The great weight debate continues: Can you really be overweight and healthy at the same time?
Obesity is linked to so many health problems — including heart disease and diabetes — that it’s natural for us to think we have to hit our ideal target weight to be truly healthy and well. We live in a society in which “fat shaming” is a concern, and more folks are standing up for themselves and insisting it’s OK to feel proud of their bodies — no matter what their dress size.
While it’s fantastic to feel self-confident and to not allow the scale to dictate your self-worth, the backlash to this new way of thinking has been fast and furious, with many experts claiming it’s more important for obese people to lose weight than it is for them to exercise and try to achieve a “fit,” but still overweight, frame.
For now, the debate continues to rage on, with some experts insisting that the numbers on your scale don’t always tell a complete and truthful tale about the status of your health. A more relevant way of looking at how weight affects health may involve a holistic approach that takes both weight and lifestyle choices into account when accessing how at risk a person is for contracting certain diseases and illnesses.
“Health is fluid, meaning that it can fluctuate between healthy and disease states,” says Dr. Scott Schreiber, a chiropractic physician who is double board certified in rehabilitation and clinical nutrition. “It is not just black and white. You can be overweight, but take supplements, eat organic and get plenty of sleep, but would still be at greater risk for chronic and obesity-related diseases.”
Schreiber stresses that the focus should be on risk and not on whether being fat means you’re automatically unhealthy or less healthy than someone who is an ideal weight. “In certain cases, overweight people can be healthier than someone of ideal weight,” Schreiber says. “Think about an athlete versus a drug addict. An athlete will generally weigh more, due to increased amount of lean tissue and the drug addict generally will weigh less, but be very unhealthy. In conclusion, ideal weight is associated with the least amount of risk, but not the only measure of health.”
If you’re one of countless people who find themselves forever on a diet or yo-yoing between an ideal weight and being overweight, Pat Barone at Catalyst Coaching says she believes it is possible to be healthy at a wider range of weight than most people think. “Many people, including myself, believe if they can’t get to an arbitrary ‘ideal’ weight, why bother, and that interrupts ALL positive weight loss efforts,” Barone says. “Those weight and BMI charts are actually created by parties interested in making money (insurance, diet industry) and are generalizations.”
Barone says she gives her clients eight indicators of good health that they can concentrate on, instead of merely focusing on what their scales tell them. She measures health by factors that include a person’s energy level, blood pressure (which is considered normal if it’s below 140/90), resting pulse (ideally, between 50 and 100 beats per minute), cholesterol level (less than 130 for bad cholesterol), responsive immune system (how long it takes you to jump back from a cold or other common illness), blood sugar level, fitness level and, finally, weight — which she says should be “easily maintained without strenuous dieting or deprivation.”
Exercise remains an important factor in keeping you healthy, regardless of your weight. Christina Major, the health recovery expert at Crystal Holistic Health Consulting, says for people who are exercising frequently, being overweight is only a slight problem because they tend to eat better and avoid damaging foods, like fast food, processed meats, junk foods and cereals.
“In people who are muscled and exercise frequently, even excess fat is stored differently,” Major says. “The muscles and organs remain healthy, while the fat is stored as protection. In people who do not exercise, the fat is stored within muscles and around organs. This is dangerous and why most people in our culture are both overweight and sick.”
We’re still not at the point where most doctors are going to give people a pass for being overweight and not recommend that they try and reach their ideal weight, but it’s important to keep in mind that other factors compete to tell a true tale about your health.