My doctor gave me one of those heart-to-heart talks: You need to lose some weight and exercise more, he said. The "or else" was implied. I know that being overweight increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, strokes, and a million other bad things. But I just had to ask: Am I really overweight?
Actually, I'm more than overweight; I'm obese. Yeah, how do you like them apples? At 64 years old and standing 5'4, my scale now registers at 170 pounds. So according to those "what you should weigh" charts, I am 30 to 60 pounds overweight. In fact, at the point I stepped on the scale in my doctor's office, I had just tipped over into the "obese" category.
For the record, I look and feel fine. I've seen identical versions of this chart my whole adult life and I still don't get it. Was it designed with Barbie dolls in mind?
I just cannot reconcile the image I see in the mirror with what the weight charts have to say about it. Let me also say: Nobody insults my body or has made me feel bad about how I look. There is one simple reason why no one calls me "fat": I don't look overweight. I don't shop or wear plus sizes. But I do care about my health and I will drop some poundage and exercise more because my doctor told me to and I'm what's known as a compliant patient; in fact, I already have lost some weight and rediscovered my treadmill in the garage.
I just don't get why I had to. If you looked at me you wouldn't see an obese woman. I'm obese only because the charts that my doctor reads tell him I am. Yes, he factored in my family history and knows which diseases I am genetically prone to. But obese? Obese is just missing the mark. I've seen obese and it is not me.
So here's what I learned: There is no perfect science to knowing what we should weigh. We know that people who carry excessive weight are more prone to certain diseases but determining what is "excessive" when you are talking pounds has a lot of wiggle room. For those of medium build and medium muscle mass, the weight charts come close to being accurate. But for those with very large frames or significant muscle mass, they don't.
I also learned that the guy who dreamed up the Body Mass Index chart did so about 200 years ago. For real. The BMI was devised between 1830 and 1850 by a Belgian named Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet. He was a mathematician, not a physician, and his assignment was to determine how many people were obese in order to help the government allocate its resources.
I also learned that a growing chorus of voices think the BMI is flawed in some ways, principally among them that it doesn't take into account our relative proportions of bone, muscle and fat. "Bone is denser than muscle and twice as dense as fat, so a person with strong bones, good muscle tone, and low fat will have a high BMI," notes NPR, in its own take-down of the weight charts. Hence, athletes and people who work out a lot wind up being classified as overweight or even obese.
For a more boots-on-the-ground opinion, I turned to my buds at MyFitnessPal.com, no strangers to the topic of weight charts. One user there noted that at 5-feet tall, the charts tell her she should weigh somewhere between 98 pounds to 128 pounds. Not eager to be a "98-pound weakling," she says she's OK at 135 pounds. "That's where I look and feel healthy," she says. I hear ya.
Elle Penner, MyFitnessPal's registered dietitian, says that while it's a validated screening tool, BMI is not a diagnostic tool and doesn't take into account age, gender, or muscle mass. "A couple of scenarios where BMI might not be an accurate assessment of fatness include muscular folks who may have a high BMI but a low percentage of body fat, or inactive older adults who may have a seemingly normal BMI due to muscle lost with aging," she said.
The CDC website -- the place my doctor has bookmarked -- also notes that "Some people with a BMI in the overweight range" -- which is me -- "may not have excess body fatness, [although] most people with a BMI in the obese range (equal to or greater than 30) will have increased levels of body fatness." I missed "obese" by a fraction.
Bottom line from the CDC: Any questions or concerns about weight "appropriateness" should be discussed with a healthcare provider. Yeah, that'd be the same doctors who use these charts as their guides.
Why do I feel like this is a Catch-22?
Calories burned in an hour: 238 Doing one hour of reaching into cabinets, bending to pick up things on the floor, and tidying the house can definitely get you into shape. An hour of tidying will burn off the equivalent of a small container of McDonald’s French fries (230 calories).
Calories burned in an hour: 272 Gardening is a fitness powerhouse, and weeding is even better, clocking in at 306 calories burned per hour. Garden for two hours and wash away that 2-scoop hot fudge sundae with whipped cream (550 calories) you ate after dinner.
Calories burned in a half hour: 119 Mopping can strengthen your arms and work your legs. And though you probably won’t mop for a full hour (238 calories), a half hour can work off those pretzel sticks you ate as you were watching TV (110 calories).
Calories burned in an hour: 238 Get out the vacuum and instead of doing just one highly-trafficked room, maybe do your whole house. An hour of vacuuming will burn off a slice of chocolate cake (235 calories).
Calories burned in an hour: 170 riding a power mower Mow the lawn riding a power mower and you burn 170 calories, mow it by walking with a power mower and you burn even more—374 calories. But for the best workout of all, mow it by walking with a hand mower and you'll burn 408 calories, enough to take care of the quarter of a big bag of potato chips you couldn't stop yourself from eating (425 calories).
Calories burned in an hour: 204 If taking care of your grandchildren involves helping them take a bath, getting them dressed, and playing, then you're burning a pretty good amount of calories at the same time. One hour of babysitting for them takes care of 204 calories, the equivalent of a slice of pepperoni pizza (180 calories). And think how much you're burning if you're caring for them all day!
Calories burned in an hour: 476 Shoveling snow is hard work, but it's also the MVP of chores, burning a whopping 476 calories, enough to erase that slice of apple pie (411 calories) from your waistline.
Calories burned in a half hour: 85 Well, you’re not going to lose serious weight washing dishes, but you do burn some calories—enough to say goodbye to the calories from one homemade chocolate chip cookie (80 calories).
Calories burned in an hour: 68 Like washing dishes, doing the laundry isn't the most strenuous activity, however, you can burn enough calories to get rid of 3 chocolate Hershey kisses (66 calories).
Calories burned in a hour: 306 If you're a DIY person when it comes to fixing up your home, you burning a good amount of calories, too! Painting a room for an hour in your house will get rid of 306 calories as will laying a carpet or refinishing furniture. That's enough to say "Adios" to two slices of garlic bread (300 calories).
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