I’ve always joked that I was just born in the wrong century. If this were a different time, say when plowing and milking were still daily tasks, my thick stature would be viewed as an asset, and not something to hide or sweat off at the gym. Excessively skinny people always looked slightly frail to me, like they might collapse if you gave them something heavy to carry. If you share my belief that size 0 pants don’t necessarily make you healthy, you’ll be relieved to know that science is finally backing us up.
Recent diabetes research at Northwestern University has led to the discovery of what experts are calling “the obesity paradox.” The New York Times has more:
In study after study, overweight and moderately obese patients with certain chronic diseases often live longer and fare better than normal-weight patients with the same ailments. The accumulation of evidence is inspiring some experts to re-examine long-held assumptions about the association between body fat and disease…In 2007, a study of 11,000 Canadians over more than a decade found that those who were overweight had the lowest chance of dying from any cause.
Apparently, the Body Mass Index (BMI) that everyone from doctors to fitness coaches has been using to cast judgment about our weight and health is far from the perfect tool we thought it was. The BMI completely fails to take physical fitness or activity levels into account — two characteristics that could have way more to do with your overall health than a number on a scale. As Traci Egan Morrissey sums it up for Jezebel, “A person who exercises and weighs more is often healthier than a person who doesn’t and weighs less.”
This is of course a radical notion in the medical establishment, and one most health professionals find very threatening. Dr. Carl Lavie, medical director of cardiac rehabilitation and prevention at the John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute in New Orleans, and one of the first researchers to document the obesity paradox, searched for over a year to get his initial study published.
Gym memberships, diet plans and metabolism-boosting supplements are a multi-million dollar industry. Not to mention the millions medical professionals reap from weight-loss surgeries. For decades we’ve counted calories and worked out obsessively to be skinny because that’s what the BMI told us was healthy. Now it turns out being skinny might actually make us more susceptible to death. Think about that for a second.
Of course, the key here is a multi-faceted holistic approach that brings our eating, exercise, and well-being into line with the body-type and metabolism prescribed in our DNA. This new discovery isn’t an excuse for obesity, it’s just permission to love yourself and strive for health, not a number on a scale. Looks like me and my thick calves are all right after all.