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The Truth about BMI: Is the Body Mass Index messing with your Mind?

by Cori Rosenthal, LMFT, Mindful Eating Specialist, Meditation Teacher @ Evenflow

THE BODY MASS INDEX (BMI) is an estimated measure of body fat based on weight in relation to height. The problem with this method is that the BMI formula doesn’t take muscle mass into consideration. That means even if you’re as lean as the chicken breast you dine on daily, but have built up a substantial amount of muscle because #fitlife, you might still be categorized as obese — and that’s neither accurate nor fair.

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Doctors have used this measure to help guide their patients to better health for decades. Mindfulness-based eating disorder expert, Cori Rosenthal, is sharing the other side of the story of our BMI and offers a more emotionally-balanced way to manage body image.

If you’re in LA, be sure to join Cori and a handful of other mind-body experts at an upcoming event hosted by mindfulness app, Evenflow, where we’ll explore ways to reclaim a mindful relationship with food and your body. Scroll down for details!

What’s The Deal With BMI?
When you go to the doctor, you are weighed to determine your body mass index (BMI) and then immediately divided into one of four categories: underweight, healthy, overweight or obese.

Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet originally developed the BMI formula in the 1830s. The purpose was to determine obesity in the general population and help the government allocate resources. It was never intended as a measure of individual health. It does not take into account proportions of muscle and fat, nor does it account for bone density, age, body type or ethnicity. Because of this, it’s actually possible to be a celebrity and athlete like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and be labeled as obese.

While I doubt very much Dwayne Johnson is all that bothered by this classification, it can be very different for the general public. This faulty information only feeds into an atmosphere of fatphobia and body shaming that adversely affects us no matter what our size. Even more confusing is that authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute for Health still support the use of the BMI method despite multiple sources questioning its validity.

Why is BMI Problematic?In light of this, it becomes evident that gauging health by your BMI reinforces the diet culture and can be incredibly misleading. When a patient’s BMI is above normal, they are usually given recommendations for a diet. This would make sense if dieting for the purposes of weight loss were an effective solution.

According to statistics from the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) 95% of dieters will regain their weight within one to five years. For most people, dieting is something they must do repeatedly, so much so that January has been declared national diet month. Unfortunately, chronic dieting has many physical and psychological consequences, even if one does not develop an eating disorder.

Psychologically, studies have shown chronic dieting can cause a preoccupation with food, distractibility and irritability and can lead to overeating and even binging. According to Linda Bacon’s book, Body Respect, when we diet, our bodies read this behavior as if we are experiencing a famine. During times of famine, our bodies naturally slow down for survival and store extra fat as soon as possible. Consequently, dieting becomes one of the biggest determinants of long-term weight gain.

What’s A Better Approach?

As a psychotherapist, mindfulness and mindful-eating educator, my preference is to throw away the scale and focus on tuning into internal cues about when to eat, what to eat and how much to eat. I work with clients to overcome distressing behaviors around food such as obsessive thoughts and binging. For body-image challenges, it is important to become aware of hypercritical self-talk that can undermine one’s self-confidence and self-esteem and can lead to emotional overeating.

Mindfulness, mindful eating and self-compassion are powerful tools to create a healthy relationship with food and your body. Becoming aware of your emotions and offering yourself compassion in the face of difficult emotions and adhering to your internal cues for hunger and satiety can change your relationship with food, your body and yourself.

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