How should one’s health be measured? Health needs to be determined by more than one variable.
For years at my annual doctor’s appointment, it was always recommended that I lose weight because my BMI fluctuates in and out of the “normal” range. Time and time again, I would feel frustrated after these appointments.
How did one number determine my overall health? Did this number tell that I exercise 3-4x a week? No. Did it take into consideration my recent blood work that came back all in the normal range. No again. Did it measure my positive relationship with food, breaking away from the diet mentality? Big no.
One number simply cannot define health. Kim Hoban, RD, CDN, CPT of KH Nutrition defines health with a broader definition as, “encompassing both mind and body, so we can’t just focus on physical outcomes as a measurement. If behaviors you engage in for physical health cause a negative impact on mental, emotional or social health, it’s no longer healthy.” It may be more challenging to measure these physical outcomes, because it is not hard data like other measurements, but that is the beauty of health. Health comes in all different sizes and means something different to everyone.
The “Health At Every Size” (HAES) approach has been much discussed among healthcare workers, consumers, and activists who reject the use of weight, size, or BMI as the only proxies for health. It also helps people find sustainable practices that support individual and community well being. (1)
Health can’t be viewed as black or white. While some healthcare providers are about hard data, Kara Lydon, RD, LDN, RYT, of The Foodie Dietitian explains that, “focusing narrowly on physical health in the forms of diet and exercise, allows room to explore mental and emotional health and how your eating and exercise patterns might be impacting your overall wellness. For instance, if over-exercising in the pursuit of physical health is causing you to feel tired and anxious and is taking away from time spent with loved ones, it’s no longer a health-promoting behavior.”
Dietitians have been the forefront of the HAES movement and prove that health comes in many sizes. “We get it!” says Sharon Palmer, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian. “Indeed, dietitians themselves come in all shapes and sizes. We have different eating styles, body types, and metabolisms.”
Registered Dietitians are not about putting everyone on a diet to lose weight. Palmer notes, “Humans are very unique—we each have our own genetic makeup, metabolism, and body type.”
Body Mass Index, known as BMI, is a measure of body fat based on your weight in relation to your height. But this measurement, derived from a simple math formula is flawed. Jenna Gorham, RD, LN agrees. Gorham noted that, “Weight and BMI are poor measures of health because they don’t tell us about a person’s body composition or lifestyle habits.” Another flaw is that BMI does not measure overall fat or lean tissue (muscle). “Two people may weigh exactly the same but may have very different levels of health or very different body compositions. Everyone’s body is different. Just because someone is thin does not mean they are healthy and just because someone classifies as overweight does not mean they are unhealthy,” says Gorham.
How can healthcare providers better measure health? Janet Brancato, MS, RDN, of My Nutopia, likes to look at lab values and states, “Lab values are also a key indicator of what’s happening inside the body regardless of weight or size.”
Working with a Registered Dietitian can really help personalize your health goals.
Palmer adds, “What dietitians have always done best is individualizing lifestyle plans that work specifically for each person. There is tremendous value in making small changes that work for you, rather than trying to shape your eating style and body size into some idealized, unattainable version.”
I am grateful to be part of a healthcare community that thinks beyond the black and white approach and embraces the idea of Healthy At Every Size. In this way we can begin to broaden the goal of intention of health to meet both the mind and body’s needs.
How do you measure your health? Let us know in your comments below!