Monday, 28 December 2009

BMI-The biggest myth of the dieting season

With every New Year people start to diet. While Christmas is the party season the New Year is the diet season many people will start a new fitness regime and will check their BMI. Getting fit is always good however why has the BMI or Body Mass Index become the only measurement for success or failure when it isn't designed to measure fitness but famine.
Body Mass Index takes a persons height and weight and calculates the mass, it doesn't take into account muscle density which makes it useless for calculating obesity. This might sound like a fundamental flaw but the BMI was never intended to be used to calculate the weight of wealthy Europeans. The BMI was invented in the mid 19th century in Belgium. It's first use was by groups protesting against the military's treatment of its own troops in Africa. The enlisted men were given a tiny ration of food each week and were starved. By comparing the height and weight of the returning soldiers to healthy mean of the same age it could be proved that their treatment was wrong. The BMI was refined in the 1930s during the great depression an American doctor refined the index this time to present evidence of starvation in the South to congress. It is this version of the scale which is used by most health agencies in the world and this version of scale that you can find on the internet. It did fall out of favour for most of the 20th century it became popular again during the 1980s when Oxfam used the scale during the famine in Africa as it was an easy way to present data to political leaders.
It was after this that the BMI was adopted as a way of measuring obesity and it is behind the rise and rise of obesity. But it was never designed to measure obesity it cannot cope with weight of the muscle mass of a healthy person. If you want to look good the best way to do it is to eat properly, that means at least three balanced meals a day, and to train with weight. You may end up weighing more but be thinner muscle weighs more than fat. If you become fit and athletic you may well find you BMI tells you you are overweight. Jessica Ennis won the Heptathlon gold medal at the World Championship in Berlin and is also the BBC Sport Personality of the year. However the BMI scale would say she is obese to be a 'healthy' woman using the BMI would mean someone of Size 0 who would struggle to lift an i-phone to her ear. Any man of average height over 120lbs would also be overweight. A pro rugby player like Johnny Wilkingson would come under the heading of Morbidly Obese. It makes no sense.
So this New Year when you diet forget about the BMI.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Guitar playing

Joan Armatrading is presenting a program, well five this week, on her favorite guitar players. Which makes me think about my relationship with the instrument which has been long and varied.
I first started playing guitar when I was about ten, when I was given a nice enough dreadnaught acoustic for Christmas. However it was on my thirteenth birthday that I was taken to Music Village in Essex and was bought a Hondo Les Paul copy. This guitar was a lot better than you might think, and it lasted a long time as my main guitar. It was also this guitar which started my fascination with not just playing the thing but everything that goes with it as well, while most of my peers were becoming experts in the world of Sonic the Hedgehog or Super Mario I was becoming an expert in guitars. I can even today tell at a glance the age of a guitar. I also learned all sorts of other nerdy things about them. I even went on to study music technology so I could learn how to build the things myself.
But eventually I stopped being so nerdy and stated to be more of a player. I never owned that many guitars at one time, I am not the sort of person who owns twenty or thirty. Although I used that original guitar up until the mid 1990s in 97 I had the money to buy a really good guitar. I ended up with a Godin LG a which is an understated guitar made by a small Canadian company. Godins are the guitar of choice for session players and they have a lot of sounds in them. At the flick of a switch I can go from full on Death Metal to delicate Jazz sounds. I was also given a Fender Duo Sonic for my 21st Birthday which I set up as a slide guitar. I spent the rest of the 90's and into the early 00's playing regularly and working on more than few sessions. I never earned that much money doing this but it was always fun and challenging. However at that time I was using a lot of effects and the sound was processed to a point that you couldn't really tell what it was. In about 2001 I was writing more songs and decided to do a few nights at a song writers forum. This meant just using an acoustic guitar and no tricks. It was at this time I started to play finger style and I liked the freedom of not having to spend half an hour setting up all my equipment. Things changed for and for a while I wasn't playing music much at all. I had started to fall out of love with the guitar. For some reason I got interested in Fender Telecasters, especially the very early models. I couldn't afford one of these or a reissue but I could put one together myself. I could also make an attempt at merging new and old. Fix the little things that were not right in 1950. This experiment worked and my home built Nocaster, nicknamed Debbie and she is blonde and Debbie Harry and I share a birthday, has become my main instrument. I have got back into the habit of practicing for at least an hour a day and working on some new music. I've scraped the toys and effects and now just use my fingers to change the sounds. Of course as a compulsive tweaker I do have plans to build a more modern guitar with active pickups but that is for another time. I have now after almost two decades of guitar playing found that the best thing to do is just shut up and play.