Can your weight effect your health? Of course it can, people who are either underweight or overweight can be at risk of many health issues. There are definitely situations where people need to either lose or gain weight to improve their health or possibly even save their life. In many cases however, it is not about the weight.
Does being overweight = being unhealthy? no
Many of the diseases associated with obesity are really diseases of metabolic dysfunction, obesity travels with those diseases but it not the cause of them. Dr Robert Lustig, Pediatric Endocrinologist explains that “everyone thinks those downstream diseases are because of the obesity and that could not be further from the truth. The obesity travels with those diseases, but the obesity is a marker for those diseases. 20% of obese people have a completely normal cellular metabolism and they will live to a normal age. 40% of thin people – normal weight people – have those same chronic metabolic diseases and will die of them. Nobody dies of the obesity per se – they die of the diseases that come from the metabolic dysfunction.”
A Healthy Lifestyle Habits Study in 2012 found that people who were consistent with four behaviors had a lower risk of mortality (dying) over the course of the study. This was irrespective of whether those people were classed as overweight, obese or normal weight, These four behaviors were:
- Regular exercise (more than 12 times a month)
- Diet rich in vegetables and fruit (at least five serves a day)
- Moderate alcohol intake
- Avoiding or quitting smoking
Losing weight often gets all the credit for correcting health problems however some of those changes would have happened with or without the weight loss due to the healthy lifestyle habits adopted by that person. I have seen many overweight people correct various health issues in my clinic, some that included weight loss and some didn’t.
In my experience with my own weight and health issues and many clients over the last eleven years I believe that we all have a weight range that is ideal for us, it is the weight where you feel good and you can maintain your health. This is an individual thing and may change at different ages or stages in life. This could be a size 6 or 16 or many other sizes, there really is no “one size fits all” when it comes to health.
To make it worse people who are overweight are blamed for their health issues, normal sized people with the same issues actually get empathy and support whilst the overweight person is stigmatized, I have heard many a story and seen the pain inflicted by health practitioners in these situations, to be honest I probably have inflicted pain on my clients the past under the guise of “doing my job well” before I truly understood these concepts. Being belittled and shamed by a health practitioner only leads to further stress, guilt and shame, sending many of these people into the spiral of emotional eating, guilt, stress and self loathing that can make improving their health near impossible. It also leads to poorer health outcomes for those people who may not be heard or may not be willing to go to health care professionals in the future for fear of being treated this way. I have seen this happen before, my clients say “they couldn’t see me, they could only see my weight” what if that person doesn’t receive an important diagnosis in time because they are avoiding the inevitable criticism and shaming they receive every time they ask for help? Now that is life threatening!
Every time this type of discussion comes up, I hear people say “what about personal responsibility” this is the standard junk food company line. Food companies love this line; it takes the responsibility completely off them and justifies them encouraging people to still eat their products “in moderation”. While clearly it is true that we are responsible for our own choices, I agree Dr Aseem Malhotra, London Cardiologist on this matter. He says that to exercise personal responsibility, you need two things: you need the right information and you need choice. Right now we have neither, because the information is confusing and contradictory, we have this obesogenic food environment, it’s very difficult to make healthy choices and furthermore to get help without judgement.
All health journeys should be focused on slowly changing habits and behaviours that nourish and nurture our mind and body and if weight loss is needed, it will be more likely to happen when you don’t live in a constant whirl of fear, shame, calorie counting and stress! I believe we can all make a difference, we can begin by accepting health comes in many sizes, not judging ourselves or other people, showing love, support and acceptance for ourselves and for others.
More on Changing our Conversation about food here.