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Summer body you said?

The summer is here and unfortunately diets and "magic tricks" for the summer made their comeback too. You may have gained weight due to the pandemic that you haven’t lost. Or you may be perfectly fine but somehow when the warmer days come, you feel like you should lose weight because every ad and media everywhere tells you to do so. Ditch the diet culture and make peace with your body. Today, I will debunk 3 myths you have probably heard your entire life.

  • Your BMI score determines how healthy you are

The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a very popular way to calculate if you are considered healthy or unhealthy (underweight, overweight or obese). Doctors have used it for a long time and, nowadays, anyone can find a calculator online. Magazines often mention it in their articles before giving you their miracle diet for the summer. The idea is to divide your weight in kilograms by your height in metres squared.

You may have experience discomfort when going to the doctor for a check-up and your score is not the one you wished for. But I have good news for you: it doesn’t matter because it’s not accurate.

Although many doctors still use BMI, this measurement is an imperfect way of measuring body fat, according to the American Medical Association (AMA). And it is not surprising once you learn about its history. The BMI was created by a Belgian mathematician Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet as a mathematical exercise to find the "average man" in the 1830s. So he wasn’t a doctor and he wasn’t trying to quickly diagnose obesity which wasn’t perceived as a problem at the time. On top of that, all the participants were western European men.

But this mathematical formula was only made popular in the 1970s when an American physiologist and dietician Ancel Keys and a group of his colleagues promoted Quetelet's Index as the best available way to quickly screen for obesity.

But the Keys study didn't account for all body types either. It only measured 7426 "healthy" men from 12 sample groups. They included American students and professionals, Italian railway workers, men from east and west Finland, Japanese farmers and fishermen, and Bantu men from South Africa. And so, various studies and doctors agree that this way of measuring someone health does not work for a lot of people including women, kids, elders, professional athletes and people from different ethnic groups.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the Centres for disease control and prevention states: "because BMI does not measure body fat directly, it should not be used as a diagnostic tool. Instead, BMI should be used as a measure to track weight status in populations and as a screening tool to identify potential weight problems in individuals." There is several other ways of measuring someone’s health such as blood panels, cholesterol levels, blood pressure or resting heart rate.

  • 10,000 steps will help you lose weight

Nowadays, most people own an apple watch, a fitbit or any other gadget to help them stay more active. These devices have usually a bunch of indicators that are used as tools to lose weight or at least measure how close someone is to a goal. And coincidently, they also have a daily step goal of 10,000 steps. Now, you probably already know where I am going with this but I will write it nonetheless: the 10,000 steps target is a marketing invention and is not based on science.

In 1965, a Japanese company introduced their new step-counter, which they called Manpo-Kei which translates into "10,000 steps meter". They marketed their device with the slogan, "Let’s walk 10,000 steps a day." And eventually, this number became the global baseline for many step counters and pedometers, leading consumers to believe that this very number was the end-all-be-all for walking goals. And this number is so present in our daily life that a lot of health authorities around the world recommend 10,000 steps.

But what studies actually show is that there is a wide range of steps to make people healthier. For example, a 2021 study found that at least 7000 steps per day during middle adulthood was associated with a lower risk of mortality.

Although walking and being more active in a sedentary society is a good thing, there is a psychological component to this number. Some people may look at 10,000 as a daunting number and feel discouraged by it. Others may become obsessed about it and have anxious thoughts if they’re not hitting that number every day. And becoming fixated on hitting numbers and metrics can, overall, hurt your health rather than help it. So I am not suggesting to stop moving but maybe you don’t need to spend your money on these gadgets and maybe some days you will walk less than others and that is okay.

  • To lose weight you should eat 1200 calories per day

You probably know someone or have tried it yourself. The 1200 calories diet has been popular for decades especially for women and somehow it comes back every year. Most diet programs, like Weight Watchers, are based on a 1200 caloric intake, just hidden behind a point system to make their programs seem more complicated or more about wellness. But do you know where this comes from?

During the late 19th-century in Europe, especially in Germany, scientists were working on calories and calorie counting. Although the idea of calories wasn’t very popular among Europeans, it really took off in America. And in 1918, a doctor named Lulu Hunt Peters published a book called Diet and Health: With Key to the Calories. Her book was a bestseller in both 1924 and 1925 and helped popularize the diet. Not only was the diet supposed to help women control their weight and get more slender to reach new beauty standards, it was also about being patriotic. The book, indeed, came out around the end of World War I, and while rationing wasn’t law, for some it was important for Americans not to hoard food.

And even if 1200 is not a completely arbitrary number because it came from calculations during the late Victorian period that have since then been debunked, it is not recommended for healthy adults. The US department of Health and Human Services’ dietary guidelines suggest that healthy people from the age of 14 and more should eat in between 1800 and 3000 calories a day. According to these guidelines, 1200 calories is the daily need of toddlers not adults.

Asking someone to eat 1200 is not only dangerous because basic needs are not met but also because restrictive diets trigger binge eating and eating disorders. People attempting that might see fast results but the weight they cannot sustain such a low calorie consumption over a long period of time. And when they start eating more, the weight will come back.

I hope this article helped you if you are worried about your body image this summer (and during the year). If you want more articles like that leave a like and I will make more.
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