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Monday, May 16, 2011

Tip: Understand Your BMI

Obesity; ugh, what an ugly word. The only thing uglier is the term “morbidly obese.” People are considered morbidly obese when their weight significantly increases their risk of health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart attack. I had heard that morbidly obese people weigh at least one hundred or more pounds over their ideal weight for their height. When I began my food plan, I thought I was tottering close to the label of morbidly obese, at about ninety or more pounds above my ideal weight.

Is obesity a personal opinion, however, or is there a way to determine what’s constitutes obesity? I’ve become a walking encyclopedia on the subject of weight loss, lately, and from all that I’ve read, doctors apparently determine whether a person is obese by calculating the person’s body mass index (BMI), which compares the person’s height to his or her weight.

According to the sources I found, obese folks have a BMI of 30.0 and above, and one source says the morbidly obese have a BMI of 40 to 49.9 According to these figures, I used to have a BMI of 43.4, so I didn’t totter close to the line of being morbidly obese, I stumbled right over it. I am now, at 190, at a BMI of 33.7. According to my BMI, then, I’m still obese, but not morbidly obese, which is a true life-or-death improvement.

Friends who see me now say I look great, but there’s a big difference between being within medical guidelines and simply looking better than I did when I was morbidly obese. I will have to weigh 140 to reach a BMI that says I am “normal” weight. Although I’ve been at a plateau for a while, I am still shooting for 150, which would give me a BMI of 26.6. According to the BMI scale, I will still be overweight, but much closer to the normal range.

The fact remains that my body has never been small. I have wide shoulders and hips, so my frame begs for more weight. At least I’ve always thought so, and I’ve never been a tiny person, even when I was young.

According one BMI scale I found, you’re considered underweight if your BMI is below 18.5. You’re within the normal range if your BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9. The overweight are between 25.0 and 29.9, and the morbidly obese have a BMI of 30.0 and above.

Another BMI scale said normal people have a BMI of 18.5 to 25 and the overweight have a BMI of 25.0 to 30.0. The two scales agree that a BMI of 30.0 is obese, but this scale goes on and says that a BMI of above 40 is considered severely obese, and a BMI of over 50 is super obese. Oh, super obese sounds so much better than being morbidly obese, right?

I know, death is a morbid subject, and I know that being overweight can lead to health problems and early death. I’m having way too much fun to succumb to early death just because I love popcorn. I’ve learned to love salads more than popcorn, and my story continues, as does my life.

To calculate your BMI, you can use the quick calculator at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, at Send me an e-mail to report your BMI after you’ve used the calculator. Let’s lower our BMIs together.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tip: Surgery Isn’t Even a Good Last Resort

I used to wish I could simply go to the doctor, get full-body liposuction, and have him dump all my extra weight in a biohazard waste bucket. Now I know that those who have liposuction, despite all the money spent and pain (perhaps) involved, gain their weight back, in places even less appealing than where it was sucked out.

I’ve always known that bariatric surgery wasn’t for me, though, even before I learned of its drawbacks. First, as an editor, I must remark on the word bariatric, a pleasant euphemism for “the treatment of obesity.” It sounds so much better to say “bariatric surgery” rather than “obesity-treatment surgery.”

A morbidly obese friend of mine once revealed a shocking fact that she told few people: She had undergone gastric bypass surgery years before. She, like most recipients of the surgery, lost drastic amounts of weight, but as the years passed, she managed to pile the weight back on and surpass her original obese weight. Because of her obesity, she did not want anyone to know she had undergone such wasted surgery. Her story reminded me of Al Hirt, a famous trumpeter in my time. He underwent gastric bypass surgery, as well. He also dropped a great deal of weight, but eventually he regained most of it before he died thirty years later of liver failure.

Maybe people think bariatric surgery is a quick fix, but as I understand it, most bariatric surgery, including gastric bypass, stomach stapling, and lap band placement, results in the patient having to eat extremely small portions of food at a time, because the stomach area is drastically reduced. I’m not a doctor, but as I see it, if we could learn to eat extremely small portions in the first place, we wouldn’t need to go under the surgeon’s knife.

A recent report said that people who underwent bariatric surgery lost an average of fifty-one pounds in a year. I lost more than that in less time, without invasive, drastic, expensive, and unnecessary surgery. I did it by doing what surgical patients are forced to do: I ate less.

The report also says that bariatric surgery may not be enough to mitigate the knee pain that obese people develop because of osteoarthritis, but I am more fortunate. My knee pain is gone.

I am thankful that I found the motivation from within instead of paying a small fortune and subjecting myself to a scalpel. I also proved that weight loss can reduce or eliminate knee pain. I thought I was becoming a candidate for knee surgery (according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, about 38,400 knee replacements were performed in 2006-07). Last July, when I went to the doctor about my knee pain, my doctor’s assistant told me her husband sold supplies to orthopedic surgeons, and he said weight was almost always a factor when it came to who needed knee surgery.

I did it; I lost weight; I improved my health; I avoided surgery. Even though I still need to lose even more, I know I will. I know how. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t expensive, and I didn’t have to be sliced open.

In a few weeks, I’m going to D.C. to visit my son, Sandy, and daughter-in-law, Nancy. I spoke Sandy last night, and he said, “Now that you can walk, we have lots of great things planned to do together.”

Now that I can walk. It’s true. The last time I saw him, I was limping and swearing I was okay. I woke up every morning and swallowed ibuprofen, so I could move around enough to perform my daily chores. I avoided walking, whenever possible, because of the pain. Even grocery shopping was difficult, because I had to walk up and down the aisles at the store. I no longer have any such restrictions. Boy, so I look forward to seeing my kids!

I am beating my chest and patting myself on the back, all at the same time.

Here’s my source for information on bariatric surgery and its drawbacks.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tip: Suck It Up: There's No Fast Way to Lose Weight!

Ugh. I look at my still-fat belly, and I wish I could go to a doctor and have him or her simply suck out the rest of the fat, so I could get on with life. Liposuction, done in moderation, is allegedly safe, right? Okay, even with all the hoopla surrounding a few deaths as the result of liposuction, wouldn't it be nice to go to sleep and wake up with this fat sucked out of me forever?

Is it forever, though? New studies show that fat sucked out during liposuction comes back in other places in the body, after a year or so, redistributed "upstairs,” mostly in the upper abdomen, but also around the shoulders and triceps. See "With Liposuction, the Belly Finds What the Thighs Lose" at

Oh, heck, this news means I have to keep up my regimen of conscious and careful eating? It means I can't suck down a bowl of chocolates or eat more than one of the lovely tiny French meringues someone brought to my writers seminar Saturday? By the way, I made the woman take the rest of the meringues home with her. They weren't as fattening as many of the other things I could consume, but if I eat sweets, my urge to eat more sweets returns with a vengeance. I do much better to avoid desserts entirely. Fruit, yes. Godiva chocolate and French pastry, no.

I'll say this, though. Even though I have eaten hundreds of salads since starting my food plan nine months ago, I still love them. I vary my salads at home, and I find new and interesting salads when I eat out. If I eat at least one salad for a meal each day, I can at the very least maintain my weight loss. If I eat two or three solid meals, though, I see my weight creep back up.

I don't want my weight to increase; not after all the effort it took to decrease it. By now I've sorted through almost all my clothes, and as a result, I've donated many bags of oversized clothing to charity. It feels good to try something on and see it hang on me like sackcloth. It feels equally good to try on something new and see that it flatters me and doesn't have to be tent-sized, to fit over my body. I also like seeing the clothes go to charity, where they might do someone else some good, until that person, too gets on a food plan and loses weight.

Some of the things I've given away made me a bit sad; a silk suit jacket, for example, that I bought years ago. I found only a few occasions to wear it, so I'm not sure I got my money's worth out of it, but it looks hideous on me now. It deserves a better home than the one I can give it.

Although I have found no easy way to suck out the fat and make it disappear, the day-to-day watching of my food intake has certainly rewarded me a thousandfold, not only in better looks but also in better health. Sunday I attended church for the first time in a long time. A well-known speaker had drawn a huge crowd, though, and the only parking I could find was at the far end of the huge parking lot. I parked, shrugged, and effortlessly strode up the hill to the building. Once inside, I had to walk around the hall to the front of the building, climb up the stairs to the sanctuary, and walk around the large sanctuary to a seat toward the front. When I sat down, I said a little "thank you" to God, because had I made that trek last July, but I would have been winded and in severe pain by the time I arrived in my seat. Instead, I felt absolutely fine, and I was in the right place to remember where I get my strength. Funny thing, though. When I said, "Thank you, God," I heard a still small voice whisper, "Thank you, Bobbie."