Health At Every Size

I seem to have been reading a lot about the concept of health at every size recently. This philosophy promotes the idea that regardless of your weight or size you can still be healthy, and that health should be your primary concern, not weight loss.

Given that obesity levels are rising, and that most people attribute this to unhealthy habits, its an intriguing proposition.

Firstly, what does healthy mean?  To me, healthy means the following:

  • To intake foods containing nutrients and vitamins that assist the body in wellbeing.
  • Being active and well so as to be able undertake one’s daily routine without having physical problems.
  • Having acceptable levels of certain measures such as blood pressure, and cholesterol etc.

I read a study recently that suggested measures like high blood pressure, and high cholesterol were likely to predict cardiovascular disease irrespective of weight.  However there are many, many articles out there stating that obesity is indeed a risk factor in many diseases including cancer and cardiovascular disease.  So can an obese or overweight person be a healthy person?

A person who exercises does so mainly for two reasons – to enable themselves to be active and healthy on a daily basis, and to improve their athletic fitness levels.

It is obviously possible to have an overweight person who is very active in terms of exercise and who eats healthy food.

It is equally possible to get a “skinny fat” person who does little exercise and eats junk food.

It seems fairly obvious to me that out of these two people, the overweight one is healthier, and again studies do say that a person who is overweight can have a longer life span than someone whose weight is supposedly normal.

It has also been shown in studies that losing 10% of your body weight is beneficial to your health, no matter what your starting weight. We also know that some people find it easier to lose or maintain their weight than others. Everyone has a different metabolic rate.

I learnt myself the hard way that just because you get thinner doesn’t mean you automatically develop a bikini body. (Much to my disappointment!) Body fat is not defined by weight, and the proportion of fat to muscle in your body is more dependent on the exercise you do than restrictions to your diet.

As is so often highlighted, top athletes have BMIs that technically put them into the overweight categories, but because they have a lot of muscle, not because they are unhealthy.

On the other hand I myself lost about 25% of my body weight at one point. I know perfectly well that I became overweight because I ate too much and didn’t exercise enough. I don’t think my diet was that unhealthy – a lot of it was a portion size problem, but I am now much healthier at a normal weight for my height than I was as an overweight person. I eat more healthily and I do more exercise and I feel better for it.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that a large proportion of overweight or obese people are that way because they also eat too much and don’t exercise enough. I know from experience how easy it is to do that, especially with unhealthy food so readily available and commercial portion sizes so large, and especially if there are other stressful factors present in your life.

It worries me that the health at every size concept will make people think its fine to be fat without addressing whether their underlying habits are healthy or not. Yes of course we are made in all different shapes and sizes, and we shouldn’t judge people based on that size, but the trend in the rise of obesity levels still seems to me to not be a good thing. If unhealthy obese people adopted healthy habits I’m guessing that a fair few would end up losing weight as a by product.

What do you think? Can we be healthy at every size? Or are we just making excuses for obesity?

 

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  1. Mum Says:

    I think this is a really fascinating subject. There was a girl at school with me who was ‘chubby’ and also very fit. She was a great asset to the hockey team, but I would not say that she was obese.
    I believe I am right in saying that the original weight and height charts which we use were originally designed for insurance companies, and I think there has to be a bit of blurring at the edges between the categories of normal, overweight and obese just to accommodate the variety of the human form.
    The TV obviously thinks it is an interesting and relevant topic to judge by the number of programmes there are on the subject. ‘The Men Who Made us Fat’ has been very interesting.
    And I would have to say that a bit of commonsense says that the heavier you are, the more work your heart has to do and the more strain is put on your knee joints, as well as the fact that all the other functions of the body have to work harder too.
    Having lost only a little weight recently, I have to say that I feel better for it already. It makes the exercising easier to do too. :-)
    Mum

  2. Mum Says:

    Just to add a PS…maybe they mean that you should be as healthy as you can at that weight.
    In much the same way as my definition of ‘healthy’ has changed since I got older.
    It is also very true that underweight can be a problem to health too.
    See ‘Supersize vs Superskinny’.

  3. admin Says:

    Yes I like to watch Supersize vs Superskinny too – its true that both extremes can have equally unhealthy behaviour! I saw one of those “The Men Who Made Us Fat” as well and thought it was very interesting.

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