Is it possible to be skinny or fat and still be fit and healthy? Here, we ask an expert to weigh in on the debate…
For many years we’ve been told that to be fit and healthy you have to be slim or muscular. But is that always the case?
Can you be skinny or fat and still be fit and healthy?
In her book Health at Every Size, American researcher and author Linda Bacon, promotes the idea that we should be accepting of all sizes and encourage health and fitness at every weight.
Recent years have seen a wider campaign, led by people such as plus-sized model, Tess Holliday, to promote body positivity, regardless of a person’s shape.
But many experts maintain that you cannot be fat and fit.
‘Metabolically healthy obese’ is a debateable term used to define a person with a body mass index high enough to be classified as obese but without some of the health complications that are normally linked with obesity.
But a study by the University of Birmingham found that those who are considered ‘metabolically healthy obese’ are 49 per cent more likely to suffer heart disease than those of normal weight, and run an increased risk of heart failure and stroke, even if they appear fit and healthy.
Here, Jane DeVille-Almond, of the British Obesity Society, explains some of the main issues around weight and health.
Body mass index
BMI, body mass index — where a ratio of body mass against height is measured — has often been controversial. Many experts believe it’s not always accurate as athletes, for example, often have very dense muscle but can have the same BMI as a person who is obese.
Jane says: ‘The BMI is only a guideline so if you are a little over the 25 range and fit, then there really is no need to worry. The trick is to try not to gain any more weight as you get older, so it is important to keep an eye on it and weigh yourself regularly.
‘Many people who do lots of physical activity believe that much of their weight is due to muscle. This often is not the case but you can check this out on some of the more advanced scales at the gym which show up your fat percentage and your muscle mass.
‘Carrying excess weight of any sort in later life can lead to many other health problems, including knee and hip issues, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, sleep apnoea and in some cases increase your risk of certain cancers.’
Jane adds: ‘It’s really important that people do not get “how they look” confused with “how weight might affect their health”.
‘Many people will feel absolutely fine while they are young and overweight or obese. The big problem is what happens as they get older.’
Fat around the middle
‘It is not so much about weight but where you carry that extra weight,’ Jane says. ‘If you carry fat around your middle, for example, you are quite likely to have high levels of visceral fat. This can sit around your internal organs and prevent them from working as efficiently as they should.
‘To test whether your waist is too big you should measure your height and ensure your waist is no greater than half your height. So if you are six feet (72 inches), then your waist should be 36 inches or below. If you are 5ft 6in (66 inches), then your waist should be 33 inches or less, and so on.’
Cholesterol is another hidden problem.
Jane says: ‘Carrying excessive amounts of fat can also indicate that your cholesterol levels are too high. This can lead to all sorts of problems including clogging up of your arteries, and high blood pressure, so get it checked out.’
Whatever your size, being positive about trying exercise is important. A study found that the This Girl Can exercise campaign, which featured women of all sizes, encouraged 1.6 million women to start exercising.
Jane says: ‘There really is no need to go to a gym to get fit. Just moving around, walking, doing the garden, general chores and dancing have exactly the same impact.’
Finally, Jane warns that it isn’t just larger people who need to think about their health.
‘Conversely, being slim does not automatically equate to being healthy,’ she says. ‘Many slim people can be heading for trouble unless they adopt a healthy lifestyle. It is worth remembering we only have one body for our lifetime and how we maintain it will affect how it works.’
Edited by Julie Cook
‘I’m thin but not frail’
After I had my two children, I went up to a size 18. But I didn’t feel fit and healthy at that weight. I cut out bread and sugar and exercised, and months later was down to a size six and weighed 8st 7lb.
Now I am still that weight and I cycle, run and walk everywhere. But people are convinced that because I’m thin for my height, I am unfit and frail.
People offer to carry things for me — despite the fact that I work cleaning apartments and can heave huge bags of linen upstairs on my own.
People assume you can’t be fit if you don’t have bulging muscles or if you look slight.
I am proof you can be very slim and fit and I believe that, for me, being slimmer equals being healthier.
From Lisa Reid, 46, of Swindon
‘I’m a size 22 but feel fit’
Years ago I was a size 10-12 and now I am a size 22-24, but I can honestly say I feel as fit now as I did when I was slimmer.
Back then I ran up and down the stairs, was active and supple and I am exactly the same now at my bigger size.
I have limits though — I know that if my weight goes over 19 stone, I start to feel out of breath and unhealthy so I always make sure I don’t go over 18st 7lb.
Being bigger hasn’t limited my life — I’ve done modelling for brands such as Evans and Gossard and never feel unhealthy because of my BMI.
I would like to reduce my weight but in the meantime, I have to live my life. So I intend to be as active at this weight as I was at a size 10. I think it’s about mind over matter.
From Karen Sear, 51, of Billericay, Essex