisterly, a greater likelihood of heart disease, strokes, kidney and liver disease, diabetes, and therefore, premature death. Chilling stuff, eh? Well, here’s the interesting thing, a BMI of 31 will have you officially categorized as obese, meaning that you can be some way shy of obesity and still be destined to cark it at an early age, which actually sucks quite badly when you think about it.

Anyway, if that hasn’t scared the sh!t out of you, and you still wish to put yourself through the frankly terrifying ordeal of calculating your BMI, the first thing you have to do is weigh yourself — something I hadn’t done in at least four years, owing to the absence of a set of scales in my home, you see, not because I didn’t want to know how much heavier I had become. I want to be clear on this point.

So, on Monday of last week – after a reasonably active weekend, fortunately – I weighed myself in the locker room at the gym sporting nothing but a towel and a furrowed brow as I tinkered fruitlessly with the slider thingy to shave off a couple of extra ounces. 194lbs. Exactly nine pounds heavier than the last time I was weighed, showing an average weight gain of 2lbs per year.

I wasn’t exactly overjoyed with this, but decided to proceed with the BMI experiment all the same. Here’s how it’s done:

  • Take your weight in pounds and multiply it by 703.
  • Divide the result by your height in inches.
  • Then, divide the result again by your height in inches.

For example:

  • My weight in pounds: 194 x 703
  • The result: 136,382 / 73 (my height in inches)
  • The 2nd result: 1,868.25 / 73 inches = My BMI is25.

Yes, it was anticlimactic in the end, I’ll admit. But, as with anything to do with health, it’s a great relief to find out that you’re not about to drop dead like you might have feared – at least, it seems, not from being overweight… yet. That said, there are a lot of scientists who dispute the usefulness of BMI in indicating a person’s ideal weight because it makes no consideration of an individual’s build. For instance, a heavily-muscled, yet ripped, man of medium height might have a BMI exceeding 30 but is unlikely to be at as great a risk of a heart attack as a taller person with only light muscle mass and a large gut.

And, here is the point, or at least I think so, because four years ago when I last checked, I weighed in at 185lbs. At that time, I was pretty skinny – it’s true, just ask my wife, but using the method above, my BMI would still have been 24.5. To achieve the ideal BMI of 21, I would have to weigh 165lbs or less. I stand six feet and one inch tall and am of medium-build (typical British build, if you will). So, I ask you, is 165lbs an ideal weight for someone of my height? I’d be nothing but skin and bones at that weight, some thirty pounds lighter than I am currently, and 20lbs less than when I was actually skinny. It all kind of sounds insane to me. What do you think? Should I attempt to lose those 30lbs? Should I even care about my BMI? Or, is it, in fact, just another potential source of paranoia in a world where everything you eat has some sort of warning or health risk? Being alive is starting to seem like a recipe for a sticky end…

7 thoughts on “BMI: Is it worth the anxiety?

  1. Hi
    I agree that BMI can be misleading but its a good place to start. It can help indicate if people may be at risk from high cholesterol and diabetes. I managed to have a go on a machine (Tanita) which calculates body fat percentage (a lot of gyms have them too), these are much more useful. After all muscle weighs more than fat 🙂 Diabetes UK have just launched a campaign which uses waist measurements instead, over 31.5 inches for a women and 37 inches could increase the risk of type 2 diabetes (
    I think that a lot of GPs are moving over using waist measurements rather than BMI.

    If you are in the gym I would say no need to worry. Hope the ramblings made sense?
    Love the blog by the way!

  2. Have you read Karl Lagerfeld’s diet book? It will answer the questions you posed- specifically whether being emaciated is a good idea (from a health and aesthetic point of view.)

    Oh, don’t bother buying it. He’s rich enough. The answer is yes.

  3. My BMI is borderline, and every time I calculate it online I get the screaming icon that tells me I AM FAT. I am 165 lbs.

    I like your term- rubicundity. Cherubic, even.

    At my thinnest, standing 5’7″, I weighed around 115 pounds. I was stick figure thin, and unhealthy. Sure I could stand to lose 20 pounds; I could stand to trim my upper arms more, have thinner thighs and less ‘cheekiness’ but my blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol and overall health is good. My biggest problem isn’t WHAT I eat, it’s HOW MUCH of it. I need portion control big time and that is what I work on now. When I look at what goes into our tummies I am damn proud of our diet.

    I have heard a whole lot of debate about the BMI from every camp out there. Some say its a good thing, others say ‘Eh, not so much.’ I take it with a huge fat grain of salt (the good kind, mind you) and pay more attention to my numbers.

  4. Well Im a full figured black woman who has never fri into what the BMI says I should be. I have picked up a extra twenty or moe ponds since last year(a)I stopped working out.b)I’m happy and nestingC)I food blogD) I’m almost 40. Even at my thinnest 121 pounds people cracked on my weight becaue its all in the ass and legs. Very few blacks I know fall into into the standard BMI suggestions its unfair. Im big,but not obese. I have a lot of muscle tone and a nice shape.Would I be happier 30 punds lighter. Yes.

  5. My BMI is 24. Last year it was 21 and people commented that I looked ill, sunken cheeks and all. Still, I would be happy around 22-23. I purchased one of those scales that calculates your body fat to muscle ratio and am happy to say I am always in the lower end for body fat despite what I eat. Wonder what my arteries look like though, lol! Ahhh, life is too short to worry about 1 or 2%. Personally I say if you are happy with how you look-honest to goodness happy- and you feel good then ignore the BMI. This is NOT medical advice, just the musings of a blog reader!

  6. really glad so many thought this post worth a comment. I wasn’t sure it was appropriate for a food blog, but I’m delighted there are others out there who share my preoccupation. perhaps it’s inevitable when we all spend so much time thinking about food that we should also ponder its effects on our bodies, after all, we are what we eat.
    Peter, i’ve not read Lagerfeld, but I have read elsewhere that “starving” (literally) is the key to good health, but frankly I’d prefer to live a little shorter if I can live a little more, you know?
    i think the message is, keep on keeping on. If you’re happy and healthy, you needn’t worry about what statistics or infomercials tell you.

  7. I think that the questions should be: Do you feel alright? Do you feel happy? Do you feel full of energy? Do you enjoy life? Do you enjoy food?
    If the answer is yes to all, then, from my point of view, that’s the way to live! But then if you want to loose a bit of fat accumulated in your belly or hips go for a 2000 calories diet for a while, eating healthy and variated and you will see yourself better.
    This is what I will do soon, in order to face the summer with a good shape 😉

Like this post? Hate this post? Let us know!