Thursday, March 8, 2012

Questioning the Common Wisdom

I think that questioning the common wisdom is generally a good thing because it often leads to very necessary discussion about issues we all take for granted. Recently, I read this article questioning the common wisdom about how we, as a society, approach obesity. I have to say that, while I think the author makes some good points, I do not agree with her conclusion.

The author makes the argument that we put too much emphasis on weight loss. The argument is that we can be healthy at any weight.  If a person eats a healthy diet and is not sedentary (i.e. exercises, even a little bit), then the person should be healthy - at any weight. I can agree with her point that if one eats healthy food and exercises (even a little bit) that person will be healthiER than someone else the same weight. However, I think that if one is eating healthily and exercising appropriately, the weight will come off as a result. So, then we're back to weight loss. Yes, a person can be healthy and be overweight but that is not to say that there is not an inextricable link between obesity and being unhealthy. The author seems to discount this out of hand.

The article even goes so far as to quote statistics that show that overweight people live longer than those who are considered to be a "normal" weight.  Statistics may seem convincing, but as someone who does policy analysis and research for a living, I am always skeptical when an article throws out statistics. I would love to know (1) where these statistics come from (2) what was considered "overweight" and what was considered "normal" (3) any mitigating factors in the population (was this a population of people who got regular exercise or was this a population of sedentary people - or was it a mix and what did that look like) and (4) the sample size and makeup (for example, was this a geographically diverse population) ??

The author does make some good points, she emphasizes the importance of focusing on being healthy and changing your body by eating healthy foods and exercising, rather than to obsess about weight. I completely agree that the most important thing is to focus on being healthy, and of course there are shades of grey here.  I think that striving for an unattainable weight goal is harmful - yes. I think that eating too few calories or exercising too much simply to lose weight is unhealthy - of course.  I think that a person can be healthy and still be "overweight" according to the BMI. I think that dieting is not a good thing because it is not a permanent thing. However, I think that this author goes overboard with her conclusion and she may be giving people who really should lose weight an excuse not to. I absolutely do not agree that a person can be healthy AT ANY WEIGHT.  I think that message is potentially harmful, and I can say that speaking from my own experience.

Speaking as someone who was very overweight, I understand how difficult it is to motivate oneself to lose weight, I know I clung to several excuses not to completely change my lifestyle. Yes, of course the author is advocating a healthy lifestyle and in that regard I completely agree. Lifestyle change is the very best way to take off weight and keep it off. No diet will work as well or as permanently as lifestyle change. But as far as her contention that you can be healthy at any weight is concerned, consider that when my husband and I first started attempting to lose weight, we started eating more healthier foods (along with our high calorie diet), and we started walking for exercise, on the weekends. Make no mistake, that was good for us, we were probably healthier than we had been, but we were not doing enough. The weight did not come off, I still had migraines, my cholesterol was off the charts and I still had aches and pains that no 38 year old woman should have.

Today, I am so much healthier than I was 100 pounds ago. My cholesterol is WAY down, in fact all of my "numbers" look fabulous, I have more energy, my migraines are GONE (I was having up to five a month at one point and they were debilitating), I can move better, I can think better, my aches are gone, I sleep better, and yes, I look better and I'm more confident.  It is almost inexplicable just how much better I feel. I feel like I am getting much more out of life. And while maybe I could have been healthy at a higher weight - why should I settle for that? There is a lot to be said about quality of life.

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