The Farrell Vending Diet, or Why BMI Sucks

So I’m on one of those semiannual health kicks, lured by nice weather and an abundance of local food to get out, exercise and try to get into shape.

But what shape? I’m a little over 5-foot-9 and weigh 175 (on my doctor’s scale, which is five pounds heavy, but that’s another tale). My BMI says I’m overweight until I lose another 7 pounds. Another? Yeah, I’m down about 10 pounds from my midwinter fat phase. That’s the easy part … I cut out pizza, french fries and cheeseburgers and the first 5 pounds just melt off.

The next part is a little harder, but not much: I forbid myself to eat anything from the Machines of Death in the next room. I can still have a soda or candy, but only if I want it bad enough to walk down the street and get it. That’s the Farrell Vending Diet, and that’s good for another 5 pounds. It also fills up the kids’ piggy banks, because the only way I can stick to it is to keep cleaning the change out of my desk drawer.

But this whole “normal” BMI thing is a fraud. I mean, could I afford to lose another 7 pounds? Sure. According to that measure, I could lose 35 pounds and still be “normal.” Normal? Five-foot-nine and 140 pounds, which would put me in the 4th percentile for men my age and height … . That’s not “normal,” that’s “anorexic,” unless you’re an East African distance runner, in which case that’s “chunky.” At the other end of the scale, I would have to tip in at 250 pounds to hit the 96th percentile. “Normal,” defined as “the median” is 184 pounds.

Look, I was 135 pounds and 5-9 in the 11th grade, and I was painfully scrawny, so I know whereof I speak. I have since grown hamstrings, quads and a butt, but I’m fine-boned (for instance, my wrists are so slender I have always fit women’s watchbands better than men’s) and still the only way I’ll hit 135 pounds again is amputation.

The “normal” BMI is actually an aspirational weight except for fitness freaks and physical mutants; it’s designed to enrich the diet industries. “Normal” is walking around with five or 10 pounds of fat on you, particularly at 50.

The weird thing is I still want to lose another 7 pounds. Funny old world.

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