This blog post was originally published on March 5, 2015.
If I asked 10 different people what physical health looks like, do you think I would get the same answer? My guess is I would actually get 10 different answers largely because there is no one right answer.
The purpose of this blog is not to try and change your mind about what it looks like to be physically healthy, but rather to suggest that using body image and weight as an indicator of health is misguided. Being healthy is not about how you look, but rather what you do. What you do in your everyday life often plays a very large role in determining your what the real important health indicators like blood sugar levels, triglycerides (fat content in blood), LDL cholesterol, and many others will be.
I think it is time that we start to shift our attention from what people look like to what they do when we think about health. There are so many factors that contribute to health and there are also many things out of our control, but what is in our control, at least somewhat, is whether you try and live a healthy lifestyle.
So what does this mean? This means that you cannot always tell if someone is healthy or not by just looking at them. But—and I say this with a big but– the majority of research shows that being extremely overweight or extremely underweight can be very harmful for your health. We also should maybe rethink how we look at individuals whose weight falls somewhere in between these two extremes and even reconsider what we would be considered overweight. I say this because last year, a large study showed that people that are overweight actually live longer than people who are “normal” weights. I also say this because in the middle of these two extremes is a very large group of people that could, or could not be very healthy but we really cannot tell just by looking at them. What it comes down to is that the deciding factor is what people do in their everyday lives (and genetics), not what they look like. I think if we started to be more concerned with things like how physically active people are, how much sleep they get, and the food they eat (in addition to many other things) instead of what they look like, we as a society could do a better job at not stigmatizing people for being either over or underweight.
I would like to emphasize that I am not saying to be whatever size you want because as I said earlier, there is very good evidence to show that this can be very harmful to health. What I am saying is let’s worry more about eating real food, food that has not been overly processed, and exercising in moderation among many other daily activities, and let’s worry less about what size we should be. This means that being “skinny” even if you can eat whatever you want without exercising, does not make you healthy. But it also means for people that get the recommended amount of exercise and eat real food in reasonable amounts, but still weigh more than society says you should, that’s ok.
I think the bottom line is we need to be real with ourselves, and stop using what we look like to determine our health. What we look like in a mirror is meaningless if we are not doing what we should be doing to promote physical health, and vice versa. Let’s start trying to live our lives in a healthier way and use that to measure our health instead of the numbers we see on a scale.