BMI- Does it matter?

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BMI, or body mass index, was a measurement created to determine whether or not an individual is obese or overweight. Recently, however, more studies are showing that BMI isn’t such a great marker for health. BMI doesn’t take into account many important health behaviors such as exercise, nutrition, and sleep.  In some studies, many individuals classified as “overweight” by BMI standard were healthy by other measures, like glucose, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, and blood pressure. Conversely, individuals with a “healthy” BMI were not found to be healthy via the same measures.

 

Even more importantly, medical professionals have found that evaluating children and adolescents using BMI could trigger eating disorders or disordered eating.

 

Many nutritionists and dieticians agree that there are better ways to measure health than just BMI. Here are some ways to determine if you’re on the right path that don’t have anything to do with BMI:

 

  1. Maintaining weight. Individuals should be able to fall into a biologically appropriate weight through exercise, adequate sleep, and intuitive, regular eating. If you’re constantly tired and hungry or exhausted from over-exercising, you may not be at a healthy weight.
  1. Proper nutrition. A restrictive diet is likely to cause someone to miss out on appropriate and necessary nutrients. It’s important to eat a range of foods—even desserts—as nothing is bad in moderation.
  1. Thinking about food too much. Being obsessed with eating or weight loss may have detrimental effects on many areas of your life. Moreover, thinking about food all the time may be a sign of malnourishment.
  1. Eating your feelings. Once in awhile, we might eat for comfort. For the most part, it’s not good to eat to deprive yourself of food for emotional reasons—like eating only a salad to feel in control. Food is meant to sustain you, not comfort your or prove how “good” you are.
  1. Exercise. There are many different ways to exercise, so even if you find that going to the gym is boring or makes you resent exercise, there are many other forms you can try. It’s important to find a method you enjoy, instead of suffering through something you dislike.
  1. Rules around food. When we construct rules around eating food, we move away from natural hunger cues from the body. Additionally, rules about food can lead to more serious problems.

 

Difficulties with Body Image

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Issues with body image and disordered eating are commonly thought of as problems that primarily affect women and girls. However, there has been an increase in the prevalence of difficulties with body image and eating disorders among men and boys. There are many important discussions surrounding male body image that should be addressed.

More and more in the media, male characters are portrayed with perfect physiques. This can negatively impact males’ perceptions of body image. It may also lead to misconceptions regarding weight and muscularity. Research has shown that many males believe that a lean, muscular body shape is the ideal body type. Failure to conform to this standard may lead to body dissatisfaction.

Males also take extreme measures to lose weight or obtain an ideal body. The rates of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa have been increasing among males. Even rates of disordered eating behaviors, like laxative abuse and fasting, are as common among males as they are among females.

Body image difficulties among men are highly stigmatized. There are many reasons for this. First, men are often looked down upon for talking about their concerns regarding their body and body image. Because issues with disordered eating are often viewed as female disorders, men dealing with such problems maybe be labeled as feminine. Additionally, men face backlash for seeking psychological help.

Healthy eating: How much is too much?

There’s a lot of pressure to make sure that the food you eat is “healthy,” but sometimes, focusing on eating healthy food can go too far. The obsession with and fixation on eating healthy food, known as orthorexia, can be dangerous. For some individuals, genuinely wanting to eat healthy may become a problem if the person becomes consumed with what and how much to eat, the quality and purity of food, and self-punishment when the diet is broken. The obsession with quality and purity of food can cause someone to continue to restrict the types and amounts of food until health begins to suffer—restrictive diets often cause nutritional deficits.

As with many disordered eating behaviors, an obsession with healthy food can lead to withdrawal from activities and interests and impairment in relationships. Some individuals focus their time solely on planning their meals and their food intake.

The line between health and obsession can be difficult to differentiate. Here are several signs that someone may be having difficulty with food:

  • Preoccupation with the purity or healthiness of foods
  • Avoiding foods that you label “unhealthy”
  • Spending a large amount of time per day researching foods and preparing “healthy” foods
  • Feeling guilty after you eat foods that are “unhealthy”
  • Engaging in exercise or food restriction after eating foods you deem unhealthy or impure
  • Judging others for their diets

 

 

 

 

Defining Disordered Eating

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New pressures in college, including increased responsibilities, workload, and focus on friends and decrease in structure, may mix with anxiety, poor self-esteem, and perfectionism. For some individuals, this may lead difficulties with body image and eating. Social pressures during college may cause someone to believe they need to look or act a certain way. Or, someone may turn to controlling their diet and exercise in response to the difficulties in college. There are many ways that someone might develop an eating disorder or disordered eating. Disordered eating is not a type of diagnosable eating disorder, but is a serious concern for college students. Disordered eating behaviors include fad dieting and “clean” or restrictive eating. There are some signs that someone may be developing disordered eating behaviors.

  • Talking about food. Someone that talks about food in a judgmental or obsessive way may be heading toward a controlling or unhealthy relationship with food. Food is a necessary part of a balanced life and is fuel for the body. Individuals struggling with disordered eating may obsess over healthy versus unhealthy food, calories, eating too much, or different types of diet.
  • Negative body talk. Along with many other aspects of life during college, bodies also may change. In conjunction with social demands, some people start to compare themselves to others and view their body negatively.
  • Altered behaviors. Because of the many ways disordered eating behaviors occur, not everyone will develop the same type of behaviors. However, difficulties with eating and body image may generally result in someone withdrawing from social events, wanting to be alone when eating, or increasing the time they exercise.

It may sometimes be difficult to recognize disordered eating behaviors: more often than not, peers deem these behaviors to be acceptable. However, statistics show that up to 35% of normal dieters progress to unhealthy dieting- of those, 20-25% of individuals develop a diagnosable eating disorder. Early intervention in the case of disordered eating could prevent severe illness later.

For more information, check out the resources available through the Student Counseling Center.