Whenever we go to the doctor’s office, one of the first things that occur is the nurse taking our height and weight. The nurse then looks up where your height and weight lands you on this colorful chart usually posted on the wall which indicates what your Body Mass Index (BMI) is. I will be forthright in saying I have a hate-relationship with this concept. Many in the medical profession as well as others view the BMI as a crucial indicator of health, but to me, I view it as a load of poop. The BMI chart literally only takes into account your height and weight, no other factors. It boggles my mind how that could ever be taken as a reliable indicator of health. To add to my hate-relationship with BMI, I’ve had one too many clients be affected by this chart in very negative ways. Many of those who have Eating Disorders have an unhealthy relationship with numbers in the first place, whether that be numbers representing calories or how many pounds they weigh. If your height and weight that day don’t happen to land you in the small zone for a “healthy” BMI, it tends to have negative impacts on those with and without Eating Disorders.
Let’s remove the Eating Disorder mindset for a second and take a person who struggles slightly with body image and eating, which is arguably the norm for our culture. That person, for the most part, likes the way they look and feel. That person then decides to look up their BMI for the heck of it or is forced to confront it at a doctor’s visit. Let’s say that BMI happens to land in the “overweight” category. Can you imagine how that would make anyone feel? Now, a person with a healthy mindset may be able to shake that off, but a person with a predisposition for, a history of or has a present struggle with an Eating Disorder, may find it hard to merely “shake it off.” This event may actually lead to a downward spiral and is counter-productive in recovery.
Why do we place so much emphasis on this BMI? If doctors and educated people are telling us that this is an indicator of your health and that you need to lose or gain weight because you are not in the small window of what constitutes as “healthy,” we are going to take that as the truth.
Sadly, the BMI has also become an indicator of attractiveness. Even if you feel you are at a good weight for your body, just the mere label of “overweight” can hurt you and cause a significant drop in self-esteem. The word “overweight,” in our culture, is often and unfortunately associated with a lack of attractiveness. Too many people strive for the “healthy” or even “underweight” range on the BMI chart because those labels are more likely to be perceived as attractive in our society.
I’m by no means suggesting that we shouldn’t aim to be “healthy,” but I am suggesting that you aim to be healthy for your body. A chart that only takes into account 2 factors and has such stigmatized labels for what part you fall into cannot and should not be what drives you. It cannot determine your health and it does not determine your attractiveness. I truly hope that this BMI measurement becomes a thing of the past soon because it seems to be more hurtful than it is helpful. When you find that your BMI category is hurtful to you, try to let it go. Remember that it really is just arbitrary. It does not account for crucial factors such as muscle mass, normal fluctuations in weight due to the menstrual cycle or the size of your bones.
Finally, not landing in the “healthy” category does not mean that you are not healthy. What may be healthy for one person’s body may not constitute as “healthy” when it comes to BMI. This leads me to the current movement and belief in Health At Every Size (HAES) which I will talk about more in depth in a future post.
Please share this with anyone who may find this helpful. Leave a comment or send a message to me privately with any questions, concerns or requests for future posts.
I wish you wellness on your journey to finding your State of Balance.
*Disclaimer: I am not, nor do I claim to be a medical doctor. This post is based on my own professional opinion and experience as a mental health counselor.*
Binge And Restrict Cycle
Eating Disorder Specialist
Healthy Self Vs. Eating Disorder