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Study Redefines What Being “Healthy” Really Requires

fit or fat

Photo credit: Flickr

Usually if something sounds too good to be true, it’s not true, right?

Well, that certainly seems to be the case when it comes to some of the latest health and fitness news. Recent headlines have given encouragement to those that are overweight but work out, like those saying that it’s more important to be fit than to be at the right weight. But those headlines may have been misleading or even downright wrong: turns out you can’t be fit and fat at the same time.

I’ve written before about the opposite side of the story, the “skinny fat,” and have to admit that I fall into that category. While I may check in at healthy weight, I’m certainly far from fit at this point in my life. I have chronic high cholesterol, and if you asked me to run up the stairs and get something for you, chances are I’d come back huffing and puffing. According to the old headlines, it wouldn’t matter: I’m at a normal weight, so I don’t need to worry about fitness. Wrong, wrong, and wrong. But then the research came out saying it’s more important to be fit in a cardiovascular  sense than to worry about the number on the scale. While this is empowering for many (as it’s often easier to hit the gym than to stop putting a forkful of delicious dessert in your mouth), I found it disheartening. It was a slap in the face. No longer could I rely on my weight to let me squeak through as “healthy.” Now, I have to get my butt back in shape.

The most recent research, however, shows that it’s not an either-or scenario. You have to have both: the fitness and the right weight. Why all the conflict? It turns out the original studies that came to the conclusion that fitness was the more important of the two may have been evaluated insufficiently. For example, some of the studies just looked at “adverse events,” meaning heart attacks or death, etc. as opposed to overall metabolic health, like evidence of diabetes and high blood pressure. Some of the studies only compared healthy obese people to unhealthy obese people, as opposed to people of a normal weight.

To me what the discrepancy behind all these headlines means is that we can’t give up because of something reported in the news, even if it’s backed by research. Health is too important to cast one factor aside. Whether we like it or not, you have to be fit and you can’t be fat.

On the flip side of the story, what do these headlines say about people’s perception of weight? Are we looking for excuses to stay overweight as a nation by sensationalizing and promoting stories that say it’s ok to be fat and as long as you’re in shape? The recently famed mom Maria Kang, who posted a picture of herself and her ripped midriff alongside her young children spoke out with a response I love: we’re normalizing the problem of obesity by making it “ok” to be overweight. She points out that empowering people that are overweight is backfiring. The media has put so much effort into highlighting “real women,” a.k.a. those that are overweight and curvy, that it’s made us think that it’s normal. While it might be normal in the sense that it’s common, it’s not normal that we’re sacrificing our physical health at the cost of our physiological health. Kang highlights a study that shows  one in four overweight women think they’re thin. While this is three cheers for body image, it’s a step in the wrong direction in the fight against obesity. Both are important, but one can’t be sacrificed for the other.

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