The Body Mass Index is one of the most ridiculously misleading calculations still used in the modern medical community. It was invented in the early 19th century by a Belgian dude named Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet, who was a mathematician, not a physician. The formula was used to measure the degree of obesity in the general population for the purposes of assisting the government in allocating resources. It is defined as a person’s body mass divided by the square of their height (kg/m2). The biggest problem is that it ignores the ratio of muscle to fat in the body. That’s a big deal when you realize that muscle is 18% denser than fat, and healthier.
I was first introduced to the insanity of the Body Mass Index in my twenties when my health insurance provider notified me that they were increasing my monthly payment due to my “obesity problem.” I was 6 ft. 1, weighed 225 lbs., and was at 8% body fat. I was bench-pressing 315 pounds. I asked them what crack they were smoking to call me obese. As it turns out, health insurance companies love using the Body Mass Index because they can label a healthy guy (high testosterone, ample muscle mass, and low body fat) as “unhealthy” and thus charge them more.
If we want to have an intelligent conversation about health, we need to look at body composition (muscle vs. fat) and have separate conversations depending on whether we are talking about men or women. Why? Because higher levels of testosterone create greater muscle mass in men while higher levels of estrogen coerce the female body to hold on to more fat.
Looking at this picture, you can quickly see why testosterone makes all the difference in men. Both of these pictures are of men with 10% body fat. The higher testosterone levels, higher protein intake, and workout routine of the guy on the left gives him twice the muscle mass as the swizzle stick on the right. If we were judging the health of these two by their Body Mass Index, we’d say the guy on the right is in better shape. Wrong!
If you’re a guy just starting to get into shape, let me give you three basic metrics. First is body fat percentage. Get a hydrostatic body fat test done (as this is the only accurate body fat test). The results of that test will tell you how much fat (not weight, but fat) you need to lose. Next get your VO2 Max tested at your local gym. This will tell you how good a shape your cardiovascular system is in. More time on the elliptical machine at your gym will lower your body fat percentage and increase your VO2 Max. Finally, how many times can you bench press your body weight? If you can’t bench press your body weight, you’re in bad shape. If you can do it ten times, you’re probably in great shape. Have a blood test done to check your testosterone level, eat more protein, and lift heavy to put on muscle mass.
By looking at this picture, we can easily learn two very important things about women. Both of these women have 15% body fat (50% more than the guys pictured above). As mentioned above, women are built to hold more body fat than men. This is normal, due to estrogen and the fact that women need more body fat for when they get pregnant. Also, women have lower testosterone than men and thus have smaller muscles.
Stepping onto my soapbox now… muscles are masculine. Women can work out all they want, but without elevated testosterone levels, they can’t pack on muscle like men. Women who have packed on muscle have by definition lost their femininity. You can’t take on masculine characteristics and maintain your femininity (no matter what the feminists say).
If you’re a woman wondering what my definition of feminine and in shape is, please allow me to invite some hate mail. As I’ve said before, a woman shouldn’t be over 125 pounds, unless she’s a giraffe. A woman with normal testosterone levels isn’t going to pack on muscle by default. So if her argument is, “But I’m just muscular,” she needs to get her hormone levels checked, lower her overall caloric intake, eat less protein, and spend more time on the elliptical machine. One thing that “muscular” (big) women don’t understand is that a low caloric intake coupled with low resistance, high intensity, long duration training will actually burn muscle with fat. Small is feminine. Let me put this another way: get a hydrostatic body fat test done. If you’re at anything above 13% (essential fat necessary for basic physical and physiological health in women) you have room for improvement. There is no non-pregnant woman on the planet who is more healthy at 25% body fat than 15% body fat. Stop making excuses, eat like a girl, and get on the elliptical machine. For more information on losing muscle to become more feminine, read this. For the secret to fat loss, read this.
Because men have a greater variation in muscle mass than women, the Body Mass Index tends to be more accurate for women than men. That being said, any “medical professional” still using the Body Mass Index needs to have their license revoked. It’s not until you know someone’s body composition that you can accurately start to evaluate whether they are healthy or not.
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