I want to talk about some of the better alternatives to BMI. I’ve heard this number bounced around quite a bit. It stands for Body Mass Index, and it is an equation (based on height and weight) that is done to give you a rough indication of whether you are overweight, or underweight, or so on.

If you are a very muscular person, your Body Mass Index is going to imply you are overweight, when usually that isn’t the case – it’s because you have got the dense muscle mass. So it’s not an accurate number, but that said, I’m not particularly keen on any number that you can apply to somebody’s body composition (which I think is a better way of describing things).

Body composition is how your body is composed of water, muscle, fat, and bone. For most people, we want a little bit more muscle, and in some cases, quite a bit less fat, but body composition is the right term.

What am I a fan of?

Look in the mirror. Be objective. Are you happy with what you see based on your own measurements, not some warped distortion of what you should look like that’s been propounded to you by the media, for example? Are you happy with how you feel? That’s probably the most critical subjective measure of all. Do you feel fit? Do you feel good? Do you feel happy based on your own personal standard?

And of course, you can bounce off other people to get their perspective, but really, it’s about you and how you feel.

My final measure that I’m really keen on is functional fitness. Can you do the things that you want to do? Can you climb the stairs in the time that you want to get up the stairs? Can you lift your shopping, lift your children, play with your children? Are you able to lift your suitcase off the carousal in an airport? If you can’t do any of those things, then your functional fitness is probably what you need to focus on.

Rather than obsessing about a number, try to focus on your functional fitness, and focus on how you feel, focus to a degree on how you look – but not primarily.

And as a final measure, the thing that never lies is an item of clothing. A jumper isn’t going to expand to make you feel better or shrink to really irritate you, so having a piece of clothing that you want to get back into can also be a good measure, because these things don’t change – if it’s too baggy or too tight, it’s you that has changed.

But you must focus primarily on how you feel.

You can check out my TEDx talk, Why Fitness Is More Important Than Weight, if you want to get a bit more on this idea.

Leanne Spencer

This article first appeared in the August 2019 issue of SE22 magazine.