Bollocks to BMI

Originally I was going to call this post something like ‘Changing my relationship with food and exercise‘. That’s essentially what this post is about, but Bollocks to BMI felt more appealing, and apt.

I have said bollocks to BMI in so far as trying to not let my life be ruled by the number on the scales. After a lifelong difficult relationship with food – sweet treats have been an emotional crutch – I am improving my fitness and reducing my weight for the long-term physical and psychological benefits, not a short-term quick fix.

I am working out a lot, and thanks to my brilliant personal trainer have realised that I am capable of more than I ever realised. Exercise releases endorphins, those feel-good hormones; and an added bonus of the core strength, weights and resistance work I have been doing (and boxing!) is that it is a fantastic stress release.

A constructive stress release is what I have desperately needed since Hugo died. Working out has become a positive addiction, especially now I am seeing results with a total body reduction of 7.5 inches in six weeks.

And in a ground-breaking revelation, for the first time in my 38 years I have realised that cake will not provide a solution to my problems.

Me in my workout gear last week.

Me in my workout gear last week.

The trouble is, as much as I would like to say a big feck off to BMI, I can’t.

BMI relates to body mass index, that measurement used by health professionals to assess whether they a patient is a ‘healthy’ weight, based on that person’s weight and height. BMI can give a reasonable indication of that, but they can forget that BMI is a blunt tool that has its limitations, including not being able to tell the difference between fat, muscle and bone. You might have heard of toned, buff, muscly rugby players being classed as ‘obese’, for example.

To be fair to the fertility consultant who told me he would do nothing for me until my BMI had reduced, yes it was something I needed to do something about. The way it was done, however, was incredibly unfair, and insensitive. As I wrote in my open letter to that consultant he might not be a head doctor, but I am more than my reproductive system and health professionals need to get better at seeing the patient as a whole person, and as an individual.

He made me feel like a naughty little girl for having gained several kilos since the previous appointment four months earlier. My weight was, he said, the reason I was failing to ovulate, and therefore to conceive. I pointed out that women far heavier than me have healthy pregnancies and babies, to which the astute and ground-breaking observation was made: “life isn’t fair”. Thanks, doctor, I had figured that out all by myself two years ago when I was struck by an incredibly rare life-threatening pregnancy complication.

Fertility is an inexact science, and there are many reasons why a woman is not ovulating. Not every woman will ovulate every month, and I may well have had my blood test on the ‘wrong’ day – my cycle is no longer regular.

Weight can be a factor in screwing up a woman’s cycle, as can stress. And I have had stress in huge, fat quantities. Excess stress levels long-term leads the body collect to excess levels of cortisol (the hormone related to the ‘fight or flight’ reflex) which can lead to problems including weight gain, depression, and a weakened immune system, and therefore a big fat vicious circle for me.

During the time of that appointment I was still signed off work with depression and anxiety. Full of intense self-loathing, there had been many days when I had not even left the house. Food was my consolation.

Food and me have always had a difficult relationship. Chocolate and cake have provided me with solace during times of trouble ever since I can remember. Exercise and me have not been happy partners, either: a legacy of school sports where this clumsy, uncoordinated dreamer was usually picked last for teams (sob!).

Exercise and me developed a happier partnership during my 20s when Martin and I lived in New Zealand, and I got in to running. We would run up Mt Eden, a volcano in the Auckland suburb of the same name where we lived (don’t worry, it’s been dormant for centuries). When I first walked up it, I huffed and puffed and complained – I was so chuffed when I first ran up it.

Me at the top of Mt Eden, with a spectacular view over Auckland. This was taken before I started running - and as you can see from my face I wasn't too happy to have been dragged up there :-)

Me at the top of Mt Eden, with a spectacular view over Auckland. This was taken before I started running – and as you can see from my face I wasn’t too happy to have been dragged up there 🙂

Even then, as a size 10 (a US size 6) I wasn’t happy or confident with myself, though. I can remember being told by a GP that my BMI was in the ‘overweight’ zone. It seems bonkers that a UK size 10 can be labelled ‘overweight’. I am curvy with big boobs, and still being perceived as ‘overweight’ made me feel constantly self-conscious, with low self-esteem and self-confidence.

And what didn’t help was that I still wasn’t great with food. At that time I was a member of Weight Watchers and while it gave me results (I was the slimmest I had ever been!) it did nothing to resolve my dependence on edible treats to see me through tough times. Weigh day was stressful too, and an obsession that wasn’t helpful for my emotional wellbeing. Since then, my weight has been a yo-yo, and has probably buggered up my metabolism.

Me as a size 10, and still according to my BMI, 'overweight'.

Me as a size 10, and still according to my BMI, ‘overweight’.

The fertility consultant suggested I approach my GP for a referral to weight loss schemes – Slimming World, he suggested. While there are many people who have had fantastic results through similar schemes I know they are not for me (me, me, me). While it might have been getting me to that ideal BMI number a lot quicker, Slimming World for example has a ‘free food list [that] includes masses of food that you can eat in unlimited amounts’. That list includes pasta, which not only bloats me but I have learned gives me a sharp blood sugar spike that sends me straight for the chocolate when the levels crash. The weekly weigh-ins would have provided an additional stick to beat myself with, leading to increased stress and yet another big fat vicious cycle.

When I do get pregnant again, it will inevitably be a stressful time. Not only will stress be bad for me, cortisol can harm the unborn baby. Eating my way through the pregnancy will not be an option because extreme weight gain during pregnancy will add more risks to an already potentially high-risk pregnancy.

It’s about respecting my body, too. HELLP syndrome nearly killed me: my blood pressure so high I was at risk of a stroke, my liver about to rupture, and my kidneys on the verge of failure. Thankfully, I have made a full physical recovery but evidence suggests being so seriously ill can lead survivors to being susceptible to problems with these organs in later life. So, it makes sense for me to sort out my relationship with food and exercise to give myself the best chance physically and psychologically.

In a funny way I am grateful to the fertility consultant because despite the unnecessary additional upset he caused he has galvanised me (his attitude during the consultation also provides great motivation during boxing workouts!). I am nothing if not stubborn, and am determined to prove him wrong.

If I was to return to that fertility clinic today to be weighed, they are likely to still wag their finger at me because despite the massive inch loss, I have lost just half a kilo. A while ago, I would have been gutted and really pissed off with myself with such a small weight loss, especially considering how hard I have been working.

But for me, it is about so much more. For example on Easter Sunday which also happened to be the second anniversary of Hugo’s death instead of eating body weight in chocolate I managed my emotions going to gym (I remember smashing the battle ropes!). Earlier this week, after a particularly difficult therapy session that involved tears I didn’t seek out nearest cafe for cake.  The fact that cake will not fix anything is finally dawning on me. Working out is helping build not just my muscle mass, but my emotional resilience too.

The events of the past two years have shown me that physical perfection isn’t that important. I am no longer ashamed or embarrassed of my figure, even though I am bigger than the size 10 of a decade or so ago.

Eating is more sensible now, with lots of protein and good fats (I love avocado). Cake and chocolate are still available to me, but as an occasional treat rather than a major food group.

A whole Pinterest board has been dedicated to fitness inspiration to pick me up when my motivation might be flagging:

Follow Leigh // Headspace Perspective blog’s board Fitness // Badass Workout Inspiration on Pinterest.

I am strong, awesome, and while there is still a long way to go, I know I can achieve more than I ever thought possible. With working out feeling fun I even now want to workout rather than feeling I have to. I now realise more than ever that this girl can.

BMI (and weight in general) surely needs to be put in to the context of psychological as well as physical health if it is going to have any long-term lasting benefit. Sending me to Slimming World is the equivalent of the consultant psychiatrist who was eager to put me on anti-depressants to keep me going while I was on the very long waiting list for therapy (not being suicidal, I wasn’t considered a priority).

So for now, for me: bollocks to BMI. The quick fix does not solve the long-term problem.

Bollocks to BMI (1)

10 Comments on Bollocks to BMI

  1. Karen
    April 16, 2016 at 8:10 am (2 years ago)

    I hate BMI charts. They’re just one factor that should be looked at when looking at the health needs of a person, not the be all and end all. I’ve lost 38lb over the last year and a bit to reduce my BMI and get in better shape so that if we do get pregnant again, it’ll be easier on my body and better for me and a baby but like you I don’t find Slimming World or other things helpful. It’s what works for me that I’ve figured out. Good for you for taking control of your body and doing what works for you!

    Reply
    • Leigh
      April 18, 2016 at 11:33 am (2 years ago)

      Thanks so much Karen! Good luck with your own journey xx

      Reply
  2. Hannah Budding Smiles
    April 16, 2016 at 4:54 am (2 years ago)

    I hate the BMI charts, I think they do a hell of a lot more bad than good, especially to women (I know I’m generalising but it’s true ). What you’re achieving right now is absolutely bloody amazing and it’s not just about what you’re losing but what you’re gaining – a healthier outlook, an outlet for your stress and other emotions, a healthier heart and lifestyle.
    Bollocks to BMI indeed, you’re doing great xx
    Hannah Budding Smiles recently posted…The A To Z Challenge // Self Care – MMy Profile

    Reply
    • Leigh
      April 18, 2016 at 11:33 am (2 years ago)

      Definitely Hannah, good physical health should not be at the expense of emotional wellbeing! Thanks for your kind comment, lovely xxx

      Reply
  3. Amy @ Mr and Mrs T Plus Three
    April 14, 2016 at 11:21 pm (2 years ago)

    You my love, are an inspiration, I am so glad you used this title too, it’s very apt! I will admit I’m not happy with my weight at the moment and I know that there is no quick-fix and it will take hard work and determination. I honestly do think about you at spin class though! Proud of you and thanks for giving me a kick up the bum and reminding me of my own training schedule. You look frickin’ fabulous xxx
    Amy @ Mr and Mrs T Plus Three recently posted…Cheers review plus a Big Fat Box to giveaway!My Profile

    Reply
    • Leigh
      April 18, 2016 at 11:31 am (2 years ago)

      Thanks lovely, there certainly is no quick fix sadly! Keep on with the fab work! xx

      Reply
  4. Honest Mum
    April 14, 2016 at 8:43 pm (2 years ago)

    This is so incredibly inspiring Leith3, thank you for writing it. I’ve had a long history of eating problems which for the most part are under control but I’ve put on weight due to a close relative being unwell, a horrific time it was so easy to use food to soothe but in the long run, it does nothing but cause more stress. I’m determined to lose weight and to not lean on food. You are doing amazingly and like you, the best thing about working out is how it makes me feel psychologically. Here for you always hun and I’m so sorry by how insensitive the consultant was. Lots of love x

    Reply
    • Leigh
      April 18, 2016 at 11:30 am (2 years ago)

      It’s so easy to use food as a stress release isn’t it lovely – but working out can make you feel so much better no matter how difficult getting out there and doing it might feel! Love to you too xxx

      Reply
  5. Victoria
    April 14, 2016 at 2:30 pm (2 years ago)

    LOL…from a fellow ‘last to be picked for sports team’. Keep up the good work, you will get there!

    Reply
    • Leigh
      April 18, 2016 at 11:27 am (2 years ago)

      Thanks Victoria! xx

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comment *






CommentLuv badge