1. Recognition of Problem

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It took me two years from the time I first calculated my BMI that showed I was overweight until I finally admitted or realized that I was overweight. I wasn’t severely overweight, but according to the BMI, I was overweight nonetheless.

I tried to rationalize my BMI score as being an outlier. Since the BMI (Body Mass Index) is a statistical model based on a sample of humans, I figured all statistical models have outliers and I must be one of those outliers. Thinking that, though, didn’t get rid of my love handles and stomach pudge.

Part of my problem was that I simply didn’t want to admit that I was overweight and the other part of my problem was that I simply didn’t understand the BMI. Admitting that I was overweight meant that I might have to do something about it. That meant that I might have to change my habits. That was scary.

However, had I understood the BMI, I might have had an easier time admitting I had a problem. I think the BMI turns off a lot of people because it has three basic ranges: “normal”, “overweight” and “obese”. Leading with those blunt categories creates a barrier for people, like myself, from understanding what it says.

I think it’s because of our typical reaction to the “you are” vs. “I” communication techniques. People automatically become defensive when you tell them “you are not doing something right”, in the BMI’s case it’s telling them that “you are fat”. When we become defensive we tend to put up a barrier that protects our feelings from becoming mangled.

The “I” technique is supposed to be better. Leading constructive criticism with the “I feel bad when you react this way” softens the blow to our egos enough for us to consider our actions without putting up the barriers. If the BMI had an “I” communication, I think it would have caught my attention earlier.

The BMI’s “I” communication could be: “As researchers we discovered that people with a BMI range of 25-30 have a higher risk of suffering from a weight-related illness such as Type II diabetes.” That sounds better than “you are overweight (ie fat).”

Furthermore, “our studies show that the risk of suffering from a weight related illness substantially increases with a BMI score of 30 or above.” That sounds much better than “you are obese (ie really fat).”

So, do you want to know your risk of suffering from a weight related illness? Then calculate your BMI. Here’s how to do it (it’s simple, but grab a calculator):

1. Start with your weight in pounds. Mine is 134 pounds (this morning).
2. Divide by your height in inches. Mine is 64 inches (yes, I’m short!).
3. Divide by your height in inches, again. Mine is 64 inches, again.
4. Now muliply by 703.

My BMI calculation looks like this: 134 pounds / 64 inches / 64 inches x 703 = 23.

My BMI this morning was 23.0. At my peak I was approaching 30 and for years before that I was hovering in the 25-28 range. Just for laughs, the difference between a BMI of 23 and 24 for my height is 6 pounds. So, if I weighed 139 pounds, my BMI would move up one point to 24.

What’s your’s?

If it is under 25, you’re doing well. You have a low risk (but still some risk) of suffering from a weight related illness).

If your BMI is higher than 25 and less than 30, you have an elevated risk of suffering from a weight related illness at some point in your life (moreso while you are above 25).

If your BMI is 30 or higher, then you have an even higher risk of suffering from a weight related illness at some point in your life.

There. I made it through without saying that you are fat or really fat.

So, now you know your risk of suffering from a weight related illness. The next question is whether you have the desire to do anything about it.

Road Map to Weight Loss Success

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1. Recognition of problem.
2. Desire to do something about it.
3. Commitment to goal.
4. Education.
5. Learning the tricks of the trade.
6. Change habits and mindset.
7. Measure progress.
8. Deal with setbacks.
9. Continue learning.
10. Keep goal as high priority.

As I’ve discussed weight loss with others, I’ve noticed that failure tends to come when people try to do some parts of the process I outlined above, but fail to consider other parts. Over the next few posts I’m going to explore why each step is important and how it links in with the other steps.

Bicycling magazine letter follow-up

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Below is a reprint of the letter I wrote to Bicycling magazine (it’s a year old) along with my annotations where I think it’s necessary to provide some additional context for you since you don’t have the benefit of the original articles that prompted my letter (though you could read those articles by picking up a copy of the September 2005 Bicycling issue).

July 28, 2005

Steve Madden, Editor
Bicycling Magazine
135 North Sixth Street
Emmaus, PA 18098

Steve Madden:

As a long-time avid cyclist and Lemond-inspired junior racer, I so look forward to reading your rag each month. But, “Who You Calling Fat?” (9/2005) missed the mark on the BMI and propagated poor advice supporting that our body types are preprogrammed.

It’s important to understand BMI in order to use it effectively. It is not, as Conrad Ernest suggests, a “predictor of fitness.” Rather it indicates the risk level of suffering from weight-related illnesses such as type II diabetes, based on the results of studying a sizeable population. An “overweight” BMI score of 25 – 29 simply indicates an elevated risk of suffering from a weight-related illness. The risk goes higher at the “obese” score of 30. Also, BMI formulators fudge these limits for bulky weightlifters, but not endurance athletes.

[Seth’s Note: The following paragraph referenced a quote from an athlete named Tim Buese, who poo-poo’d BMI because he experienced lightheadedness at 184 pounds. I too experienced lightheadedness when I got down to a BMI of around 21-22. I solved it by adding a few pounds, but still remaining well within the normal BMI range for my height.]

Taking a closer look at Tim Buese’s numbers, at 6-foot-3 and 208 pounds he is only 8 pounds above the “normal” BMI range and 32 pounds shy of “obesity”. I imagine Tim could trim down to 195 – 200 pound range and improve his performance without the lightheadedness he had at 184 pounds (and a BMI of 23, which is on the low end of the normal range for men).

[Seth’s Note: The following paragraph references a quote from Jim Glinn that perfectly embodied my attitude toward BMI before I understood and used it to my benefit.]

Also, I disagree with Jim Glinn’s notion that “body types are in many ways preprogrammed,” because it’s that exact thinking that kept me above normal on the BMI scale for years. However, once I understood BMI and a few other things I lowered my BMI below 25. I’ve maintained it at 23.5 for the past four years, without lightheadedness. Not bad, considering I once thought I was “preprogrammed” to be 10 pounds above the normal BMI range.

I wrote about my understanding of BMI and the other things I learned about healthy weight loss in a short book entitled, “A Few Bites a Day: My Weight Loss Success Story” (which is available on Amazon.com). I also write a blog at http://fewbites.blogspot.com . The unfortunate consequence of my book is that I’m not always the first up the hills on Saturday morning rides anymore.

I’ve enclosed two copies of my book, one for you and the other for Sam Wade (who was featured in the “XXXL Dreams” article). Hopefully, you’ll find it helpful. If you’d like more copies or would like for me to send directly to Sam, just drop me an e-mail at: smcmenemy@hotmail.com.

Sincerely,

Seth McMenemy
Author of “A Few Bites A Day: My Weight Loss Success Story”