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5 Reasons Why BMI is BS

By Nikki Kang

For as long as most of us can remember, a doctor’s visit almost always included a discussion on the magical number which supposedly defines your overall health status. Known as the BMI, or body mass index (or what we prefer: the BS Measuring Index!) the BMI is used to measure body fat (although quite inaccurate and we uncover why). Once the BMI is obtained, it then categories someone as  “underweight,” “normal weight,” “overweight,” or “obese”. Typically, these ranges are then further used to evaluate one’s disease risk. While the BMI has limited use in research, it has absolutely NO place in assigning or predicting health for the individual. So how did this number become a measurement as commonly used as a stethoscope or blood pressure cuff in healthcare? 

Brief history: The first version of the BMI was created in the 19th century and was actually called the Quetelet index. It was created by Lamber Adolph Jacque Quetelet, a Belgian astronomer. Quetelet created this index to develop “social averages” so he could then gather the characteristics of the “average man”. Thus the Quetelet index was not created for use as a health indicator but rather for gathering population data. It was later in 1972, when the Quetelet index was reinvented to become the body mass index, by Ancel Keys. Keys reused Quetelet’s index to argue the validity of MetLife Insurance’s data tables on desirable weight, based on height. His use of the BMI was solely in population based studies, and not for diagnostic purposes. During this time, Keys had also pointed out that BMI does not accurately reflect percentage of body fat. At some point, this advice was ignored, and has now continued to be used as a measurement of body fat. 

Fast forward to the 21st century where preoccupation with weight has surged due to the emphasis placed on one’s BMI, leading people to believe that they are “overweight” or “obese”. But the fact is there are so many misconceptions about the BMI and in reality, the numbers are super arbitrary. The obsession with BMI has led to an increase and fascination in weight loss programs, diets, drinks, and books; The only people that seem to be benefiting from these weight loss products is the industry which is supplying them. Those investing in these products find themselves facing a number of other consequences that come along with dieting, such as fixation with food and their body, weight cycling, eating disorders, decreased self-esteem, and many other issues which can disrupt mental health and wellbeing. 

As the consequences of dieting seem to be increasing, one may question whether or not there is more harm being done than good. This question has been asked, and has led researchers to also challenge the validity of the BMI.  What was found was that the BMI is not as accurate of a health indicator as we have all been made to believe, and here are 5 reasons why its total BS: 

1. BMI does not differentiate between lean body mass, body fat, muscle, tissue or fluid.

The BMI is used to determine body fat mass. However, when calculated, lean body mass vs body fat mass cannot be differentiated. In order to really differentiate between the two, you would need a fancy X-ray called a DEXA scan, which is costly and honestly unnecessary. Therefore, an individual can have a higher BMI, but it may be due to lean body mass rather than body fat mass (which is typically what is associated with disease risk). 

2. A BMI doesn’t tell you how “healthy” you are. It doesn't take into consideration body composition or health behaviors. 

Those with a “normal” BMI may have underlying health issues and might not be aware because they are considered to have a “healthy” BMI (weight biases like this are harmful and affect people of all sizes). There are so many other factors which contribute to an individual’s overall health status and are typically ignored in the presence of a low or high BMI. If someone with a “normal” BMI finds themselves with high blood pressure or high blood sugar, they can technically be considered as “unhealthy”, because these factors put them at higher risk for chronic diseases, not their BMI. This is true for both ends of the spectrum, where someone with a higher BMI may be perfectly healthy according to their labs. This is why it’s essential for practitioners to assess an individual’s bloodwork, whether or not they are engaging in joyful movement, and if they are well nourished.  Some may argue that BMI is a quick way to (supposedly) assess modifiable behaviors but you know what’s also a quick and more accurate way to assess modifiable behaviors? Asking if someone is eating a variety of fruits/vegetables, if they drink alcohol or smoke, or engaging in physical activity. Can you imagine what a visit to the doctor’s office would be like if medical providers encouraged these changes rather than focusing on weight? 

3. BMI alone is not an accurate indicator for morbidity/mortality rate. 

In most studies, BMI is used to assess morbidity/mortality risk. However other factors are almost always ignored. These other factors which can play a role in morbidity/mortality rate include family history of disease, smoking, alcohol consumption/abuse, exercise, mental disorders, and history of dieting. When it comes to identifying the “obesity” weight ranges, studies also fail to identify at what point in the life cycle has the weight gained and the rate at which the weight is accumulating. Moreover, fat is not a disease. Bodies exist in all shapes and sizes. By assigning a disease (e.g. obesity) to a body size, even when the individual is eating well, has great bloodwork and engaging in joyful movement - this is dehumanizing and promotes weight stigma.  

4. Increased BMI in children is expected due to puberty.

While the BMI measurements for children take their age into account, it is still not an accurate indicator of health. This is because during and after puberty, both males and females acquire changes to their bodies, which allow for an increase in BMI. When girls go through puberty they must gain a minimum of at least 10% body fat in order to get their first period, whereas when boys go through puberty, they tend to gain weight slowly over the years. The BMI misses these nuances. These are normal changes expected to occur during adolescence, and are not reflective of poor health. 

5. A low BMI does not increase longevity. 

Another common misconception is that a lower BMI equates to living a longer life. However, many studies have shown that those who are “overweight” or “obese” actually have greater longevity than those who are of normal weight. One study has even concluded that obesity is not a notable risk factor for mortality, especially when socioeconomic status and other risk factors are controlled for. 


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What I Learned From Yoga

Today I wanna talk about yoga. Why I got started, how it's changed me and how it can help you too!

These days boutique yoga studios are popping up everywhere. Seriously, in NYC they're just as prevalent as a Starbucks or Chase bank on nearly every corner. But let's take it back 7-10 years ago B.C. (that's Before Classpass) when New Yorkers mostly worked out in gyms!  There weren't that many yoga studios around and certainly not one that offered "free yoga." That's right, Yoga to the People offered free classes to the public. Ok so maybe it wasn't free (it's donation based with suggested amount of $10) but as a broke college student it's no wonder I took classes there. 

I don't remember the exact reasons why I started taking yoga but I know one thing for sure. I wasn't taking it for mental clarity, to gain an inner sense of self, or become closer to “God."

What I do remember is that I didn't look forward to taking it, there were moments that I dreaded being there, and I wanted to use it as a way to help me lose weight/be more "fit." I can vividly remember flowing through the poses and saying to myself, "f%#! Why did I come here?!" 

I know what that sounds like and who I am today is so far from the girl I was in college. I wanted to be thinner. I wanted abs. I wanted to be liked. I did yoga but I was so far from actually practicing it. Around the same time that I got tired of the vicious self-loathe/diet cycle (see one post back for more on that), I just got fed up with exercise that I did NOT enjoy and so I made it a point to try several different types of workouts… including different yoga studios. 

Finding movement you actually enjoy is like trying different types of ice cream.
Just because you don’t like strawberry ice cream doesn’t mean that all ice cream sucks. 
You have to try different flavors. And if you're into taking classes, finding the right instructor can be like dating. You have to see how you feel in the studio, if you vibe with the instructor, what do you give and gain out of the class?

Well, I can't say I have great dating skills but my exceptional Googling skills led me to Laughing Lotus - which remains one of my favorite yoga studios in the city. Turns out it wasn't the studio that was wrong.. but more so my mindset. I reaped the most when I stopped asking for physical results and instead started asking, “What will I learn about myself today?” I could go on and on about the many things I gained since practicing yoga but here it is in a nutshell:

It’s not at all about how long you can hold each pose (that’s a thought we create in our heads) but rather flowing through the thoughts that come up while on the mat. And if you’re anything like me, some negative/harsh $hiz will show up... it’s about breathing and flowing through those moments.
Trust me, housing fear, resentment and anger does no body’s body good. I call that soul sucking energy. Moving through the stuff that shows up while you’re on the mat can help you make space for more loving thoughts.
This can lead to a decrease in stress and levels of anxiety.
Studies show that yoga can heighten certain brain chemicals that combat depression.
It also improves flexibility, reduces back pain and can help lower blood pressure. 
It allows us to re-connect with our mind and body.  Not to mention, it shows us all the amazing things our bodies are capable of doing.
Bet you didn’t think you could be in chair pose for 30 seconds? Think again.

Remember, at the core of yoga there's no pressure to be perfect physically, emotionally or spiritually. Every time you show up on the mat, you are essentially showing up for yourself. Maybe it will be helpful for you too, or maybe it won't - but you won't know until you try. All I know is that I look forward to it as part of my self-care routine and know that I walk out of class a better human than before I entered it. 

I know going to a class can be ultra intimidating. Been there. Done that. Still feel that way when I try something new. But if you are looking to give yoga a try, here’s a few studios that I liked and hope you enjoy too! If you try any of them, I'd love to hear your thoughts! 

xx Laura

Yoga to the People - Grateful for this incredibly giving studio that makes yoga accessible to everyone. Still maintains a suggested $10 donation after all these years.  

Laughing Lotus – For beginners I’d recommend Lotus Flow, lot’s of energetic music and a bit of chanting. Favorite part is listening to the instructors share a personal story which I can then apply to myself.

Strala Yoga – Simply and purely yoga. Great but challenging classes that you can download and do at home, on your own time. Led by the amazing Tara Stiles

Yoga Vida – Welcoming studio. Great intro class that explains each move. No chanting.

Yoga Works – Offers a variety of teaching styles and modifications for different levels.



A New Approach to Wellness

Happy Thursday loves! It’s been a while since I’ve sat down and made time to write. A rainy day here in New York and it seems like the perfect thing to do. Something that I’ve wanted to talk about is the concept of being healthy. If you’ve been following along since the beginning, you’ll notice that I used to share a lot of posts about smoothies, chia puddings, and talked a lot about “eating clean.” For those that don't know, eating clean means eating foods that are raw, or minimally processed.

When I first started, my goal was to help people eat healthier. This included recipes and tips on how to add more fruits and vegetables into their lifestyle. In practicing what I preached, I started to eat more fresh foods, avoided “the processed stuff”–you know, cookies, ice cream, pizza. What I didn’t realize was that I was subconsciously brewing restrictive eating habits. I would scoff if someone was ordering takeout or would bask in horror (under my breath) if someone next to me ate something packaged.

At the time I thought that being healthy and eating processed foods just couldn’t co-exist. I mean, all you have to do is take a look at Instagram and you will see a ton of wellness bloggers sharing pics of bananas, açai bowls, chia puddings and juice cleanses. I just wanted to feed my body the best, purest foods, and I thought I was truly doing myself a solid favor by drinking smoothies for breakfast and dinner. Hey, I was on a busy schedule and it's supposed to be a quick fix to fit in fruits and veggies right? Well, what happened at my yearly check up was what changed my perspective of wellness.

Wake Up Call//
The hemoglobin A1C is a blood test that diagnoses diabetes. There is no family history of diabetes in my family, but my results came back at 5.7%, it was on the low end but still indicated pre-diabetes (anywhere from 5.7% to 6.4% is pre-DM) I never shared this with anyone because I was absolutely mortified, embarrassed and scared. I worked out. I didn’t drink soda.  I didn’t eat candy. I ate well. I did everything right. I thought, how could this happen to me?

That’s when I realized that too much of anything—even healthy foods—is not healthy.  Because I was also vegetarian, I went heavy on the carbs (yes there is a wrong way to be a vegan/vegetarian..more on that later) I had packed my smoothies with fruits, and convinced myself this was "healthy." I wasn't eating balanced meals, it was low in protein and fats. I was tired, stressed and pre-occupied with food 24/7. It was inevitable that my blood sugar would go up. 

What I did//
From then on, I cut down on the smoothies. I stopped the liquid diet. I focused on incorporating ALL FOODS into my lifestyle, one that was more balanced and without restrictions. I started cooking my vegetables and pairing it with proteins (fish, tofu, lentils, seeds, nuts) and complex carbs (potatoes, whole grains) so that my meals were finally balanced. I felt more satisfied and more energetic. Among other things, I was less stressed, my skin cleared up, my stomach problems were less severe. It really was a whole lifestyle shift. 

Then, I allowed myself to have the “forbidden foods” you know, the cookies, the chips, the cake.  I definitely had days where I ate the whole bag of chips (FYI I’m not talking the 99cent size. I’m talking I used to be able to eat a $4 bag in a sitting!) or would drink water even though all I really wanted was some chocolate. But slowly, I trained myself so that I could enjoy these foods without the subsequent binge. BTW, this new relationship with food didn’t happen overnight. It really took time to build a positive relationship with food.

When people ask me now, “How do you not eat the whole bag/box? I have no self control!” I tell them that it starts with realizing that everything you eat is a CHOICE. It’s also a combination of many things. Such as, asking yourself, are you eating because you are physically hungry? Are you eating for emotional reasons? Are you eating because you're bored?

By asking myself these questions, I developed a mind-body connection. I learned to eat for physical hunger. And I also learned to eat for pleasure—AKA not eating based on physical hunger pangs but would honor my cravings for chips/ice cream/cookies. Throughout the process I also noticed that the more I told myself that I couldn’t have something, the more I had to have it. The shift in my mindset occurred when I stopped telling myself "I can't [eat that]" and replaced it with "I can [eat that]." Like I said, everything we eat is a choice. The only voice telling you that you can't or you shouldn't is you.

"Listen up", I told myself. "The food isn’t going anywhere. If I have a few chips and put the bag back into the cupboard, the chips will still be there tomorrow. I could eat the whole bag, but will I really feel satisfied? Are there vitamins in there that will nourish me? How will I feel after I eat it? Bloated? Sluggish? Puffy?" These were the questions I started to ask myself. By answering them, I became more in tune with my body and giving it what it needs so that I feel my best. 

Basically, the less emphasis I placed on eating, the more I was able to free my mind from the obsession over food. No labels. No judgements. Food became just food. It was there to nourish me.

Finding Balance//
Anyway, good news is that my lab numbers are back to normal (phew!) Now don’t get me wrong, I love a yummy post-workout smoothie but just not for every meal and certainly not everyday. Because at the end of the day, anything in excess just isn’t healthy (yes, including fruits!) In fact, any type of restrictive eating/diet.. is just not sustainable and not realistic. Seriously, how many diets have you tried and how many have failed? They are like empty promises! 

The truth is that all foods are everywhere! We may not all crave chips like me lol, but there are definitely joyous occasions when there is cake or bagels at the office. So instead of fearing these foods, we ought to learn how to eat all foods again. Society, the media, and our beloved Instagram feeds have morphed our perception of what healthy means. It's not juice bowls or fresh fruit for every single meal, and it's not a no carbs, no fats, no gluten kind of deal. Enjoying cake or eating a bagel once in a while can and is healthy. Remember, restrictive eating only brings about the vicious cycle of dieting >> binging>> guilt. So moral of the story here? Moderation and enjoying your food sans the guilt goes a long way.

I know my wellness philosophy has shifted but I promise to still share simple, nourishing recipes –just with a more practical approach, one that fosters a healthy relationship with food and tuning in to what our body needs.