Weight Loss and Measuring Up (Or Down)

Posted by Filed Under: Health & Fitness, Nutrition, Running Tips

Losing weight is one of those perennial goals that people start in earnest this time of year. That includes runners vowing to shave their race times by paring down a few (or more) pounds. And thatís why many of us in the past week have headed to a calorie-counter or weight-loss site to first determine how much we can eat and still lose weight.

The Body Mass Index is a popular tool to determine an ideal weight. It’s the formula behind those online calculators asking current height and weight before graphically letting you know where you stand. The results can be surprising, and deceptive. Thin people are not necessarily healthier than heavier ones if they have a poor diet damaging their organs. But the BMI makes no distinction because it doesnít take into account what you eat or how often you work out. It has no idea of body fat versus muscle mass either. Numerically, agencies like the Centers for Disease Control consider anyone with a BMI of 25 or higher to be “overweight” and anyone under 18.5 to be too thin. Almost every U.S. professional football player falls way out of normal range on those charts. So did Michael Jordan when he played for the NBA and Arnold Schwarzenegger during his Mr. Olympia days.

Last year economist J. Eric Oliver published a book claiming Americans’ obesity epidemic is overstated by some influential doctors and members of government and fueled by social prejudice promoted by the billion-dollar drug and diet industries. BMI is widely used to track obesity statistics because of its neutrality, he explained, but its origins are rooted in astronomy. A Belgian named Adolphe Quetelet in the 1800s developed a mathematics law to predict the likelihood of a phenomenon based on repeated observations. To test his theory, he collected height and weight data on French and Scottish troops and found a range of weights to statistically constitute a normal distribution by heights. We know this better as a bell curve.

A century later, the insurance industry, in search of a mechanism to determine mortality rates, built upon those ancient charts by using similar weight ranges to help predict the likelihood of early death. The CDC eventually adopted the formula to determine American obesity levels.

There is no doubt that excess weight for runners—or anyone—has its drawbacks, which is why so many of us seek to be slimmer. The key is to lose the extra pounds slowly through proper portions and healthful foods while maintaining or eventually increasing calories expended through exercise. A good starting point in developing a sound strategy are 10 Tips from The President’s Council on Physical Fitness. Yes, these suggestions are designed for kids, but aren’t we all still children at heart?

About Anne

Anne’s been running for so long that when two paths diverge in the woods, not only she does she know to go for the one with the most foreboding weeds, swarms of bees and steep, rocky climbs, but she convinces everyone else to come along. Then, before people are done cursing and nursing insect bites, bloody knees and poison oak outbreaks, she’ll again run — away. She eschews a lot of the newfangled devices that are supposed to make you a better runner because she believes it’s what you put into your body, not on it, that really matters. (Footwear is the exception.) That includes proper nourishment of the mind, which we all know is what really makes the difference on the road…and the trail…and the track. At some point she started to realize that not everyone has run into an Alaskan grizzly bear, been pegged by police as a robber, lost her shorts in a major marathon, rubbed elbows with Olympians, mistaken movie stars for beach bums and watched a wildfire consume her suburb - yes, while she was on a long run. Whether it’s these unique situations, or the universal ones every recreational runner encounters, after she lives it, she loves nothing better than to write about it at Run DMZ.

  1. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on January 9th at 10:58 am

    I am a big fan of aiming for 1 pound of weight loss or gain per week, and to try to limit it to that. Chances are better that you will keep that weight on/off if it is gradual rather than a sudden change to your body. The trick is to weigh yourself every day first thing in the morning before you have eaten but after you empty your bladder, and to then use your weekly average.

  2. Mark Iocchelli on January 9th at 2:05 pm

    Mine is 23 so, according to the chart, I am ok. That said, I think I am ok in comparison to lots of people BUT I know I am not as healthy as I could/should be.

  3. Funky Dung on January 10th at 2:08 pm

    I’ve been tracking both BMI and body fat percentage for about 3 years. The best I can say for BMI is that it’s a very stable asymptotic upper bound to body fat percentage. As such, it’s a good tool for scaring people in eating better and exercising. For those of us who’ve already made that decision, BMI isn’t very useful (IMHO).

  4. Soozan on January 10th at 7:08 pm

    Oiy. I’m 34%. I have much work to do, but I’m on my way . . . .

  5. kev grant on January 12th at 2:10 am

    I have been borderline or actually overweight according to the BMI all my life, including when I was 22, without an ounce of fat on me and running marathons. BMI is one of those calculations that will work on the median (majority) of people but there will always be exceptions where it is patently wrong ..bodybuilders as mentioned will also be shown as heavily overweight with bf percentages of 4% etc.

    however when the readings get into 30+ its a usually reasonable indicator of action needed.

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