The truth about losing weight revealed

What’s your number? I’ll bet there’s a number on the scale, that you would love to see. It might be close, it might be far, but you know that when you reach it, things will be different. You look at that excess weight, and worry about your health. Your sights are focused on how you can lose weight, how you can get closer to that number and be healthier. Get the truth about weight and weight loss – you might have a couple of surprises.

What do you think? Remember to leave your comment below, and check out what other people are saying!

With so many public campaigns for people to lose weight, and so many report about shocking numbers of the population being classed as overweight or obese, is it any wonder that your thoughts, and my thoughts, are often on weight loss.

We hear in the media about diabetes, heart disease, and other major illnesses that affect millions of people every day. Doctors encourage their patients to lose some weight for their health, and to watch what they eat and get some exercise. We are constantly told about the obesity epidemic, and how weight is contributing to so many deaths, with the number rising every year.

It seems that the facts about weight, and the health benefits of losing weight are pretty clear.

That’s what I thought too. And I thought that finding healthy ways to lose weight was one of the most important things for good health. Indeed, many people I hear from are very concerned about carrying what they consider to be an extra 10 or 20 pounds. Perhaps you’re looking to lose that last 10 or 20 pounds?

From the reports I’ve seen lately, it seems pretty obvious that extra weight is linked to a great many health problems that have dire consequences (ie illnesses that could lead to death).

So prepare for a shock.

Weight, it seems, is no measure for health.

I’ll say that again, in a different way, to clarify. Judging whether someone is healthy or not by checking how much they weigh, unless they are underweight, or ‘morbidly obese’, is very much like judging whether someone is healthy by how tall they are, or how much hair they have on their head.

Sounds a bit far fetched, right?

I know, so I’m going to go to great effort to explain this as clearly as possible, and prove the case with research results.

BMI (body mass index) is a simplistic number that has been adopted by governments around the world, and the World Health Organization, to measure the body size of populations. Currently, the reports we hear about overweight people increasing in number and size, is based around the idea that a BMI number of between 25 and 29.9 is ‘overweight’. Above this is ‘obese’, of varying levels. It might be worth noting that it was the US Government’s National Institute of Health that decided 25 would be the cutoff for ‘overweight’; before that, the same organization had recommended 27.8 for men, and 27.3 for women. After the NIH made it’s decision, the WHO adopted the same numbers, and these have been used for the last 2 decades.

The key here is that the numbers for the ranges were not based on medical investigation or research; they were made arbitrarily, to make the scales simple and easy to follow.

So what’s the problem here?

Well, primarily, with the media’s love of stories about overweight and obesity, we are all under the impression that being ‘overweight’ goes hand-in-hand with having lower levels of health. Or, that is, that carrying ‘extra’ weight leads to health problems, that could be avoided by not carrying the extra weight.

We are also encouraged to change our weight, so that it falls within the acceptable ‘normal’ range, with the understanding being that normal weight means an average level of health that’s better than being in the overweight or obese categories.

With this is mind, reading the BMI chart results in many people being classed as ‘overweight’, and therefore these people (maybe you) will believe they need to change their weight in order to be as healthy as those in the normal category.

This is where the real problems show up.

1/ There is no evidence that someone who was in the overweight or obese category increases their level of health by changing their weight to the normal range

2/ There is scientific evidence that proves anyone with a BMI of between 18.5 and 30 is, on average, as healthy as any other person in that range. That includes every single person classified as ‘overweight’ by the BMI table.

And that’s why research is published, and available online. A study followed thousands of people over decades, and it shows clearly that the range of healthy weight, that is, the range of weights that don’t affect health in a negative way, are in fact those that equate to a BMI of between 18.5 and 30.

So let’s take a moment to consider what this means.

For starters, it means that every time someone goes to their doctor, and measures in at 28 on the BMI scale, their doctor may recommend trying to lose weight. Their doctor may also believe that their health is compromised by the patient’s weight, which is an incorrect conclusion. This may cause the individual to become depressed or stressed about weight loss, when this is not necessary. There is also some research that indicates a lowering weight, or a fluctuating weight is hazardous to health.

Secondly, insurance companies may use the BMI to determine premiums, or premium penalties, based on the idea that BMI may predict future health problems, an idea clearly not accurate for those in the  ’overweight’ category.

What else is there to learn?

Glad you asked. A few things, actually.

One of the more important facts is that being ‘underweight’, even by 5 pounds, is worse for your long-term health than being 100lbs overweight, or in BMI terms, being at or below 18.5 is more dangerous than being over 30.

Now that’s an interesting thought.

Another notable piece of information is that the health of those whose weight fluctuated, much like what happens when someone diets, and regains weight, was actually considerably worse than those whose weight stayed even over time.

And last but not least, a person classed as ‘overweight’ who is active is in fact just as healthy as a ‘normal’ weight person who is active, and is in fact healthier than a ‘normal’ weight person who is sedentary. So, it seems that activity level is a much better predictor of health than weight is.

So why the fuss over weight?

Well, it’s one of the easiest thing to measure, and to compare. And we all love comparing. It’s an easy target to market to, because everyone has scales in their home, and people have been trained to put belief in weight. Drug companies that market drugs based on cholesterol, for example, have to rely on you going to the doctor and getting that number checked. That’s why they market through doctors.

So why does everyone want to lose weight?

This may be a little controversial, but we live in an aesthetic society. What I mean by this is that we live in a society that is so fast paced, so complex and so chaotic, that we all learn to make snap judgements about what the visual, the first impression, or the book of the cover, means. Even if it turns out to be untrue. That’s why fake tan is so popular – a genuine tan, in western society at least, used to be linked to someone who spent time outdoors, which may conjure ideas of relaxation at the beach, recreation in the great outdoors, or working outside doing physical work, all of which suggest a healthy individual, who is likely a better bet as a friend, companion or partner, than someone who looks like they are less healthy, because they live a sedentary lifestyle. By now, however, it’s just the look of the tan that is appealing; the meaning is all but gone, but we still judge based on, literally, skin-deep appearances in this case.

But everyone knows losing weight is healthy, and that fit and lean people have the best health

Well, not quite. It’s true that someone who is fit, lean and healthy may be that way due to their regular participation in exercise, sports or activities that challenge their body, however, these days, with so many diet systems and methods available in the market, it’s quite possible that someone can achieve the lean, and even muscular body that normally belongs to someone who is very active, despite their not being terribly active, or perhaps even following protocols or supplement regimes that are harmful to their health. It’s a classic example of form over substance. Looks give a certain meaning, and most of the time, its the meaning from the looks that counts in our world.

Let’s check the research results

“The authors found that the hazard ratios of mortality for a BMI of <18.5 kg/m2 was 2.1 for the first follow-up period and 1.7 for the second. A BMI of 25-30 kg/m2 (‘overweight’) was not related to increased mortality. Among never smokers, the hazard ratios for a BMI of >30 kg/m2 were 1.8 for the 1960-1975 follow-up period and 1.4 for the 1970-1985 follow-up period. A BMI of >30 kg/m2 was not related to increased mortality among current smokers.”

“Significantly elevated hazard ratios for death from all causes, all cardiovascular diseases and other causes were found for men with a decreasing weight compared with men with a constant weight. A fluctuating weight was associated with an increased risk of all cause mortality, coronary heart disease and myocardial infarction”

“The risk of deaths from all-causes in ten years was least for men above average body weight and skinfold thickness.”

“Only two entry risk factors were significantly related to differences in heart attack incidence among cohorts: blood cholesterol accounted for more than forty percent of the variation in coronary death rate, while blood pressure and cholesterol together accounted for sixty percent.”


So should we just not care about weight?

Not exactly, though I do think far too much emphasis is placed on ‘weight’, and according to what’s above, it certainly looks like weight by itself is less important than we’ve been led to believe.

Take a look at exactly what the BMI numbers mean for a man, and a woman:

6′ man

137lbs – 18.6 bmi
160lbs – 21.7
175lbs – 23.7
183.5lbs – 24.9

185lbs – 25.1
195lbs – 26.4
210lbs – 28.5
220lbs – 29.8

230lbs – 31.2
245lbs – 33.2
260lbs – 35.3

Those who have no health risks due to weight:
BMI Normal and Overweight (BMI between 18.5 and 30) – 137 – 220lbs
83lbs variation

5’6″ woman

100lbs – 16.1
110lbs – 17.8
120lbs – 19.4
140lbs – 22.6
160lbs – 25.8
180lbs – 29
200lbs – 32.3
220lbs – 35.5

Those who have no risks due to weight alone:
BMI Normal and Overweight – 115-185lbs
60lbs variation

So, about that 10 or 20lbs you want to lose for your health.

Let me be clear that I have no objections to people wanting to lose weight. I think it’s a perfectly normal pursuit in the world we live in, and there’s no doubt that our society is build around serving and benefiting those who fit in the healthy, lean mold. Studies show people trust lean people more, and those people are favored in a variety of circumstances. Do I think this is right, or fair? No, but I also realize that I can’t change the entire world, so with that in mind, I’m sure millions of people, along with yourself, could read this, and still decide they want to lose some fat.

But here’s the most important part.

Whatever your weight loss goal, there’s two important considerations to make before you decide on how you’ll achieve it.

  1. Never attempt to diet or lose weight to get into the ‘unhealthy’ or ‘underweight’ range. The BMI charts are only reasonable estimates, as best, and this means if you’re aiming for a BMI of 18.5, then you could already be looking at an unhealthy weight for you in particular, and increasing your health risks in doing so
  2. Worries about weight, and health concerns, should be all be alleviated by this research. Wanting to be leaner is perfectly fine, however, the stress that some people experience over worrying about their health, may be unfounded and a waste of time. Plus, stress puts a strain on your health, so relax a little.
If you find yourself within the 18.5 – 30 BMI range, then consider your body to be ‘healthy’ with regards to weight. This means that you weight is not independently increasing your risk for premature death. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t at risk for specific illnesses.

Here’s the takeaway

As it turns out, dietary habits and exercise levels are much better indicators of health now and in the future. Diabetes risk is linked to dietary habits, and exercise levels, and many other illnesses are being studied, in relation to food choices and activity levels.
Focus on being active, and eating healthy foods, and you’re going to improve or maintain your health.
If you’d like to look great in favorite dress, or on the beach this summer in swim trunks, then focus on healthy diet and exercise approaches, with less worry about health implications of your weight. Just stay above the underweight zone.
Focus on gaining or maintaining muscle, reducing bodyfat percentage and you’ll find the fat easier to lose, and your weight will stay in the healthy zone much more easily, plus, you’ll look more lean, and probably feel better too.

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3 Responses to The truth about losing weight revealed

  • Dee Evans says:

    Yes you are right, it is a myth, and confusing for people. Jamie Oliver did an experiment with two men, one stocky who looked like he could lose a few pounds and one who was slim. The stocky man had a greater bmi. He had them MRI-ed. The scan showed that the stocky man had far more muscle mass and less fat around the organs than the slimmer man, the slimmer man was at more risk. So the BMI scale is not really correct is it, just a gauge. The “Body Fat” calculation is another one which I find interesting. You use measurements, from Hips, Wrist, Arm and one other I think. I am maybe a pear shape, where I carry my weight from my chest to just below the thighs. I thin out as you get towards my hands and feet. So I have really very small wrists. My boyfriend always goes on about “how tiny my arms and wrists are” in a cute wee way. Anyway, if I take those measurements and do the calculation, I come in at 32.3 approx body fat and I am then considered Obese!! Does this mean I am like the skinny guy, 67kg but 1/3 fat??? maybe but not obese!

    • Luke says:

      Hi Dee,
      Thanks for your thoughts here. You’re right that in a way, all these measurements are only best guesses. And then, even if you get an accurate measurement, there’s still not a lot of meaning derived from that – be it bodyfat, or some other measure like it. What it comes down to is risk factors – most of which are measured in a blood test – and other related factors like blood pressure. They are much stronger indicators, and are much more closely linked to exercise levels, not bodyweight, size, shape or fat level.
      All the best!

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