Healthy is NOT an synonym for Thin

Over at the F-Word today a very good point has been addressed in the process of touching on the subject of why it is that  an eating disorders awareness and education site rails against issues of weight-based discrimination and promotes fat rights.  The point on which I wanted to elaborate is best summed up by this snippet from the above linked post (emphasis is mine):

Just as a starving anorectic brain will not function properly, neither will a brain that is not receiving the nutrients it needs, regardless of the amount of calories consumed. The problem for most naysayers is the understanding that a healthy diet and regular fitness regime will not always make — or keep — one thin. Everyday, researchers are discovering more about the influence of genetics on body size and shape and finding that while environmental factors may pull the trigger, genetics loads the gun. And part of having a healthy diet is also having a healthy relationship with food. In a healthy diet, there are no “good” and “bad” foods and no food is considered off-limits or taboo. One does not eat according to some prescribed diet plan or by counting points, but rather by listening to one’s own bodily cues on hunger and satiety and its needs and wants.

Poor nutrition and sedentary lifestyles do pose a significant health issue across the nation, but its one that affects all Americans and not just fat Americans.

I would venture to even change “Americans” to simply “people”.  The 3 basic necessities of life (Food, Water, and Shelter) are not only necessities for those folks in one particular country.  Everyone needs good nutrition for a well-working mind and movement of some kind to have a body that is fit to do those everyday tasks required of it.  The trouble today is in the public opinion that in order to BE nutritionally balanced and well fit; you need to be thin.  After all, if you’re fat you must NOT be eating well or working out, right?  It’s just COMMON SENSE!  The trouble with Common Sense though, is how very non-sensical it is.   

[C]ommon sense typically has more to do with assumptions and beliefs than with impartial observations made with the senses, and indeed these assumptions and beliefs are often contradicted by evidence.

How very true.  For example, the common assumption that a thin person is, automatically, healthier and more fit than a heavier person, is contradicted by the vast amount of scientific research to the contrary.  A person’s body shape and size and ability has, in fact, very little to do with their overall health.  Just as you shouldn’t expect to know the timbre of a person’s voice before they speak or the sincerity of their actions before they act; you can’t really TELL a person’s eating or exercise habits simply by looking at them.  With so much of the make-up of our bodies determined by our genetic codes, and not dependant upon our environments and ability to control aspects of our lives, one should be able to see “common-sensically” that weight and shape bear no accurate reflection on a person’s health.  Just like height or hair color or the shape of your nose, the length of your fingers; the size and shape of your entire body is largely dependant upon genetics.  Further, dramatically changing your weight, in the mistaken belief that starvation diets and over-exercize are making you healthier, will only serve to frustrate you as genetics constantly bounces back you back to where your body feels that it belongs.

The implications were clear. There is a reason that fat people cannot stay thin after they diet and that thin people cannot stay fat when they force themselves to gain weight. The body’s metabolism speeds up or slows down to keep weight within a narrow range. Gain weight and the metabolism can as much as double; lose weight and it can slow to half its original speed.

As reported in an article which took to reporting the findings of studies regarding obesity that didn’t make it into the public eye:

 One of the country’s foremost obesity researchers, Jeffrey M. Friedman, M.D., head of the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics at Rockefeller University explains that the commonly-held simplistic belief that obesity is just a matter of eating too much and/or not exercising enough is “at odds with substantial scientific evidence illuminating a precise and powerful biologic system.” According to his research and that of numerous others, obesity is the result of differences in biology and metabolism, not behavior, diet or the environment. Through their own volition, people can control their weight long-term to a very small degree.

“The propensity to obesity is, to a significant extent, genetically determined,” he says. Someone genetically predisposed to obesity “will become obese independent of their caloric intakeeven when it’s restricted to that of thin counterparts. “The heritability of obesity is equivalent to that of height and greater than that of almost every other condition that has been studied,” Friedman states.

So, if your ability to control the physical appearance of your own bodily shell is so small; why is the belief that you CAN (and worse, that you SHOULD) so prevalent?  Well, part of it could be that the common-sense dogma about thinness meaning healthy behaviors has been so firmly ingrained that alternatives to these ideas are often not studied.  And, when research DOES turn up findings that run contrary to popular belief, those studies are not brought as forcibly to light as others that try to incite panic over what amounts to a barely tenable correlation.

The most disturbing part of having a society that, in large part, refuses to THINK before blindly accepting the public “common-sense” view on health is the damage it is doing to ALL of us.  We ALL need to get the right nutrition for our bodies.  We ALL need to maintain a fitness level that is workable for our bodies.  Yet, in the self-righteous shuffle of all the un-healthy blame onto “FAT!” we lose sight of the larger, more important, over-arching goal for which we SHOULD all be striving: health.  We also do a dis-service to those who AREN’T fat by assuming they are healthier. 

It is a privilege, and a very large one at that, to be healthy.  There are those who never live a day without pain.  Others who would love to know what it feels like to take an un-strained breath.  We should NOT be tacking one more criteria onto the list of what is needed to be considered of good health, invalidating the conscious efforts, and actual good health, of so many by denying the “healthy” status to those over a particular weight. It is also a detriment to those who are praised for the shape of their thinner bodies, regardless of eating/exercise habits to never hear about the nutrition and movement that their bodies, smaller though they might be, still require. 

Healthy is not synonymous with Thin.  Nor is Fat synonymous with Unhealthy.  Once we wrap our minds around THAT common sense; the ability to live happier (and healthier) lives becomes much simpler.


11 thoughts on “Healthy is NOT an synonym for Thin

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  2. This is a great post, and I wanted to say that I appreciate in general the fact that you provide so many great links in your posts. Thanks also for emphasizing that assumptions about fat/thin, healthy/unhealthy do a disservice to ALL people, fat and thin (mostly to fat people… but it does infuriate me that people who think they’re really “cracking down” on lifestyle-related health issues actually neglect thin people’s health by focusing so exclusively on obesity. Not that it is anyone else’s business to police our health, but even if it were, fat scapegoating would still do nothing to improve public health IMO).

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