Whenever I say “weight and health aren’t necessarily linked” in my office I get one of 2 responses:
- I don’t believe you.
- You’re crazy.
For years, we have been trying to fight the “obesity epidemic” because being overweight or obese based on our BMI increases our risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc. Whatever the disease was, being fat was to blame.
Those on larger bodies got ridiculed and got left out. We subconsciously judged those who are overweight saying they can’t take care of themselves, asking ourselves how they let themselves go.
Countless efforts and public policies were put in place to stop the epidemic. Low-fat products, fad diets, and sugar-free foods. You name it, everyone is trying to help you lose weight whether you want to or not because a healthy weight means a healthy life.
But what if we’ve got in wrong this whole time? What if we haven’t been tackling the right things?
BMI means nothing.
Sure, when studying a large group of people, BMI is a simple quick tool to assess your “healthy weight”. BMI, or body mass index is simply a measure of your weight according to your height (BMI= kg/m2). For example, if you weigh 60kg and measure 1.6m, your BMI would be 60/(1.6*1.6) = 23.4. A “healthy” range is 18.5 – 25 for adults. Above that, you are either overweight or obese. As you can see, there are a few flaws. If you weigh more because you have lots of muscle mass – like me for example 😉 – you’ll be above the ideal numbers. Does this make you overweight? No, it just means you’re strong, you sexy beast. Same thing if you have a large bone structure.
Weight vs Behavior
Let’s compare 2 people.
Person 1 has a BMI of 30, is active daily, eats a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and many plant-based foods, sleeps well, has a great relationship with food, has no disease risk factors, and has perfect blood test results.
Person 2 has a BMI of 30, is mostly sedentary, skips meals because of their busy schedule leading to overeating, doesn’t sleep well, is really stressed out at work, and starts showing signs of high blood pressure and high blood sugar.
Both have the same BMI putting them in the obese category. This would put them at an increased risk of disease according to our current culture and we would suggest both to lose weight to bring them at a healthy BMI. But this is wrong!
Studies show that healthy behaviors, regardless of weight, reduce your risk of disease.
According to person 1’s history, she is at a very low risk for disease. Person 2 however, is not and this is because of her lack of exercise and sleep, and poor eating habits, not their weight.
Now person 2 started eating more fruits and veggies, sleeps better, reduced fast food intake, and started walking. Person 2 lost 20 lbs in the process and reduced their risk of chronic diseases. Is this because they’re 20 lbs lighter or because they’re not eating pizza 4 times a week?
If person 2 started walking, eating regularly, and reducing stress, but didn’t lose weight, would their health improve? Yes.
Now let’s say person 3 comes in the picture. This person has a BMI of 22. This person has a healthy weight, works out 3 days a week, but eats 2 meals a day, one of them being at a fast food joint. Very little fruits and veggies, and mostly eating processed foods. This person is now pre-diabetic.
By just looking at person 3 or taking their weight, we would assume they are healthy. However, like person 2, their lifestyle says otherwise. Does the saying “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover” ring a bell?
There are so many factors that play a role in health. Health is not a number on a scale, a clothing size, or a six-pack. According to Association for Size Diversity and Health, health is based on many factors including physical, social, spiritual, occupational, emotional, and intellectual aspects. If we stopped focusing on weight and more on behaviors, we would limit the emotional toll fat-shaming has on our society, which hasn’t been shown to be beneficial (it actually does more harm than good). You can control behaviors, not your weight.
For more information, visit the Association for Size Diversity and Health of which I am a member.