Friday, 28 May 2010

On the Flaws of the Body Mass Index

I’ve been promising an essay on the BMI (Body Mass Index) for a while now. And I tried, I honestly tried. I wanted to write a fully comprehensive essay, with a balanceds argument for and against the BMI and its use. But I just couldn’t. There are too few pros for the system, and far too many cons. It left me wondering why it is used at all, but one of the two things I found in its favour explains exactly why it is used.

It’s easy to use.

It involves no expensive equipment, no complicated formulae, no extensive testing. It gives an immediate piece of quantitative data on how fat a person is, and therein lies its other advantage. It gives a number that can be quoted. Instead of a doctor simply saying you’re (and by you I mean a hypothetical fat person, not you in particular) fat, they can say your BMI is X, which means you are this fat. It also means they can tell you exactly how much weight that a person needs to lose to not be that fat any more.

That’s it. That’s the whole reasoning behind it being used.

Now compare that to ever increasing evidence that the BMI is an utter load of crap.

For starters it doesn’t take into account bone density or muscle mass, meaning that many incredibly fit athletes show up as obese on the scale. The Wikipedia page gives a list of exceptions to the BMI that makes me wonder why it is used at all.

Secondly, it was never meant to diagnose individual people. It was meant to study populations of people, so how the hell is that translatable to use on individual people? How the hell did this become the primary tool for diagnosing overweight and obese individuals?

Add in to this the fact that the cut off points are incredibly arbitrary. I’ve never seen any good reason why you’re suddenly overweight when you’re BMI hits 25. I’ll be happy to read anything anyone can show me that proves otherwise, but I will continue with my argument.

I know that the cut off points between underweight/normal/overweight/obese are arbitrary because in 1998 the USA changed theirs to fall in line with the World Health Organisation. Over night millions of people were suddenly reclassified as overweight without gaining a single pound, and without their health changing one jot. All because a committee of “exerts” saw fit to move the goalposts.

The BMI system is also incredibly biased against people at the higher end of the spectrum. Take a look at the chart on the Wikipedia page. There is a huge chunk of the chart taken up by overweight and obese, but only a tiny sliver taken up by the underweight category. That’s shows a clear bias and just seems plain wrong to me.

Speaking of plain wrong, the BMI is exactly that. The World Health Organisation defines overweight and obesity as such:

Overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health.

That means that the BMI is rubbish. Studies have shown again and again that people in the overweight category have no significant health problems compared to “normal” people. I fact, they seem to cope better with certain diseases that the supposedly healthier normal category.

In addition to this, the BMI categories just don’t fit into reality, not mine at least. Check out this flickr stream, I hope you will find as I did, that the BMI overweight people looked normal to me and the BMI normal people looked too thin. That’s just my personal view, but those photos should definitely make you rethink how the BMI applies to real, flesh and blood people.

There are a whole host of other reasons why the BMI is crap, and it should be scrapped for use in diagnosing “overweight” and “obese” people. If you currently remain unconvinced of just how crap the BMI really is, may I point you to the links below. They cover similar ground to this post, and hopefully a few extra things.

Read the links and the comments over at this post at the Rotund.

This post at the Guardian's Comment is Free also takes down the BMI.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

On The Ridiculousness of the Calorie

I've just had a thought.

Not a stupendous world changing though, but a thought none the less.

I've been thinking about how ridiculous it is that the diet and food industries rely on calories so much. For starters the calorie counts that appear on the front of food packaging is actually kilocalories. Meaning that a food with 100 calories in it actually contains 100,000 calories. Deosn't sound quite so small when pu that way does it?

The second thing that I realised, and the main point of this post, is that the way the energy content of that food is calculated, the method they use to find out that food has 100 calories in it, really shouldn't translate to the energy the human body gets it's energy from that food.

From the scientific knowledge and experience, the way scientists usually find out how much energy something has is by burning it.

I've done a fair bit of calorimetry in my time and the procedure is usually this; you take an amount of the thing you want to find the energy content of. Then you set fire to it, and use the heat from it to heat up an amount of water. The you use a formula to work out how much energy it gave out when you burnt it. Which is actually the amount of energy taken in by the water that was heated up, which is never going to be the exact amount of energy the flame gave out because heat escapes. Even bomb calorimetry, which is basically the above procedure with as much insulation as possible can't really be really perfectly accurate.

so that 100 calorie biscuit? That's how much energy it gave out when it was set on fire.

Can anyone honestly tell me that the energy given out on burning of a food is directly transferable to the energy that my body gets from eating it? I really don't think so. The way the human body gets energy out of food is far more sophisticated than that; it involves digestion, absorption, electron transfers and the making and breaking of chemical bonds. I honestly don't see how that can in any way be equated with burning food.

The body doesn't burn calories the way you burn charcoal for a bbq, it just doesn't work that way.

So my thought for the day: societies reliance on calories as a measure of how much to eat is utterly ridiculous. And I for one will no longer pay attention to them.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Growing Fat Acceptance and Lots of Links

So my involvement and practising of Fat Acceptance is coming on leaps and bounds. I'm about half way through Linda Bacon's Health at Every Size, and so far I agree with almost everything she's said. I am however, exercising caution and trying to stay objective about the materiel in the book. I am very aware that the contents of the book could very easily become a new dogma, even as it strives to take down the dogma of the diet culture. Linda Bacon is a very highly qualified scientist, and her book presents the science that you might not have been allowed to see, and explains the facts as we understand them now. All in all I'm very happy with the book so far, and I recommend that anyone interested in fat acceptance or another perspective on how fat and health are related should try to get hold of a copy.

I still haven't received Lessons from the Fat-O-Sphere, as it's at my parent's house waiting for them to send it down to me, but I am very much looking forward to reading it. After I have finished with these two book I intend to get both Dawn French's and Jo Brand's autobiographies. Never been much of one for autobiographies (Roald Dahl's being the exception) but I think they will prove very interesting reading.

I've also added to the repertoire of fat acceptance and body positive blogs I read, and trying to add more fat and body positive folks on twitter. I think this is the crucial part of my FA, as it is the building of a community of like minded individuals which will really help me finally accept my body as it is. Some of them are very outspoken and brash on the subject, but all of them come across as wonderful people in their blogs.

I have also started listening to the Two Whole Cakes Fatcast, which is definately worth a listen.

I'm also starting to be more vocal on the subject, having had a few discussions on the subject of FA and HAES with some of my friends. In addition to this blog appearing in my facebook and twitter feeds, I'm also starting to comment more on FA related matter on both those social networking sites. While it's not exactly a secret that I'm fat, I'm determined that people, and in particular people I know well are aware that dieting is no longer something that I believe in and that I am on the path towards body acceptance.

I've also made progress on a more personal level. I have relinquished the dichotomy of good food/ bad food, and am learning to spot when I start thinking along those lines. For example I wanted some chips as an afternoons snack, and my brain automatically went into the 'this is bad but I don't care' mode of thinking. I managed to catch myself and correct myself; there is not such thing as 'good' food or 'bad' food, only food (more on this at a later date).

I've also gotten better at recognising when I'm starting to feel hungry and eating then, rather than eating at set times. This has been vastly helped by the fact it is exam season and I have very little in the way of an actual schedule at the moment. I'm less good at recognising the signs that I'm full and stopping eating then, but I'm working on that. There are a few exercises in Health at Every Size that I want to try out, after exams.

This post is my 30th post, and I'm amazed at what I've managed to achieve in that. When I started this blog less than six months ago I was a miserable fat person with next to no bodily self esteem who wanted to blog about a diet to keep on the wagon as it were. Now I'm still fat, but I no longer believe dieting is the answer to higher self esteem and am constantly improving in my body acceptance. I'm no longer miserable, and I'm starting to learn that other people's opinion of my body, whether they consider it attractive or not, will never change the basic fact that it is a fat body.

So while I tackle the rest of my exams with gusto, I will leave you with a bunch of links to check out. Please do read what these people have to say, and if anyone can put me onto a blog written by a fat accepting male, that would be brilliant.

Fat/Body Positive Blogs

Twitter Folks to follow

@fatheffalump @moreofmetolove @52stations @fatshionista @peggyelam @therotund @bigfatdeal @ninjaclutz @mopie

and also @captainraz (which is me!)

Lesley Kinzel from Fatshionista and Marianne Kirby from The Rotund talk about fat, fashion and politics

Friday, 21 May 2010

I'm Feeling Good

I feel great today. I know its still early, but I do feel great. Which is extremely unusual considering I have an exam tomorrow. But I feel really good.

I went to bed at a decent time last night, got a good nights sleep and was up fairly early to wish Sam well in his exam.

I had a great breakfast. I made a smoothie; strawberry, banana, pineapple and mint. OK, so I cheated a little bit cos the strawberry was from a SlimFast shake powder but oh well. When you stop viewing hose things as a weight loss aid and simply something you can use if need be, they're actually quite useful. I frequently turn the shakes into fruit smoothies, and I don't feel guilty at all.

Anyway, my breakfast was damn tasty, and it's left me feeling great. I'm hoping that a good start to the day means the day will continue to be good.

The only bad thing about today is that I really want to go for a bike ride, maybe cycle around the lake, but I can't. Damn exam season meaning I have to spend most of my time indoors revising.

After exams are over, that will be very different. I want to try going for a cycle round the lake every morning after breakfast for a week. Just to see how I feel. If it makes me feel great, then I try to keep it up, if not then I won't bother.

For me this decision is not just about getting the exercise in. If any of you have ever been to the University of Nottingham and been to the lake, you'll know just how beautiful it is. Riding a bike round the lake is beautiful and the pleasure comes almost as much from the scenery as the exercise. I've never been to the lake early morning, and I want to find out what it's like.

The hope is that I'll really enjoy it, and it'll be a really good, enjoyable way to move my body. I want my body to feel great, so I'm trying to put things in it that make me feel good, and I want to start doing some form of regular exercise that makes me feel good too. I honestly don't care if I lose weight or not. Weight and health are not the same thing, and thinner does not mean healthier.

I have a number of things I want to try and do to increase my overall health, but that's a post for another time. Medicinal chemistry and nucleic acids revision is calling me.

Monday, 17 May 2010

How You Can Best Support Me In Good Health

In lieu of an actual proper update from me, because it is exam season and my brainmeats are fried by organic chemistry, I thought I would post this. It's another excerpt from Linda Bacon's Health at Every Size, which I finally got and started to read. So far it's full of things that I feel I should have already known and is possibly better referenced than some of my textbooks.

I've been meaning to post this for a while, and it is something that I am really starting to believe in.


To My Friends and Family:

I understand that you care about me and that you are concerned
about my health and well-being. I’ve learned a lot about issues
related to weight, and I’ve come to believe that I can be healthy and
happy at my current weight. I have also learned, both from personal
experience and studying the physiology of weight regulation, that
dieting and trying to lose weight typically cause more problems than
they solve and are usually unsuccessful, despite strong determination
and willpower.

As a result, I’ve switched my focus to feeling better about the
body I currently have and improving my lifestyle habits for health
and well-being, rather than weight change. I am not giving up—I am
moving on.

I’d like your support. What I need from you is to accept and
appreciate me as I am and to stop commenting on my weight,
weight loss, or the food I eat. Being nagged about what I weigh or
how I eat has never been helpful and has only made me feel worse.
If you are interested, I’d be happy to share what I am learning.
Thanks for your love and concern.

Signature: ____________Captain Raz_________________________

Excerpt from Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth
About Your Weight © 2008 by Linda Bacon.
May be freely distributed, provided that it remains in its entirety
and this copyright message appears. More info at

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The New Bike and Learning to Feel Better

So I got a new bike recently. Well, the bike itself isn’t actually new, but it’s new to me. It’s a hand me up from my little brother, because he’s a big boy now and has a moped and no use for a push bike. But I’m chuffed to pieces with my new bike.

Up until now I’ve been cycling round on my child’s mountain bike that I’ve had for about 12 years, which doesn’t make for very effective cycling. Child’s bicycles are not meant for 250 lb adults, or adults of any size/shape/weight etc. It’s incredibly cramped and difficult to ride, which has meant that I’ve avoided cycling if I possibly can.

But my new bike is all shiny, full size and a decent mountain bike so it has all the awesome suspension and everything. I took it out for a test spin the other day and I’m very pleased with it. It does, however, need a few things doing to it. My brother had managed to do something very odd with the seat and now there’s a big bolt that sticks into my inner thigh when I’m cycling, which isn’t very comfortable.

And also ripped my trousers, grrr.

But now I have this new bike that is a pleasure not a chore to ride, I’m hoping I can get out and do more cycling. Especially now that the weather is starting to improve and becoming more like cycling weather.

I know I need to increase the amount of exercise I do, and I know that when I do increase my exercise I’ll start to feel better about myself. But I won’t be exercising to lose weight. I’m still in the fledgling part of Fat Acceptance, but I honestly don’t see me going back to the diet mentality. Going back to the diet mentality will take the pleasure out of exercise, and ensure that I stop doing it.

I want to do more exercise because it’s god for me, not because it will help me lose weight. And having a new bike means that I can get outside, get some fresh air, do some exercise and feel better about myself.

And at the end of the day that’s what the true aim of this blog always has been and always will be about, helping me learn to feel better about the person I am.