Thursday, February 18, 2010

When Weight Doesn't Tell the Whole Story

Today we're talking about weight.  Because it's something I reflect on regularly in my own life and had another run-in about it on Tuesday.  And it's something that I'm willing to be very honest and open in discussing.

It was a routine check-up at the doctor.  I've consistently been 165-166 pounds for years, both before and after Marissa was born.  In the last month, I had actually consistently started seeing 163 on the scale at home.  But for one reason or another (time of day, clothes, etc), compared to last year's weight on their scale of 167, I showed up a few pounds heavier at 171 that day.

The doctor came in, and she immediately pointed this out as a major concern.  She tells me that ideally she'd like to see me about 30-35 pounds lighter so there's a health concern about my current weight!  I looked her straight in the eye and said, "I don't know what to tell you.  I know what you are seeing, but I ran 8 half marathons last year.  I've already run 4 half marathons this year.  I'm consistently running about 25-27 miles per week.  I do love my junk food, but I don't go way overboard with it."  She was stunned.

"Wait, how many half marathons?" she said.

Yeah, ya heard me right.  She said, "Well, then let's not even worry about this number.  We don't need to discuss it again." 

I said, "No, really, do you think there's a problem?  I also don't understand why I'm 30-35 pounds over the "ideal weight" for someone my height. I've increased my running consistently over the last 1 1/2 years and my weight does not move.  Is there a problem?"

She said, "Are you happy with how your clothes fit?"

I said, "Well, I'm a size 12.  I'm not a size 6, but, yeah, I'm fine with it."

She said, "Good, then don't worry about it again!"

She then went on to look at my blood pressure that had just been taken and told me it looked great.  She looked at the blood test we took a year ago for cholesterol and did a double-take - turns out my cholesterol is EXCELLENT!

As we moved on, I ended the weight/health discussion with telling her how I had recently been thinking a lot about how this felt to me like I was in the best shape of my life so far.  Healthier than even back around the year 2003 where I had a personal trainer I saw once a week, regularly lifted weights in the gym, did Pilates 4-5 times a week, and was 30 pounds lighter!  I don't think I could have run a mile without keeling over and dying back then. :-) Even if I did look so much "healthier".

Yes, I know I have a less than ideal fat percentage. And I'm not abdicating responsibility - I know that if I ate healthier, I would lose more weight.  My point is that it goes to show, weight is just a number, it doesn't tell the whole story.  Yes, it can be a helpful metric towards quantifying a person's health.  But it needs to be considered along with a number of other variables and factors. 

What is Ideal Weight?
A lot of doctors and health professionals still advise people about their weight based on BMI.  This was what led my doctor to discuss that my generally ideal weight should be 130-135 pounds.  But BMI was crafted as a ratio derived from only two things: height and weight.  It doesn't take gender, physical activity level, body fat percentage, or frame/build into account.  It then categorizes ranges of the ratios into Underweight, Normal Weight, Overweight, and Obese. For me, I'm right towards the bottom, but still IN, the overweight category with a 25.5 BMI (25.0 is the bottom of the overweight category).  And to be 130-135 pounds would put me squarely in the middle of the "normal weight" range.  Want to see more about why BMI is a bogus measurement?  NPR gives you 10 reasons!

So I know this antiquated measure does not define my state of health.  And I'm very glad my doctor and I could have that conversation and talk through some of those other variables.

And if you are running more and GAINING weight?
On a related note, I've heard a lot of people who gain weight as they increase running mileage or do longer runs or train for half or full marathons.  So to close, here are a couple tips for runners to avoid weight gain (aside from the standard Eat Healthy):
  1. Don't use long runs or high miles as an excuse to eat anything and everything you see.
  2. Watch your hunger after a long run. Don't binge!
  3. Keep hydrated! Helps keep weight off and good for you as a runner anyway.
  4. Recognize that weight gain or lack of weight loss (weight plateau) could be a sign of increased muscle mass. By keeping track of body measurements and body fat %, you can confirm that's the cause.
How did you choose your ideal weight?  What methods did you use to determine that?  And how are you measuring your progress if shooting for a goal healthy weight?


  1. Great post! I'm too tired to reply appropriately, but I wanted you to know I applaud this post!!!

  2. Great post! I'm still trying to lose some more weight (I had a little more to begin with ;) but I totally agree with your points. In some ways, I'm in the best shape of my life (can run further than I ever have before!) but still overweight. I'm working on it though :)

  3. Excellent, Excellent POST! I am continually frustrated by all these suggestions that we be in the correct BMI range based off height weight/etc. Being 6'1" 218 or so lbs, I still fall nearly into the obese category. On my frame, if I were in the ideal range, I would look "sick", but that is where I should be according to blah blah blah. Thanks for a great post!

  4. Love this post. I'm all over the place with my thoughts on weight. I'm not where I want to be at all. I piled on 20 lbs over the past couple of years (which I suspect is largely due to a medication I was taking and perhaps a couple of other factors) and it's got me bummed out, I can't lie. I FEEL great (due to running and yoga) but I don't like the way I look at all. But, according to all the tests, I'm super healthy. So what to do?

  5. Personally, I feel it is much less important to focus on weight than on the question, "How am I fueling the body?" Focusing on weight loss/gain distracts my mind from the truth about what our bodies need to be healthy and perform. Weight is only one variable in an overall health equation. And by perform, I mean the ability to run, but I also mean our emotional state and daily energy needs. If I have good numbers now on a health report, run regularly, but I eat junk and I don't eat in a healthy way on a daily basis, eventually that is going to catch up with me. My running performance will suffer. My emotional, physical, and mental state is impacted by what I chew up and swallow and that is a fact. I think it is important to focus on improving all aspects of overall health. If we leave out healthy eating, we are just fooling ourselves.

    On another note, no amount of weight loss has ever helped me feel better about my body image, but practicing gratitude for what my body does for me certainly has changed the way I see myself. This gratitude also impelled me to repay the body by fueling it in a way that honors my gratitude for being able to run all those miles.

    Just a couple thoughts.

  6. Amen sister. This is gonna hit home with lots of folks.

  7. Great post! I started running to lose weight and in the beginning it worked out great. I lost 20 pounds before I started running and 30 pounds after but I've been stuck at the same weight for about 4 months now. Like you, I don't eat perfect all the time but I certainly don't eat junk all the time either. I've decided that after I do my half I'm going to start focusing on weight training along with running to help build some muscle to burn the fat. Unfortunately, I still have 35 pounds to lose before I'm considered in the "normal" range but that's alot better than 85 pounds which is where I began at.

  8. Just found you through Twitter- will be a follower now! This is just what I needed to be reading today :)

  9. Thanks for that peek into your life that is a very delicate subject to most women. I was a chubby when I was younger and I feel like that gave me a complex as I got older. I am not over weight now but I still veiw myself as such. When I see pictures of myself after I have been running around like crazy, I am shocked to see how much wieght Ive really lost.

    I think scales are terrible and I havent stepped on one in like 4 months. Instead I look at pictures or notice how Im feeling from day to day.

    I really cant stand BMI and all that stuff that tells you what you are suppose to be. Everyone has different circumstances. Like the fact your doctor was concerned with your weight but you have rocked it on the running... But its not their fault and they have to do their check ups for our own good. Im so inspired that you are happy being a size 12. I am a size 8-10 myself and have finally excepted I will always be that size no matter what. I think a good lesson to take from you is that you are happy and healthy and we shouldnt dwell on things like wieght if we are doing what we can about it.

    Thanks for sharing! (didnt think I could relate, did ya?)

  10. Great post Libby. It's frustrating that "size" matters so much. I think a size Healthy on anyone is the best size. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  11. Wow, guys, I never expected so many comments, and I even wondered if the post would connect with anyone. I thought I might get a few "suck it up, you're fat, eat broccoli and grilled chicken only and get over it" comments. :-)

    @Isis, you are right - I was wrong to judge. Although I still question your claim that you are a size 8-10. Maybe you like your clothes super duper loose!

    @Allie, you are an inspiration. Thank you for sharing your comment!

    @Ninotchka, you do sound torn - you think you feel great but you say you don't like how you look! I think you have a new crosstraining workout - reconcile those two comments, "work out" how to change the way you judge your physical appearance!

    @Lonnie, thanks for providing a perfect example of how BMI is not very helpful!

  12. Weight and BMI are not very useful indicators for many people - especially athletes. A more useful measure is simply waist circumference.

    Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson and Sylvester Stallone (in their prime years) all had BMIs that are considered "obese"!

  13. Amen to this post. I weigh the same as you (although I'm 5'11", so I'm considered "normal" - whatever that means). I have struggled with weight all my life... its always been a battle to keep it off... and, like you, I'm the healthiest now than I've ever been... easily healthier and more in shape than I was in high school when I was 25 lbs. lighter. But nothing lifts my spirits more than hitting the 6 mile mark on the treadmill at the gym and the thinner ladies stopped running a long time before that. Hey, I take my confidence boosts where I can get 'em.

  14. I'm 5'5", in the best shape of my life since I quit gymnastics (however, I could barely run a mile then), and while I normally rest around 150-155, I gained a little training for my last half and found I was a stronger runner when I fueled myself. I'm having to take off about 5 lbs post race to get back to my maintenance range, but it's ok - I expected it.

    I originally wanted to get down to about 135 but it's like my body doesn't want to get below 150. I've tried everything and finally figured out - if that's where it wants to stay, I can continue improving my running and fitness and weight doesn't matter.

    I would like to figure out how to make it to about 145 someday and maintain just so I'm technically in the normal BMI range but I've always been more muscular than the average bear - so I know it's just technical.