FAQ: “BMI, Natural, God-given size,” and what doctors call “healthy”

In today’s blog post, we answer a question asked by one of our readers.

If YOU have a question you would like to see answered, please post your question in the comments below!

One of our readers of our Thin Within blog asked this question:

Is the size I will land on by doing Thin Within diligently, a weight or BMI that my doctor would call “healthy?” I am not sure if I am at my God given size as I still mess up with 0 to 5….

Thank you so much for asking this great question!

Short answer: It depends. Maybe not!

Long (ok…REALLY long) answer:

Even amongst medical professionals there is disagreement about the value of the BMI. I want to address the first part of the question and then your comment about not being sure if you are at your God-given size. 🙂

I lost 100 pounds once with a popular regular dieting program in 1996. I rigidly restricted my food intake, trained for one marathon and another, strength trained, and was fitter and trimmer than I had ever been before. I was weighed hydrostatically (the dunk tank which was thought to be the most accurate measure of body composition) to see what percentage lean and percentage body fat I possessed after a year of dieting and exercising “religiously.” My results indicated 14.5% body fat which is very lean! I had started at 32% body fat according to the caliper test.

I wanted to be a meeting leader of that popular dieting program because the thought of helping others, thrilled me! I was so excited about the role this company played in giving me my life back again!

The interviews went well. The person interviewing me for the last interview said that she had to check a couple of things with “corporate” and she would bring forms (after she made a phone call) for me to sign to get the ball rolling for me to start working for them as one of their meeting leaders.

She came back a few minutes later and began asking me about my weight–the specific number. My primary care physician had previously sent a letter to this company telling them that I shouldn’t lose any more weight because I was healthy, but lean.” For a frame of reference, a search on Google about women’s body fat percentages brought up these numbers:

  • Top athletes: 15 to 20%
  • Fit women: 21 to 24%
  • Healthy/acceptable: 25 to 32%

So, given I was just under 15%, it wasn’t a good idea for me to lose more weight.

Heidi’s body, according to body composition testing, is healthy here. Her weight on the scale, however, is a lot higher than most. The place she fell on the BMI when she was in this condition was “OVERWEIGHT” close to “OBESE.” !?

Even though my body fat percentage was so low, my weight was high (muscle weighs more than fat). I was fit, I was active, healthy,  muscular. When the lady interviewing me returned after her phone call, I was told that they wouldn’t hire someone with a doctor approved recommended weight if it was higher than the highest “healthy” range BMI. My BMI, given my weight, was 29!!! Just three points below OBESE!!! 14.5% body fat and almost obese? I wasn’t even CLOSE to needing to lose more weight!

I did the calculations to find out what would happen if I lost ONLY fat (not the muscle I had worked so hard to build) in order to get down to the highest number within my acceptable BMI. The calculations I made at the time landed me at 11% body fat! This is a number that is associated with women who struggle with anorexia. No thank you very much.

Soon after that experience, I ended up being admitted to the hospital with a challenging health crisis. They had to restrict what I could eat…that little sign “NPO” that means “NOTHING PASSES ORALLY”…all my meals and liquids came to me through an IV. After 10 days in the hospital with NPO for most of the time, I had lost more weight all right. I had another body fat composition test and it indicated that my body fat %  had gone up even though my weight went down! My body had metabolized some of the muscle or other lean tissue (my body had thought it was starving when I wasn’t allowed to eat, so it had begun to “burn” the stores…most of which were muscle, not fat!).

Photo Courtesy of iStockPhoto

Had I gone to the organization that I had almost been hired to work for previously, they might have PRAISED the accomplishment of arriving at a lower number on the scale. What was true, though? I had less muscle and more fat percentage wise. Once again, my own experience defied the value of the BMI. I was literally *more fat* than I had been at a higher weight.

Another incident that formed my view of BMI and doctors came when I had a doctor (temporarily, as it turned out) who considered BMI as a guide for her patients’ weights. During my normal physical, she expressed concern about the number on the scale, which was higher than most women my age and height who have no weight to lose. I would have been hard pressed to lose any weight without cutting in to the lean on my frame once again. Singles and doubles competitive tennis several hours on most days, combined with working out with “TurboFire” on some of those days (I loved all of this!) and I was in fighting shape!

Many of us have a body type that, when we are at our leanest, we nevertheless, simply will NOT land in the BMI–not without being anorexic!

“No more dragon lady doctor!” I decided to schedule an appointment with a new primary care doc. I told him about the conclusion of the other doc and he was noticeably  surprised that she concluded I needed to lose some weight. He told me that regardless of what the BMI said,  I looked fit and I was active and not to give it another thought.

How could both be right?

If one doc can see this differently from another, I imagine God may see it very differently from docs, too! 🙂

So, for the reader who asked the question…I guess you can see why I don’t give the BMI much credence.

Only the Lord knows what the best size and shape is for you today. I personally believe that what our size (weight) was in high school is NOT a good indicator of our “natural God-given size” today…today, after we have had 3 babies. Today, after we have gone through menopause… So often we are chasing after the “skinny idol.” That may not be the case for everyone…but it is for many of us.

That said, it really is true that if we renew our minds, if we realize that our hearts are deceitfully wicked and that they try to fool us often and will if we aren’t vigilant and hyper-aware, if we are committed to eating only when hungry and stopping when no longer hungry, and do the best we can, observing and correcting each time we “mess up,” allowing God to redeem all our mistakes and stumbles, we will get to a size that we can live with to sustain. This is a place of peace. It isn’t anxiety producing.

Do I really WANT to insist that I should get smaller if it would mean being hungry more often and not eating? A lot of people on diets or even using Thin Within principles, lose/release a lot of weight and wonder why they can’t get the last four or five or even 10 pounds off. We need to ask ourselves what we can live with and enjoy peace with ourselves, food, God, and our bodies without any anxiety.

As for our reader’s comment about “I am not sure if I am at my God given size as I still mess up with 0 to 5″  reality is, we are on a journey of sanctification. It is, by definition, progressive. I don’t believe we WILL ever be “perfect” in 0 to 5 eating this side of heaven. I really believe that life is composed of steady steps taken, one at a time, in a Godward direction…then out of nowhere (it seems)…OOPS! We slip! We overeat and go past 5 or pre-empt 0. That is the way of things. Do I really think that I can get the “last” 5 pounds off and keep it off if it means I have to be PERFECT? No way! I know I can’t be perfect!

God longs for us to allow His grace to cover us. When we observe our behavior, our choices, our struggles and invite God to show us what corrections we can make so we can be equipped for victory in the future when all things are equal, we are applying God’s grace to our repentance. His KINDNESS leads us to repentance.

So, dear reader, what do you think? Should you look for a doctor to confirm that you are, indeed, within the BMI? Or is it possible that you are healthy even if you aren’t  perfectly matched to the numbers that the BMI chart (created in the 1830s, by the way) says you should be? Will you ever be PERFECT about eating only between the parameters of physical hunger and physical satisfaction?

God’s ways are perfect. He created your body, food, eating, all withOUT the BMI in mind. The BMI is a man-made tool and while it has its usefulness (I guess…I am not sure what it is, to be honest), it is nevertheless not to be given authority over our lives.

That all said, if you are eating 0 to 5 nine times out of 10 and maintaining a size that is physically comfortable for you…maybe that is your stopping point. You just keep on eating 0 to 5 and you will stop releasing weight, but start maintaining the same size. This is a wonderful place to be. No new maintenance plan. We keep doing what we did the entire time we were releasing the weight!

Now, then, reader, will you rest in the blessings he has supplied?

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9 Responses to FAQ: “BMI, Natural, God-given size,” and what doctors call “healthy”

  1. Suzanne Berry "Suzy" May 21, 2018 at 11:36 am #

    Eating without restrictions, is true freedom, as is eating when one is truly hungry. “All Good things come to those who wait” Hunger pangs can be ethereal, but not truly “hunger” It takes about 3-4 days to master what true hunger is and sticking with it. I got tired of restrictive diets like low carb diets which only produced more desire for “the forbidden fruit” This way of eating is very simple. I don’t think about food until dinner time,….and eat whatever my body is in the mood for. Eventually the body knows what nourishment it needs.

  2. LouRae May 21, 2018 at 6:42 pm #

    I love this post! I have not seen BMIs addressed like this before. I’m glad it is not only me that is still considered “overweight.” I am a larger than average woman who will never be considered petite or even thin. But I have come to accept this as my God-given size. I can’t fight heredity and genes. I have maintained my current weight for three years. I originally thought I still needed to lose 20 more pounds (which would put my BMI at a “normal” weight.) I am much happier now having accepted my body where I am. And “maintaining” does not take much effort beyond eating 0-5 most days.

    • Heidi Bylsma May 21, 2018 at 7:14 pm #

      Hi, Lourae. Thanks for commenting. Congratulations for staying a healthy size and, most of all, letting go of insisting on getting more weight off. Good for you for accepting your body where God apparently has landed you! 🙂

    • Carisa Guerrera May 23, 2018 at 8:41 pm #

      Wow that was great… I needed to read your post. Growing up I was always judged so hard by my Mom and what my body looked like… I take after the bigger side of my family… I had a doctor in my church none the less tell me that I needed to lose almost 50 pounds. Which would make me 120 pounds! I told her I don’t look good being that thin…but she insisted that there was plenty of room on the BMI chart for everyone! Heidi even said It was created in the 1830s I think they updated it again and added 10 pounds an inch…still not enough for me! But the point that I wanted to get to is I have peace the me like you don’t fit onto the BMI chart and you have victory in how your body looks…you are comfortable! Praise God! May God Bless You!😚

  3. Kathryn Felts May 21, 2018 at 9:31 pm #

    I ℓσνє this blog post! God and I both know I’m not where I need to be, yet. Definitely not close, but wayyy closer. Man’s ways, and doctors seem to change with the wind. Acceptable blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, etc., has dropped about 3 times over the past 30 years. I haven’t paid attention to acceptable BMI. If they can’t even stick with what foods are “good,” I’ve just decided to let God worry about what I should weigh and how I should eat, using the common sense He gave me.

  4. Emily Felts May 27, 2018 at 3:05 am #

    Thank you thank you for this Heidi! “We need to ask ourselves what we can live with and enjoy peace with ourselves, food, God, and our bodies without any anxiety. Do I really think that I can get the “last” 5 pounds off and keep it off if it means I have to be PERFECT? No way! I know I can’t be perfect!” Amen, sister.

    Praise God that “God longs for us to allow His grace to cover us!” Heidi, this is a new place that God is bringing me to these past few weeks…a peace with what my body looks like and is composed of at this moment. Maybe getting “back to pre-baby weight” is not what my body will ever do. God’s priorities are not mine.

  5. Michelle Everett August 23, 2018 at 8:47 pm #

    I agree with your assessment that BMI is not the greatest way to measure whether or not one is at a healthy weight. I do, however, disagree with your statement that “muscle weighs more than fat.” A pound is a pound is a pound. 16 oz of fat is the exact same weight as 16 oz of muscle; it just doesn’t look as good. A toned body will always look better. Please don’t buy into that myth that muscle weighs more. It simply doesn’t.

    • Heidi Bylsma August 24, 2018 at 9:45 am #

      Actually, Michelle, what I was referencing is the fact that fat is less dense than muscle. If you have a cup of fat (volume wise), it will weigh less than a cup of muscle. This is what many people refer to when they say “muscle weighs more than fat.“ That is certainly what I mean. Practically speaking, what this means is a person who is in a size 10 may weigh more, than a person who is in a size 12 but is less muscular. Weight is not A reliable indicator of what is going on in the body. Thanks for commenting!

  6. Margaret September 17, 2018 at 11:09 pm #

    I would like to start this program. How can I do that? I’d like a coach. I have the book.

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