Saturday, August 6, 2011

The BMI: A History

Introudcing....the BMI! When you punch your height and weight in an online calculator, this is what it does:

BMI= weight in pounds x 703
           height in inches squared

Thank you Wikipedia for that somewhat bewildering formula (703? I'm assuming it's some kind of a conversion factor, the orginal equation was metric...still, 703??). While I'm sure I could look up how it was derived, I'm not sure it's quite worth our time. Anyways, on a more practical note...

The BMI is over a 150 years old, and originally developed for physicians so that they could discuss over and under weight issues with their patients using a simple, objective number. In fact, the article specifies that the BMI was originally for use with sedentary patients.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that sedentary patients don't have much muscle mass. I'm going to go out on another limb and suggest that this is why, according to the value produced by the BMI, Arnold Schwarzenegger is clinically obese. The BMI was not designed for athletes.

The BMI has its flaws (doesn't count bone density, muscle mass, the equation doesn't work as well at taller heights, etc), but historically it has provided a good jumping off point for over and under weight discussions. It's simple, and pardon my frankness but....

If you are quite honestly fat (like dough boy fat) and you want to know if you're obese, this may be the way to go. After all, it's only a suggestion. Or if you're really bony and you're not sure if it's healthy, it may be a good suggestion to take into account. Of course, I'm not a doctor or a trainer. I'm just a blogger looking at the potential usefulness of one of the most prevalent "figures" in modern fitness.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Let's Talk, BMI

I have a few choice words for my BMI: suck it.

For those of you who don't know, BMI measures your body mass index. Hypothetically, by putting in your height and weight into a little equation (calculators like this one even do it for you), it can tell you how fat you are. Less than 18.5? Underweight. 18.5-24.9? Normal. 25-29.9? Overweight. Over 30? You're obese. Well, at least according to that calculator.

I went and played with another one specially formatted for children and teens, and put out by the CDC (link to it here). This one had a different standard, with this funky little spectrum.

Now that I've introduced you to the BMI (BMI, meet the reader; reader meet the BMI), it's time to get a little bit gnarlier. Frankly put, it's not's you.

Flaws with the BMI as a measuring tool have come up before (anyone remember the Megan Fox interview?). BMI doesn't take muscle into account, or gender, or frame...or any of those little human quirks we have. Need more proof? The second calculator told me that if I weighed 119 pounds, I would still be at a healthy weight. By the standards of the modeling industry, that would totally fly. For intance, in 2009, a story went around about a 5'10, 120 pound model being fired from Ralph Lauren....for being too fat. Don't believe me? Google the story, read this's out there, it happened. I'm 5'8. If I were a 120 pounds, I would still be a fatty by those standards. Thankfully I have the BMI to tell me that I'm a normal weight!

That would be fine and well until I looked in a mirror. Now, I'm not totally sure what I would look like at 119/120 pounds, but I'm going to guess it wouldn't be pretty, and I doubt I would be as strong seeing as muscle weighs more than fat.

So, about the muscle weighing more than fat issue...BMI, stop telling me I'm fatter, because the mirror says I'm not. During this summer, I've gained four to six pounds...but I look better, lost about a size. And according to my BMI, I'm fatter. Math makes you skinny, but what it gives with one hand it takes with the other.

I'm not exactly sure where the blame falls. Me, for exercising more? Society, for using the BMI the way we do? The BMI, for being an imperfect calculation? Society again, for proliferating the use of the BMI beyond health clinics?

I think it's high time for a new project....How to eat like a model vs the BMI.

PS: for all of you metric users, those calculators will work in metric conversions. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Math Makes You Skinny

Twinkies make you skinny.

Need proof? I've got a CNN article from November 2010 aptly titled "Twinkie diet helps nutrition professor lose 27 pounds."

Oh my gawd, get me a box of Twinkies....or twenty.

Kansas State professor Mark Haub lost twenty seven pounds over ten weeks by eating total crap. He ate Twinkies. He ate brownies. Doritos. Zebra cakes. He ate everything you're never supposed to eat if you're on a diet. And then he lost weight.

From a mathematical stand point, this makes sense. As long as he was eating less calories than he was using, he was creating a calorie deficit and bound to lose weight. So, by setting a daily calorie limit and sticking to it, he lost weight....and his cholesterol dropped. Take that Skinny Bitch! And again; get me a box of Twinkies.

So he's slimmer than he was when he started, and the typical health signs (ie blood pressure) look healthier. But is this healthy? The science is still undecided. This is one short run experiment, it's hard to take any lasting conclusions away. Except for maybe....

Portion control. Portion control is really cool (at least, as long as you're getting big enough portions to begin with). And portion control is pretty easy when all your food product comes conviently wrapped in plastic.

Not that I'm recommending this (just like I didn't recommend eating like Megan Fox or going vegan). Although it would be really cool if someone tried it again...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Arsenic and Brownies (at least you won't get fat)

I'm working on getting in touch with my featured food scientist. In the mean time, I did some research on the risks of being a vegan. What did I find?

Not much, and not anything that can't be easily fixed. Low protein? Eat soy. Low calcium? Find it in certain vegetables. B-12 deficiency? Take a supplement....or cave in and eat a little bit of animal product each day. I'm sorry, but supplements aren't fun., that wasn't very fruitful. So, back to Skinny Bitch. I loosely remember it's abrasive and somewhat dangerous suggestions....

And so do a lot of people. One of my favorite reviews came from a feminist website (full review here). Like the other reviews out there, it points out that the book encourages eating disorders, fear of food, and seeing being skinny as being healthy. So eat arsenic, at least you won't get fat.

So, one more time, skinny does not mean healthy (Meagan said it before in the Megan Fox interview). And vegan does not necessarily mean healthy. Just like eating brownies doesn't necessarily mean you'll get fat...but more on that some other time.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Winners and Losers, VB6 Style

The VB6 diet is finally done. I celebrated this morning by eating some chicken product (an egg) and drinking some cow product (milk) because those are the types of exotic foods I like.

Any-who, it's time for my personal winners and losers of the vegan diet. However, I'll start with the winner of Silk vs Milk. I'd like a round of applause for Nathan Hastings, who has actions that speak louder than words. When faced with the query of dairy vs non dairy coffee creamer, his reaction was to drink straight half and the middle of the restaurant setting. Congrats, you've earned your pint of cow product.


1) Conscious eating. I was very aware of what I ate.
2) Vegan desserts. I could probably ditch animal product desserts and enjoy their lower fat counterparts. Will I? Probably not. Could I? I definitely could.
3) It didn't make me bitchy. In your face, Skinny Bitch! While the Megan Fox diet made me crabby, I was in a considerably better mood for this one. Plus I got to eat food, not too much, and mostly plants. I felt pretty good about myself.
4) You could do this for awhile. Or at least adapt to do it for awhile, and you would probably lose weight while having easy maintenance. What I'm trying to say is, if you're a vegan model, it might work. Providing you actually eat.

On the fence about....
1) Food science and animals. The food science behind my coffee creamer made it pretty good. And I guess I harmed less animals in the long run...but I have my personal debates about that. For instance, if I took to raising chickens in my backyard and using their eggs for all of my needs, would that really be an animal rights violation? And maybe eating eggs won't make me Skinny Bitch thin, but it sure as hell makes me happy.

1) Skipping out on whole wheat bread and salad because of minute amounts of animal product. It seemed a little ridiculous to skip otherwise really healthy foods because of the tiny amount of offensive material in them. Sorry Skinny Bitch, I don't agree with strict veganism.
2) Imitation foods. I didn't eat many of these, just the coffee creamer (and I didn't think that one was too offensive). But vegan Oreos? Give me a break...or at least a real cookie. And imitation meat? Don't get me started. I remember what meat tastes like, I know what I'm missing out on...and a flimsy tofu-ish cardboard flavored Boca burger only makes it worse if you still crave meat.

FINALLY, I'd like to announce that, yes Virginia there is going to be a wrap up interview....with a food scientist. If science makes you anxious, go eat a science free vegan cake. Even then, I think you'll find it interesting. So, in the meantime, go enjoy your crude oil! I'll have the interview for y'all soon enough.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Natural Flavoring and "How would you like your crude oil today?"

I was asked about natural flavors the other day. It was a good question. The answer seems simple enough...until you stop to think about it. So, I opened my mouth to respond, and what came out was something like this:

"'s flavor...that's naturally occuring in food. I think."

Twenty four hours and a Wikipedia article later, the simple answer is...

It's natural flavor in food.

Or, according to the US Code of Federal Regulations natural flavor is:

"the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or any other edible portions of a plant, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose primary function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional."

Intense. So, if natural flavor comes from food products, what does artifical flavoring come from?

Well, they can come from natural chemicals...or crude oil or tar. YUM.

Oh wait...I think I'll pass on that. However, I will not pass on any food related questions you have to ask me. Keep 'em coming!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Look Ma, No Science!

If there's one thing I like more than science, it's cake.

I like cake, and I'm willing to admit that I enjoy it in all of it's buttery, eggy existence. Normally I don't have cake cravings though, so I thought I'd be able to just pass it by in a week of veganism.

Wellllll....not exactly. But I didn't eat any animal products.

Crescent Dragonwagon has a fantastic vegan cake recipe. The thing is, it makes a whole pan. I don't need a whole pan of cake. With the weather pushing 90 degrees, I don't need to go through the temperature increase of baking a whole pan of cake. What I'm trying to say is.......

I made a vegan the microwave.

Please stop cringing. It was actually fabulous--for a chocolate cake, nevermind being a vegan cake or a microwave cake.

Science Free Chocolate Microwave Vegan Cake
1) Mix 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 sugar, 1/2 tablespoon cocoa powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, and a pinch of salt in a large mug. I used my Manet mug because I think food tastes better when surrounded by Impressionist paintings.
2) Add 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil, 3/4 teaspoon white vinegar OR cider vinegar OR lemon juice (I use white vinegar, but the three should all work the same way), 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and a 1/4 cup of water. Mix will with a fork.
3) Put it in the microwave for 2 1/2-3 minutes (it all depends on your microwave). When it's done, it'll look bubbly. You can eat it on the mug, or take it out in all its crumbling glory and cover it with fresh fruit and eat it on a plate.

Is this healthy? Absolutely not. It has 200% of your daily recommended sugar, and it's a little big for one person. But it is a fantastic cake, a worthwhile occasional treat. Bonus points if you share it.

And for those science loving skeptics out there, this is why it works. (In the most basic of terms. You actual science types might appreciate this explanation more.)

Ever make a volcano in school with vinegar and baking soda? Same kind of reaction right here--the vinegar (or whatever acid you choose) reacts with the baking soda, making fizzy little bubbles (you probably noticed the cake looks a little pock marked). This makes the cake lighter...kind of like if you beat egg whites and added them.

In the meantime, a close up of the Manet mug so you can enjoy your cake:

And don't forget to weigh in on Silk vs Milk!