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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Weighing the Evidence



Here in North America, as in many industrialized areas of the world, we are obsessed with weight.   The diet, fitness and weight-loss industries are worth billions of dollars, however, regardless of what new 'miracle' weight loss products or diets hit the market, our obesity epidemic continues to worsen.

The unfortunate reality is that most of us care more about our weight for aesthetic reasons than for health reasons.  This is certainly not surprising since our culture is fat-phobic and literally obsessed with thinness.  A higher BMI can mean social exclusion and system discrimination.  If you are lucky enough to be able to buck the pressures to obtain a particular body shape or appearance, than you may still wonder, are there any benefits to being 'thin' over being 'fat'?

For the most part it's been accepted that being overweight correlates with a greater risk of many chronic illnesses such as Type II diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.  However, if you follow media reports on health, than you may recall a large study published in the Journal of Americal Medical Association concluded that people in the overweight and Grade 1 obesity categories were at LOWER risk of mortality from all causes than those in the normal body weight category.

So does that mean we should all start skipping our spin classes and spreading the butter on our bread again?

No.  Sorry.

As the Nutrition Action Healthletter points out, this study was seriously flawed.  It did not exclude current or former smokers.  Because smoking increases metabolism and depresses appetite, smokers are often leaner, however, their risk of mortality is significantly higher.  It also did not exclude individuals who already have a serious illness, and they too are often leaner because many illnesses cause people to lose weight.  This study should have segmented different age groups significant weight loss among older people is often an indicator of a not-yet diagnosed health problem.

The Nutrition Action Healthletter also points out two other important factors.  First, when the media went nuts over this and started printing all their headlines, many better studies, which ALL consistently find a positive correlation between weight status and risk of death.  Furthermore, it is worth noting that living longer should not always be the ultimate goal, while living well should be.  In other words, does it matter if you live an extra 4 years if you are in chronic pain and totally dependent on others to function?

Unfortunately, we have loads of data that has found a link between excess weight and the risk of many chronic illnesses and death.  So while it is not necessary to obtain supermodel dimensions (for many of us that would be just as unhealthy as being overweight!), it is extremely important to health and long-term wellness to maintain a healthy weight.  Forget about just looking good (Billy Crystal had it wrong, it's better to feel good than to look good!), focus on being healthy and I promise you, you will be beautiful.

And what's the best way to do so?

It always, always, always comes down to the same things:

1. Aim to exercise for 60 minutes a day and avoid sitting for long periods of time.
2. Keep your waist under 35 inches, if you are a woman, and 40 inches if you are a man.
3. Eat a balanced diet that includes lots of fresh fruits and veggies, lean proteins and healthy fats, and avoids processed/refined foods, sugar, and saturated/trans fats.  Avoid liquid calories.
4. Get adequate sleep and practice stress management techniques.

And what about gluten? The Paleo diet? Cleanses?  Low-carb? Intermittent fasting?

The reality is, that there is no one best way to lose or maintain a healthy weight.  Ultimately, you have to achieve the correct energy balance for your body and do so by adopting healthy lifestyle habits that you enjoy and can sustain long-term.

Oh, and if long-term health and well-being is not enough motivation for you to: Stop smoking; Exercise; Lose Weight, etc., than maybe money is?

Recently I renewed my life insurance, so had to undergo extensive medical testing.  My results for everything (blood sugars, blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, etc.) were so good, that the insurance company voluntarily lowered my premiums!  How 'bout them apples?

Need help figuring this all out?  Visit my professional website and make an appointment, I can help!

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