Should I accept myself as I am and keep eating healthy foods or should I keep trying to diet?
December 10, 2011 2:57 PM   Subscribe

I have a BMI of a little over 26. What should I do? Should I accept myself as I am and keep eating healthy foods or should I keep trying to diet? I keep thinking about my weight and wish I could concentrate on more important things. I'm a female and am almost 40 years old.

My partner is very supportive and is always telling me I'm fine just as I am, but I have a hard time believing him. I think I would be happy if my weight would just stabilize at a BMI of 26 but I have fluctuated from 25 - 28 in the past year and I'm terrified of going back up to 28 again.

My diet is healthy I think, with lots of whole foods like quinoa and fruit and vegetables and all-bran cereal and homemade soups and all that kind of stuff. I eat very little processed foods but I love a bit of cake, maybe once a week or so.

I've tried low carb and lost some weight, then tried it again and hurt myself (*cough* anal fissure *cough*) without losing weight the second time. I've tried low fat (Slimming World) and have had mixed results. I bought a Wii but haven't been using it lately because I got so bored with it. It's far too cold and icy to exercise outside and there isn't a gym within reasonable commuting distance of me ( I am coun-TREE!).

I feel so superficial for asking this daft question but since this is something that's on my mind so much I could really use some input.

So my question is, should I just accept myself as I am or should I keep trying to diet? And how can I quit thinking about weight so much? I don't think I've ever eaten a slice of cake without feeling guilty and I just kick myself for denying myself that pleasure.
posted by hazyjane to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
FWIW, there are some pretty solid criticisms of BMI as a metric for healthy weight.

If you're eating healthy and getting a decent amount of exercise/activity (for the cardio/blood-pressure/stress relief) benefits, and you're otherwise in good health (blood work looks good, etc), this random internet dude says to be happy and relax. I have a relative whose been in an all-out battle for years over those last few pounds (thanks in part to Type II diabetes and a daft doctor who seems to be a little too keen on selling her MediFast). Winter will end and we can all get back outside to walk/run/ride/swim/do whatever soon enough.
posted by jquinby at 3:06 PM on December 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

How are you getting your BMI tested? I personally think the standard methods are bunk--you can be all muscle at 200 lbs and the usual BMI tests will say you're overweight.

There's a lot of methods for determining body fat %.

I eat extremely low carb and feel healthier and have more energy even if I don't exercise. My husband is an endurance athlete and can eat carbs all day long because he burns them off. Neither of us diet--this is just what we eat.

There's nothing wrong with accepting your body as it is, but your tone doesn't sound like you want to do that, really.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:08 PM on December 10, 2011

Tom Cruise reportedly has a BMI over 26. It's not that useful a number.

Eat healthy, get some regular exercise, and learn to be happy with the body that results.
posted by Zonker at 3:10 PM on December 10, 2011

When was the last time you had a routine physical? Check in with your doctor about your eating and lifestyle habits (and whatever effects they may or may not be having on you physically, like cholesterol level). If he/she feels like there's room for improvement, they can refer you to a dietician. Or they may simply tell you that you're doing just fine.
posted by litnerd at 3:22 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can I recommend determining your level of fitness based on your resting heart rate rather than your BMI? Not because it's particularly more accurate/informative, it just feels a lot less judgmental since weight is loaded with a huge amount of cultural baggage. You can mentally try to improve your RHR day by day, instead of constantly thinking about your weight.
posted by miyabo at 3:26 PM on December 10, 2011

Best answer: It sounds like you're eating well but how about keeping a food journal for a few weeks where you write down everything you eat and see if your diet is as healthy as you think it is. Also, activity is good for everyone and not just to manage weight. Look for fun ways to be active, take a dance class, experiment with different forms of yoga, try pilates or rock climbing.

It's hard for women to have a healthy relationship with food, especially if you are or have been heavy. I have the same struggles as you. I keep telling myself to go to the gym but the thought is so unappealing. But there is a dance studio near me and that sounds way more interesting than getting on a treadmill. I also know that when I keep a food journal, I'm surprised at how much I'm actually eating.

Excess weight around the waist is considered more dangerous for health and is the hardest to get rid of. BMI is not a bad measure of being overweight unless you're heavily muscled and most of us don't fit into that category. But for all the measurements, whether BMI or on the scale or using calipers, the important question is whether you'd like to look better, be healthier and make the effort to make that happen. I know that I like being strong and not getting winded easily. Not all heavy people have health issues but you're more likely to - diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and some cancers are associated with being overweight. Skinny people can get these too but the numbers go up with being heavy.

The other major problem is that without effort, the scale can keep climbing. I'm trying to draw my line in the sand, I don't want to have to lose a hundred pounds. Two of my heaviest friends have bad knees and for one, I know she'll be riding a scooter at some point in the next decade.
posted by shoesietart at 3:29 PM on December 10, 2011

Are you happy with your body aside from the BMI number? When you were heavier were you unhappy with your body or unhappy with that number?

If this is all about your BMI number, then let it go. If this is really about being unhappy in your body, then do something to keep your weight at a point where you feel healthy.
posted by 26.2 at 3:42 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with other people about needing to focus on health more. Weight is not the only factor to health. I think you should just focus on eating healthy (even cake once a week is fine!) Exercise as well if you want good health. Having high blood pressure and Cholesterol checked is good as well.

But, it does not sound like you are worried about the health but more worried about your appearance. I think you should trust partner when they say you look good. I have a BMI of 39 or something like that. EEK but my partner thinks I look great.

Sometimes appearance can be altered by what you wear. Maybe if you get some sexy outfits that look good then it will make you more comfortable with yourself and your partner might enjoy them as well!

In the end I would say just focus on healthy eating and exercise more than any sort of crazy diets. Some diets are not good for your body. Also, as women get older they will not have the same body they had when they were 20.
posted by Jaelma24 at 3:56 PM on December 10, 2011

Best answer: I highly, highly recommend reading these three books:

The Skinnygirl Rules (the audiobook is great)

Mindless Eating

101 Things to Do Before You Diet: Because Looking Great Isn't Just about Losing Weight

The first one did it for me. And seeing as you don't think you've ever eaten a slice of cake without feeling guilty, I think it might be a really good book for you too. The others are great as well. I can't recommend them enough. IMHO this dieting/weight thing is so much more in our heads than we realize.

Of course you can be happy and accept yourself at any weight, but personally I find that if it's possible to do something that makes you feel good that you've been wanting for years, then you deserve to give that gift to yourself. Not with harshness and judgment, but with kindness. Good luck to you.
posted by seriousmoonlight at 4:04 PM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Well, what do you want for your body? Do you want to be 140 pounds? Do you want to wear size 8 jeans? Do you want to look exactly the same way you looked in that one photo from when you were 25? Do you want to try to avoid x health condition? Do you want your partner to be less supportive and more lustful?

What you should do is predicated on what you want.

If you want something that you don't currently have, you have to change your methods. Period. You can either eat smaller portions (i.e., fewer calories), or exercise more (i.e., burn more calories). Or both. There are diet and lifestyle programs like Weight Watchers that will teach you how to eat smaller portions of any food, and there are personal trainers or videos that will teach you how to more effectively exercise.

I agree with others above that BMI is a flawed metric. It doesn't tell you much about either your overall health or the way you look. For example, I'm 42 and 5'2" and wear a US women's size 10 clothes. I do squats and deadlifts till the cows come home; I lift pretty heavy weights. And I have an hourglass figure and look good in dresses. My BMI is 28, which I didn't check until this question. Because BMI is not a good indicator of my health. I have some extra fat, sure. But I'm also a large person in a short person's body: a 32FF bra, wide shoulders, and size 9 shoes. If I wanted to be smaller (size 8 is the smallest I can go without constant hunger), I would drink less wine. But I've decided that tradeoff is ok with me.

I think you should stop focusing on that number and figure out what your health/appearance goal really is.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:45 PM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A BMI of 26 entails ZERO increased risk for ANY obesity-related health issues. A fucking BMI of 31- which is considered "obese"- doesn't. BMI only is correlated with early death among the VERY THIN (<2>38).

26 is PERFECT. No issues whatsoever. None.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 4:47 PM on December 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

fucking keyboard- BMI is only correlated with early death among the very THIN (<2>38). You have no weight related issues even if you're not muscular.

BMI might not be bullshit but the cutpoints it prescribes are. It only has relevance for the underweight and the EXTREMELY overweight. It has nothing at all to do with those of who are normal- with BMIs of say 22-34.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 4:49 PM on December 10, 2011

FUCK- less than 20 is dangerous, over 38 might be dangerous, the rest of us are fine.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 4:50 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Chubby girl here (BMI ~30), and I just started working out a lot this fall when I started going to a gym where they have 9-week weight loss/fitness challenges. Because I have been gaining so much muscle and gains in fitness are really the goal, the weight loss has been painfully slow at times. It's really made me re-evaluate my personal reasons for eating well and exercising.

#1 Reason: I eat well and exercise because it makes me feel awesome. Seriously so much of my back/shoulder pain, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, etc. etc....pretty much GONE or so intermittent that when I do have a headache I wonder how I used to deal with it on an almost daily basis. Plus, I sleep better and my skin looks better.

#2 Reason: Strength. I have tiny T-Rex arms and I have never been so committed to gaining strength in my upper body. Plus, I have really learned to enjoy the power that is in my core/lower body - I do kickboxing and it is really FUN to kick the shiiizzz out of things.

#3 Reason: Vanity. Sure, I have lost ~6-7 lbs during the challenge and a lot of "pudge". I still have a ways to go to my goal weight, but it's really a secondary (tertiary?) consideration.

The scale is the scale. It's just one of many tools to measure your progress. I've learned that it doesn't tell me anything about how many situps I can do, how fast I can run, and how I feel inside & out. I've seen people gain a significant amount of weight as they focus on muscle-building exercises, but they stay the same size or even get slimmer. You have to find a reason to exercise that you can hold on to - I'm personally much more proud of my fitness gains than my weight loss over the past ~2 months.

As far as your home-gym dilemma - Yoga, P90x, TurboJam, there are tons of videos that will give you an intense workout at home. You may need to invest some in equipment but it's probably cheaper than a gym membership in the long run. I'm kind of a True Believer in life-long fitness now - I don't think we should exercise to be thin necessarily, but the more important reason is to stay flexible & strong as we grow older.
posted by sararah at 4:53 PM on December 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Also to add - you eat so that you can do the things you want to do. If I had been eating a ton of crap processed "diet food" and restricting myself to a 1200 calorie diet during my challenge, I could have lost more weight for sure. However, I believe my fitness gains would have been less significant because my body wouldn't have the calories it needed to perform at a really high level.
posted by sararah at 4:57 PM on December 10, 2011

Best answer: I'm going to be a somewhat dissenting voice.

There are so much variability in human body types and human physiology, that it is obviously not realistic to expect that a simple number can be used as THE determinant for health issues. Furthermore, it is clear the the BMI does not distinguish between weight from fat and weight from muscle mass. However, the BMI is a decent first indicator for most people. (Many people are too quick to jump on the "BMI is not valid" bandwagon as an excuse to ignore what it indicates to them.) The average person is North America is now overweight with, for many, some serious associated health factors. However, you are not asking about the average person, but about yourself.

Since you've seen your weight fluctuates so that your BMI varied between 25 and 28, you have a better idea than any and all of us of what your body composition might be at a BMI of 28. Since you've expressed some concern, chances are that it is an indicator of being overweight in your case. (You don't sound like the type of muscle-bound person for whom it would be clearly inappropriate... I'm male, older than you, with a BMI of 27 ... and I can easily tell that I have a significant amount of fat to lose to be at my ideal weight.) The reality is that, at your age and as you will get older, chances are that, everything else being equal, your muscle mass and your metabolism will decrease, leading to your weight creeping upwards. It is much better to ensure that you keep it under control.

I wouldn't suggest to you to "diet"; I would suggest that you continue making sure you almost always eat in a healthy fashion, so that you don't have to worry about the occasional piece of cake. However, it might be a good idea, at least for a while, to keep a detailed food diary and compare the reality of what you eat (including calorie intake) with your perception of the same.

Finally ... I read excuses about not exercising - something that seems to be a cop out.

Good luck in (continuing) being healthy!
posted by aroberge at 5:10 PM on December 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

It is not about a number. It is not even really about health. I use to eat only protein and vegetables and be super health conscious, and now I eat utter crap and indulge in horrid coping strategies yet I have barely gained anything. From my peak weight, I have lost maybe 90 pounds and now find I am no longer allowed to mention anything weight related around my female friends ever. I have never been a normal sized/skinny person but now am considered so and it's a bit odd, especially because where I am, obesity is a norm.
It really depends on what you want and it's not really all that hard, but it takes a fundamental change in priorities/discipline.
If you have always been bigger, there is something interesting about seeing the other side that may be worth it for the sheer novelty of it all. People seem to think it is so very remarkable/undoable, but really, it's just a slight alteration in lifestyle that mostly has to do with making the time.
There are pros and cons. Greater options in clothing, more unwanted attention. Better immediate impressions, more bizarre projective assumptions.
The question is: what do you want?
If cake gives you pure, unadulterated pleasure, eat the cake. Shame does no one any good.
My lack of any appetite drove me toward crappy food, as it seemed better to eat something rather than nothing, and it felt infinitely weird to have people complementing me on the results of my lack of appetite.
Weigh the pros and cons, know the risks. What gives you true pleasure? Abdominal fat, high blood pressure, bad cholesterol, some things are bad for you, but just being above a size four is not necessarily unhealthy.
I am 40 and apparently look like I'm in my 20s, which is annoying in many ways. And I have a tendency to run at the mouth. So if you want to talk, mail me and i will fill your ear. But seriously, and a lot of research and empirical knowledge backs me up, if you are willing to put aside an hour a day, you can be any size you want.
posted by provoliminal at 5:43 PM on December 10, 2011

Get rid of your scale. Enjoy your life.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:20 PM on December 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

My partner is very supportive and is always telling me I'm fine just as I am, but I have a hard time believing him.

This leapt out at me but before I felt I could respond I had to do some research to get an idea of how BMI corresponds to body size. I was shocked ... my personal taste is for women in the 25-30 BMI range. More to the point, I found this:
Jessica is Overweight (BMI: 25)
and I was floored. Jessica may be overweight by some strange definition of the term, but she is quite healthy and quite attractive in my opinion (she's a tri-athlete ffs).

My point that I'm trying to make is that there is every reason to believe that your partner finds you attractive.

The corollary of that being: HOLY SHIT, YES ACCEPT YOURSELF, YOU ARE FINE*

*Strive for healthy foods and adequate exercise, there is no reason in the world for you to diet.
posted by forforf at 6:31 PM on December 10, 2011

"People seem to think it is so very remarkable/undoable, but really, it's just a slight alteration in lifestyle that mostly has to do with making the time."

It may have been this way for you, but please don't assume that everyone only needs a "slight alteration in lifestyle" in order to achieve such a large (90 lbs) weight loss. People's bodies react differently and I can assure you that for me and for many women I've known, losing 90 pounds is a huge major difficult project that requires prolonged hunger and would never be described as a "slight alteration". You are lucky that your metabolism operates as you describe.
posted by parrot_person at 8:54 PM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Only people who are quite muscular and fit can blithely discount their BMI. Most people who have high BMI's are, in fact, overweight. And overweight is a bad thing, health-wise, despite the crazy skewed data to the contrary people quote when they want to stay fat and scientifically justify that decision somehow.

People in this country are in all kinds of denial about being overweight. As you may have noticed, even the otherwise very intelligent people on this thread have a million reasons why BMI is bunk, why being overweight isn't a big deal, etc. This kind of thinking is why so much of our country is fat, so please don't listen to this kind of advice if you don't want to be overweight.

You sound as though you're on the right track with the whole foods and soups but from your post you obviously feel there is room for improvement. You should know, and therefore, you're almost certainly right about the state of your own body.

I think your physical self-awareness is awesome, and wonder why you aren't being lauded for your dedication to your health rather than being told to ignore your best interests and stay overweight.

If you want to lose more weight, you really are going to have to change your diet. Adhering even somewhat to modern portion sizes and keeping more than a few modern convenience foods in the rotation= a modern (aka overweight) body.

Going vegetarian-- ideally vegan-- and avoiding white flour, white sugar and soda will definitely create the healthy body you want. If you were able to commit to low carb dieting, then you'll be able to stick to this diet.

And no, you won't have to stop eating cake. You can get Amy's cakes pre-frozen, find a zillion good vegan/vegetarian recipes for treats made with maple syrup and whole wheat flour, etc.

Check out the movie "Forks Over Knives", read "The China Study" and do a little research and you'll find out that the people who eat the fewest animal products are the healthiest people on earth, bar none.

If you want any pointers, feel free to Memail me. I really wish you the best of luck with your health, and hope you can achieve the fitness level you want and deserve :)
posted by devymetal at 9:32 PM on December 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

And then read Denise Minger's critiques of The China Study and Forks Over Knives.

But seriously, eat healthy (less grains, vegetable oils, sugars) and don't worry so much about weight. 26 BMI is fine. If you really care, find a way to do occasional intense exercise (lifting or intervals) and any weight change will result in positive body composition changes.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 10:34 PM on December 10, 2011

In fairness, it's unrealistic to hold out elite athletes as proof the BMI is bunk. Those athletes have high muscle mass and low body fat to create an optimum weight to power ratio. BMI is not an accurate measurement for that body type.

It's reasonable to ask if the BMI is a poor measurement choice for you because you have an extremely low body fat. However if you're overfat, BMI can be a useful metric.
posted by 26.2 at 11:51 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

And overweight is a bad thing, health-wise

If someone is overweight according to the BMI, eats well, exercises regularly and has no health problems, then how, exactly is this true?

Some extra weight can even be beneficial, for example in preventing osteoperosis:


I'm not saying that Americans don't have weight problems, but to just say that being overweight by the BMI's measure means for sure that one is unhealthy, without a lick of evidence, just does not make sense.
posted by bearette at 1:31 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone. I'm overwhelmed with how helpful this has been and every single answer here has helped me in some way.

I guess I should have mentioned a few other things in my post. Firstly, I already have high blood pressure and take medication for it. Secondly, I seem to carry most of my fat around my middle which I know is the most dangerous place to carry it.

I had my body fat percentage tested when I was in my mid-twenties because I went to a university that had a great sports science department and they were doing a study. I had to get into a water tank and apparently it's the most accurate way to measure body fat. I was absolutely shocked to discover that, even though I weighed only about 125 pounds at the time for my 5'4" frame, based on my very high body fat percentage I was classed as "obese" by the researchers. They said it was very unusual to see someone my age and weight with that much body fat. I can't remember the percentage but I do know it was very high.

Since that time I've changed my diet to a much healthier one but I've also gained 25-30 lbs. The BMI I quoted comes from the Wii which I use for a weekly weigh-in.

Thanks to this post I now have several books on my reading list (The Skinnygirl stuff looks great), I'm going to start a food journal and I'm going to work on changing my lifestyle rather than dieting. I know my excuses for not exercising are a cop-out and having that pointed out to me was very helpful. I'll try to do better with that as well. Anyway, all this help has been absolutely great. Thanks again to everyone.
posted by hazyjane at 3:00 AM on December 11, 2011

Speaking just to the exercise part of your question, if you are tired of the Wii, there are loads of great video workouts out there. Catalog here. Support community here.
posted by JanetLand at 6:19 AM on December 11, 2011

Best answer: Of the things you mention, I'd be more concerned about not getting regular exercise than I would about a specific number on the scale or whether or not you can indulge in a piece of cake once a week. You are getting to the age where staying fit and active requires a greater regular commitment but makes a very real impact in your quality of life.

In your 40s and beyond, if you're otherwise sedentary it becomes harder to do "weekend warrior" things like go out on a nice bike ride or a hike that involves some climbing. You run a greater risk of developing osteoporosis. You start to naturally lose muscle mass and thus the peri/postmenopausal weight comes creeping in.

So, my recommendation is you figure out what you need to do to overcome all the excuses and find a regular exercise routine you can stick with. Without changes to your diet, it won't be the fast track to a lower number on the scale, but I bet you find you will feel better physically, feel better about yourself, and look better even if your weight doesn't change dramatically.

You also might want to take a look at the No S Diet. It's a super simple approach that focuses precisely on lifestyle changes that are maintainable in the long run, rather than specific things you can/cannot eat.
posted by drlith at 6:50 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay, I still say throw out your scale and start building muscle mass. Lifting weights is good; being strong feels good.

It's healthier to focus on a positive (gaining muscle) than a negative (avoiding food).
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:26 AM on December 11, 2011

And overweight is a bad thing, health-wise

Only of you're sedentary or if your overweight is a result of yo-yo dieting which was done in order to meet your arbitrary demand that everyone look the same.

Overweight and non-sedentary? No problem- you'll live just as long as the underweight, probably longer.

Never diet. Ever.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 11:19 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older How to keep my computer safe.   |   muffled no more! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.