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I recently received a question from a listener that I felt deserved a bit more of a discussion than just our short Ask Megan episodes on Friday. When she sent it to me, I instantly realized there’s a lot more going on with this question and its answer than I initially thought. And I feel like this is a really important conversation to have at the beginning of the year, especially if you have some weight loss goals this year.
Jen’s question was this: “I'm wondering if Body Mass Index (BMI) is a good indicator of having healthy body fat levels or not? All my adult life, I feel like one of my goals has been to be at a healthy BMI. Can it be possible to be healthy & fit, but still not quite fit into the "healthy" BMI standards? I know non-scale victories are super important, but I also know excess body fat can cause health problems.”
You may or may not already have an opinion about the BMI, and I’ll get into that, but I think the bigger question here is how should you measure your progress? What are the best markers to look at to make sure you’re moving in the direction of being your healthiest self? And are you there yet?
When I was in college in the Exercise Science program, we had one quarter where we learned all sorts of different measurement protocols. We learned how to measure performance a hundred different ways from box step tests, to hand dynamometers for grip strength, to the sit and reach tests, to even VO2max tests on the treadmill (which, let me tell you is a miserable experience).
We also learned pretty much every single method out there for measuring body composition. Speaking of miserable experiences, if you’ve ever measured your body fat by doing underwater weighing, it’s awful. You sit on a little swing in a cold tank of water, blow all the air out of your lungs, then dunk under long enough for all the half-paying-attention students in the room to mark down the numbers. Needless to say, I’ve been through just about every measuring method out there.
And BMI was certainly on the list.
So what’s the best? And what should you be looking at to make sure you’re on track to reach your goals?
It’s really good to have a goal, to have something you’re aiming for in your health and fitness. We talked about setting goals - specifically about common mistakes people make when setting goals - a couple weeks ago. Now today is all about how to measure your progress toward those goals. Because when you’ve got a goal, you need to have measurable markers of progress along the way.
You may be listening right now and know that in order for you to be the healthiest version of yourself, you feel like you have some weight to lose.
Let’s first make this weight loss goal of yours have a bit more distinction:
What is BMI? It’s a measure of health based on height and weight. So you enter your height and weight and it spits out a number that places you in one of 4 categories: underweight, normal, overweight or obese.
I took the measurements of a trainer I know that’s in crazy good shape… she’s about 5’7”, and weighs about 155-160 pounds. (overweight)
What are you measuring when you step on a scale? You are literally weighing every single thing in your body. Bones, organs, muscle, fat, blood, everything. A woman who is doing all the right things and getting in better shape will get heavier muscles, heavier bones, heavier blood, heavier packets of energy all over her body in the form of glycogen. (Story about 8 pounds of weight loss in the first two weeks of doing Keto.)
So when you’re working really hard to train more and eat better, the scale doesn’t really give you an accurate picture of what’s going on in your body. And neither does BMI.
So then… if fat loss is your goal, you need to throw out BMI and the scale as valid measurements of progress.
I need you to hear me right now:
Something that we really have come to believe in modern culture is that being small is better. And nothing could be further from the truth, especially when you begin to appreciate the wide array of designs that God created for our bodies. We have endomorphs, and mesomorphs, and ectomorphs, and all sorts of hybrids in between.
And if you happen to be an endomorph or an endo hybrid, being small is simply not healthy for you. You were meant to be powerful and take up space. Sure, it’s important to make sure you’re not carrying excess body fat for your health, but if you spend your life fixated on making your body smaller than it was ever designed to be, you will exhaust yourself and miss out on the blessing of who YOU are.
So for you, I would much rather you pay attention to these non-scale, or non-size, measurements of progress (and as I say these, I want you to pick a couple that you will use to measure your progress):
All of these things are PROOF - hard evidence - that what you are doing is working and you should keep going.
So often, women that come through my Jumpstart series of programs don’t lose a ton of weight. Yes, weight loss often happens, but we really don’t talk about it that much cause we’re so focused on how everything else is changing and improving in their bodies. One of my trainees said one time, “I can’t believe this Megan… I now have so much energy all day long, I feel strong, I finally feel healthy, my clothes fit better and I’m even sleeping better at night!” And then casually, later on she mentioned how she lost 10 pounds - at that point it was such an afterthought because everything else had suddenly become far more important for her.
And as you get in better shape, my hope is that this same thing will happen for you, too.
Take your goals that you’ve created and decide how you’re going to measure your progress. And then I want to know! Message me on FB or on IG, or send me an email and tell me what you’re going to track to see how you’re doing.
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