Is BMI helpful or hooey? Times reporter discovers the best way to determine your healthy weight - January 18, 2019

Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana • Jan 18, 2019

The story starts with an argument with my boss.

The other day I told my editor I was overweight. She said I wasn’t. I told her my body mass index proves it. She said BMI is B.S.

I’ve been tracking my BMI since I lost a bunch of weight several years back. I used the calculator to determine what would be considered, for someone of my height, normal poundage (137 to 183 pounds).

I stayed in that normal range for a while, but in 2018 I noticed my weight creeping up, before, finally, I entered the “overweight” category.

But, as my editor claimed, is BMI too simplistic a measure?

“It’s a tool, but it’s not a completely reliable assessment, because body types are so different,” said Keri Smith, a nurse practitioner with DeMotte Physicians, part of the Porter Physician Group.

Kerri Patrick, a personal trainer with Franciscan Health Fitness Centers in Chesterton, gave an example.

“If there are two people who are both (5 feet 9) inches and both 180 pounds, then those two people will have the same BMI,” she said.

“But if one of them is 10 percent body fat and the other is 30 percent body fat, then they would look completely different.”

A 6-foot, 225-pound bodybuilder with 12-percent body fat, for instance, would be considered obese on the BMI chart, she noted.

If BMI isn’t the greatest way to tell if you’re in shape, what is?

“Body-fat percentage gives you a better look internally, rather than just how tall I am versus how much I weigh,” said Lauren Dermody, an exercise specialist at Community Hospital Fitness Pointe in Munster.

That’s how I ended up at her gym Tuesday, my shoes and socks off, standing on a scale with metal footprints.

After Dermody keyed in my height, sex and date of birth, the device weighed me and, using bioelectrical impedance, determined how many pounds were lean weight — water, muscle, organs, etc. — as opposed to fat.

The measurement confirmed what I already knew: I could lose a few pounds — though not as many as the BMI calculator have me believe.

My lean weight was 148.5 pounds, so unless I donated some organs or completely dehydrated myself, I couldn’t possibly weigh 137, Dermody said.

According to the scale at Fitness Pointe, to get into my normal range of body fat (8 to 20 percent), I would only have to shed 11 pounds. At that weight, though, BMI would tell me I’m overweight.

Of course, I figured out all this at a gym, with expensive equipment and an expert to analyze the data for me. One reason I always used BMI is I could quickly, cheaply, calculate it on my phone.

“It’s just a nice, good, inexpensive way for us to do a screening for body fat,” Carol Sakelaris, a certified diabetes educator with Methodist Hospitals, said of BMI.

But it turns out body-fat-measuring scales aren’t as costly as you’d think. I saw them listed for as little as $13.99 on Amazon (I can’t, however, vouch for their quality).

The fact that I can lose a few pounds is why I’m joining the Lose 19′ in 19 weight-loss challenge as a shadow contestant (I, obviously, won’t be eligible for the prize). Dropping 19 pounds would put me right in the healthy body-fat range.

Just because you’re outside of the “normal” scope of BMI or body fat doesn’t mean you’re unhealthy (in the mid ’90s Michael Jordan was 4-percent body fat, which would have been considered below the healthy range; he was only the greatest athlete of his generation).

But as someone who’s struggled with weight in the past, I want to keep things in check before they get out of hand.

I, admittedly, was pretty inactive last year, let my diet slip, stopped fitting into a lot of my clothes. I know myself, and how I feel, and it’s time for a change. I didn’t need a calculator or scale to tell me that.