Longtime blog readers know that my gut response on this would be yes — but it turns out there is a decent amount of science to support that idea. Of course this is a pretty controversial claim, so let’s go over some ground rules right now:
- No, I am not saying that every overweight person is healthy (or vice versa).
- No, I am not saying that every thin person is unhealthy (or vice versa).
- No, I am not saying that you can stop exercising and/or live on brownies, and be healthy for the rest of your life.
- I am saying here and now that brownies are delicious (but I don’t say so in this article because it’s really not about brownies).
Here’s what I am arguing, after interviewing tons of researchers on both sides of the debate (far more than I had space to quote in the article, alas!):
Many very large. reputable and well-designed studies have concluded that the link between health and weight is not nearly as straightforward as we’re usually told. In fact, as many as 50 percent of overweight people have no significant health problems. At all. (Other than the stress of being bigger than our culture thinks is pretty — except that is not their problem, it’s everyone’s.)
That’s important for more people (especially women) understand because lot of us give up on exercise and healthy eating when it doesn’t result in a smaller body. And that means we miss out on a lot of the health benefits of those habits — health benefits that you still accrue even if your weight doesn’t drop, or doesn’t drop as much as you think it “should.” It also means we boil our understanding of our health — and so often, self-worth — down to one single number and feel like failures if we can’t control it, no matter what else we’ve got going on.
This is one of those pieces that could have run on for pages and pages more (and bless my editor’s heart, the first draft definitely did), so I’m going to apologize right now to everyone I interviewed who may feel their work is underrepresented here — I tried! And my editor tried. We just lost the age-old word count battle. But it’s a pro-Health At Every Size piece in a major women’s magazine, so I’m calling this one a win.
Special thanks to these excellent sources who were all incredibly generous with their time and input:
- Sally McGraw of Already Pretty
- Arya Sharma, MD, chair of obesity research and management at the University of Alberta
- David Katz, MD, founder of the Yale University Prevention Research Center (yes he plays devil’s advocate in this story, but he does so quite thoughtfully — and I have nothing but respect for his work on these issues).
- Lindsay Kite, PhD, co-founder of Beauty Redefined
- Linda Bacon, PhD, author of the groundbreaking book, Health At Every Size