I used to work with a man, let’s call him Jerry. Every year, when he went to his doctor for a physical and was asked what his height was he would add an inch to the previous year’s number. The reason he said was BMI, body mass index, the ratio of a person’s height to their weight that many physicians use as a gauge of whether you are overweight.
Jerry said he wanted his height to increase to compensate for his expanding waist and increasing height. That way his BMI would remain pretty much the same from year to year and his doctor wouldn’t ask him to go on a diet.
“I’m not overweight, I’m just under height” was his explanation.
Apparently Jerry is not the only one doing this. A new study out says that when people are asked to provide their own weight in research surveys they underestimate their weight and overestimate their height. Women are worse than men at doing this. And white women are the worst of all for fudging the numbers.
Now, the researchers, in the journal Ethnicity and Disease say this is not a big deal and people don’t over or underestimate by a lot, just enough to throw the BMI measurement off by a point or two. Which is good news for the researchers because it means their findings are still close enough to the truth to be valid.
But it’s not such good news for ordinary people. I know none of us like to admit we might be a little overweight and so it doesn’t hurt to lie to someone asking us about our weight. Particularly if we’re only off by a small amount. But who are we really fooling?
The researchers are not going to judge you about your height or weight. All they care about is their data and the odds of them ever seeing you again are slim. So it’s not as if they’re likely to come up to you in the supermarket one day and say “hey, didn’t you say you were 5′ 7″? You only look 5′ 6″ to me.”
But if we are lying to complete strangers about the fact that we are overweight, then we’re probably also lying to ourselves.
It’s like watching those men at the gym who stand in front of the mirror sucking their gut in as hard as they can. They glance at themselves and think “yeah, I look pretty good for my age”. But as soon as they walk away from the mirror they relax their muscles, their belly drops and they look like a naked version of porky pig. It’s not pretty believe me.
Ultimately it all boils down to this: you can’t fix a problem if you don’t acknowledge that you have a problem. Pretending you are taller than you are, or smaller than you are, or thinner than you are, or lighter than you are just means you are hiding from yourself.
Jerry got away with his little game for a few years until one of the office staff, who was taking down the information, asked if he really was 6′ 7′? Jerry looked surprised, then said “oh, I must have shrunk a little”. The tech looked at his belly and it was clear that at least one part of Jerry wasn’t shrinking.
That was the moment Jerry decided he probably should do something about his weight. Because lord knows he couldn’t do anything about his height.