What You Didn't Know About Health At Every Size

by Lindsey Rose Black

Merely looking at someone is in no way enough to determine whether or not they are healthy. A wide range of factors are at play when figuring out whether you are actually "healthy" or not, and it includes some of these things you didn't know about health at every size. It's time for BMI to stop being the end-all-be-all of deciding who is considered healthy!

As someone aligned with the body positivity and body acceptance movements, I am super excited to have discovered the Health At Every Size philosophy. The Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) principles include the following: weight inclusivity (meaning acceptance and respect for the diversity of body shapes and health enhancement that "improve and equalize access to information and services"), respectful care (a call to end "weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias"), eating for well-being (promoting individualized nutritional needs as opposed to a "one-size-fits-all" eating plan), and life-enhancing movement (physical activity that is enjoyable and emotionally enriching instead of prescribed requirement).

I used dug through scientific journals around the web to find proof that the definition of "healthy" goes far beyond BMI alone. We as a society need to start embracing this so everyone can be their healthiest self — whatever that means as physically and emotionally unique individuals.

Here are seven things you didn't know about health at every size.

1. Fitness Is More Important Than Leanness

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Glenn Gaesser, PhD and Professor of Exercise Physiology and Director of the kinesiology program at the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia, wrote an article published in the Harvard Health Policy Review challenging the common misconception that thinness equates to healthiness. Gaesser referenced the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study in Dallas, Texas, which concluded "obese men who are classified as “fit” based on an exercise treadmill test ... have death rates one-half those of lean-unfit men – suggesting that fitness is more important than leanness in reducing the risk of premature death."

2. BMI Is Flawed

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Dr KJ Rothman, published an article in the International Obesity Review explained that BMI alone is not enough to determine health, as it excludes factoring "age, sex, bone structure, fat distribution or muscle mass" from its calculations.

3. Emotional Health Matters

When health is reduced to weight, we forget to take emotional health into account and how much it can impact our physical bodies. The APA expressed how emotional stressors "can trigger heart attacks, arrhythmias and even sudden death." Learning how to cope with stress effectively, be it through counseling, meditation, exercise, medication, a combination of all of them or something else entirely, is crucial to achieving a holistic health and has zero to do with size.

4. Metabolical Health Is More Important Than Weight

Fitness shared a study from the European Heart Journal, which showed "when obese people are metabolically healthy — which means their blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and other indicators fall within a healthy range — they are at no greater risk of dying from heart disease or cancer than those [of lower] weight."

5. Lifestyle Is More Important Than Dieting

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Regardless of your size, following the lifestyle that's right for you is more important than dieting. Dr. Sherry L. Pagoto and Dr. Bradley M. Appelhans published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association explaining how constant diet-hopping to follow fads over what's touted as being "the healthiest" separates us from listening to our individualized bodies' needs and lifestyles to support optimal health. If you feel unsure about what lifestyle strategy would best suit you, consulting with a nutritionist is a good place to start!

6. Don't Discount Genetics

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Being healthy at any size also requires taking genetics into account. The Dr.Oz show explored the links between individualized genetics and nutrition, with David Katz, MD, nutrition expert and founder of the Yale Prevention Center, explaining, "The link between genes and nutrition ... makes sense because our genes control hormone levels, enzyme levels - all the basic levels of metabolism." To learn what would likely work best for your specific body type, a DNA test is encouraged.

7. You Can Improve Your Health Without Losing Weight

According to a 2007 Medicare study, roughly 95 percent of dieters regain the lost weight, sometimes more, within three years of the loss. This study also showed that practitioners of Health at Every Size achieved the same health benefits as dieters in the short term, yet after three years, most of the dieters studied had lost their health improvements, while the HAES group maintained their improved health, never having lost any weight.

8. Diets Aren't Usually Designed To Work

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Dr. Linda Bacon, author of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight and Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, or Just Fail to Understand about Weight highlights the flaws of the traditional, capitalism-driven dieting industry where individuals are more or less set up to fail with impossible restrictions.

In her 2011 article "Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift," she explains how focusing on diet after diet trend "is not only ineffective at producing thinner, healthier bodies, but may also have unintended consequences, contributing to food and body preoccupation, repeated cycles of weight loss and regain, distraction from other personal health goals and wider health determinants, reduced self-esteem, eating disorders, other health decrement, and weight stigmatization and discrimination."

9. Not All Fat Is Equal

Most people are taught "fat is bad" without any further info. But there's very little proof that subcutaneous fat in and of itself is harmful. Furthermore, visceral fat (which we can't see, and thin people can also have) has more risk of harming the body. According to Prevention, "Excess visceral fat can literally subtract years from your life."

10. Health Is A Journey

It's a fact that your body changes as time passes. This is where body positivity is a major player in recognizing your beauty at any stage. What's considered healthy for you right now might not apply down the road, so don't get tied down in a trap of the one "right" way you're supposed to take optimal care of yourself! Most importantly, remember to enjoy the ride.