In my job as an outpatient dietitian, I see lots of people with chronic diseases who are also very overweight. Most have diabetes, high cholesterol or blood pressure, and I’m not gonna lie – most are overweight because they don’t exercise and they don’t eat very well. But there are many others that I see, who are overweight despite the fact that they eat very well most of the time and they exercise. The difference is that the healthier eaters and exercisers usually don’t have the chronic diseases. That’s great of course, but they’re always frustrated because they can’t get down to “their ideal weight”.
It always makes me realize that it’s very possible to be healthy, no matter what your size. No doubt you’ve seen those Body Mass Index (BMI) tables, and calculated yours. Do you get frustrated because you’re not in that ideal 18.5-24.9 range? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Before you get all down (or excited) about your BMI, lets talk about exactly what it means. BMI is just a calculation based on your height and weight. It’s doesn’t take into account your frame size, or muscle mass, or age. It also doesn’t take into account where you carry your weight, and that’s a problem. People who carry excess weight around their waist (apple-shaped bodies) are at higher risk for diabetes, heart disease and even certain cancers. People who carry weight in the hips and thighs are at lower risk. Those who have more muscle weight are less likely to develop diabetes, while those who are on the very low end of the BMI scale are at increased risk for osteoporosis and a weaker immune system.
So to answer the question, I don’t think thinner always means healthier. I know lots of people who are thin but they eat junk and don’t exercise, and I’ll bet in the end, they’re less healthy than those who are overweight but eat a healthy diet and are physically active.
There’s some interesting research on weight loss to improve one’s health, and what they’ve found is that most people who lose weight because their doctor tells them to, tend to regain it. Over time, the lose-gain-lose-gain cycle of yo-yo dieting ends up causing more health problems for many people because it really stresses the body. In addition, there’s a growing body of research showing that overweight individuals who are active and fit have lower mortality rates than normal-weight persons who are inactive and unfit.
So the bottom line is – don’t stress about your BMI or ideal body weight. Instead, try to adopt the “Health at Every Size”(HAES) attitude. Appreciate your body for the good things it does for you, and take care of it the best you can. No matter what your weight, you can be healthy IF you take steps to live a healthy lifestyle, and that means eating more healthy foods, and moving more. Here are 7 suggestions to help get you started on HAES. I promise if you do them all, you’ll be healthier (and you’ll probably even lose weight 🙂 )
1. Eat a fruit or a vegetable every time you eat
2. Have a meatless meal at least once each week
3. Get your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes daily
4. Eat a healthy breakfast every day
5. Add more herbs and less salt to your food
6. Cook at home more and eat out less
7. Get to bed a little bit earlier
For more information about the Health at Every Size movement, check out this podcast discussion with nutritionists Ellen Glovsky PhD, RD and Michaela Ballmann MS RD.
How do you feel about Health at Every Size? Do you think you would be healthier if you adopted healthier habits but didn’t lose weight?