unhealthy eating Part 1: obesity ain’t the issue

eating every time you eat or drink



It is clear to see that Obesity is going to become our next “global warming” type topic.

Not only is weight/health of the population a real issue but now politicians are warming to the issue as a way to get some media time. so here it comes. And, as with most government discussions, they are going to try to dumb it down with catchwords to focus people. “Obesity” is the word of the day. (and the fact that politicians are becoming involved will only slow us down in addressing the real issue).



The obesity issue is a complex topic.


And let me say that I believe obesity is the wrong word and wrong issue.


Do I know the right word(s)? Yup. It’s really kind of simple … not as sexy as ‘obesity’ but, yes, it is pretty simple.


Unhealthy eating. (or unhealthy intake if you want to get more technical)


It’s not sexy. It’s not catchy. But it is what it is.


Our health, body, issue is NOT obesity.


While size matters to a percentage of people the whole idea of “we as a nation are unhealthy eaters” is the issue (and not a tough concept to understand or believe).


Unhealthy eating creates unhealthy bodies which creates health issues (some of which are pretty dire and all are costly). And I would imagine the longer your body is unhealthy the higher the likelihood of issues (so addressing the issue with children does make a lot of sense). Unhealthy eating also affects energy, lack thereof, to do things as well as brain energy but let’s focus on health issues.

There you go.


Lastly (just so I can close the loop on the Obesity word).


The obesity word is too polarizing and runs the risk of becoming this generation’s “global warming” descriptor. And, to be honest, it’s not the issue. It’s too small (to make a pun).



It’s obvious that it’s better not to be overweight since excess fat can cause problems.


So where do we draw the line that says someone is overweight or obese?

An international study just readjusted the figures to take into account health risks and now say a BMI of above 23 is overweight making a 6ft man weighing anything more than 170 lbs is overweight (which is madness). Heck. Without the health risks adjustment a 5’11” guy weighing about 182 lbs is overweight. At 5’8” and about 184 I would be considered obese and I can run for over an hour and a half and still play some tennis in a day if I wanted. Trying to put numbers to this whole thing is really an awful like the same problem climatologists are running into when trying to measure earth’s temperature.


BMI is a very crude and limited measure and it leads to a very complex confusing discussion on obesity.


And, in general, the idea of being fat (or overweight) and fit is complex.


We should stop thinking about obesity. We should stop thinking about “getting everyone slim (or slimmer).”healthy weight


The trick is to get people to maximize the health of the body they have. Health researchers/professionals recognizing the failure and dangers of traditional weight-centered approaches to health are increasingly adopting the Health At Every Size (HAES) philosophy. HAES promotes tested and achievable ways to optimize health for the individual. It does this by focusing on eating, activity and body acceptance. Of course, food and exercise are old targets in the health promoter’s arsenal, and psychological factors influencing dieting behaviors are well-known. But the crucial difference is that HAES emphasizes the benefits of sound nutrition, active living and body confidence as ends in themselves, not as a route to weight management.


Having removed the goal of weight loss, HAES promotes a healthy relationship with food, including the importance of learning to recognize internal signals rather than ignore them in favor of rigid eating plans. HAES encourages activity for general wellbeing, for pleasure in movement and abilities and not as a calorie-burning mission.


This is the way to go.


Scientific evidence is clear: for the vast majority of people, there is no known safe way to obtain significant weight changes and maintain them in the long-term. Dieting puts bodies in emergency starvation mode and it is difficult to willingly under eat; your body will make you eat in order to survive. The evidence shows that weight lost from dieting is almost always regained within a few years, often accompanied by a few more pounds. Even those who undergo the risks of weight-loss surgery find that much of the weight lost is regained in the long term.




If it’s not weight is it healthier to be slim but unfit or fat and fit?



Just as you can be slim and sedentary, it’s possible to be overweight and active.

But which is better for your health?


Oh if only this were a simple question to answer.


The government tells us that obesity has a “severe impact” on our health, and places a “significant burden on the health insurance” so slimming is practically our patriotic duty.


So what if exercise doesn’t seem to be working? What if you can now run a mini marathon yet your weight has hardly changed? Are you a lost cause? Or is it possible to be both fat and fit? Not just fit enough to exercise, but fit enough to live as long as someone a lot lighter?




As usual it depends on the study you look at. In addition, any study conducted now reflects a snapshot in time within a lifetime of someone who has probably been obese (overweight) for some time. Rather than use my post to spout off a variety of research numbers but let me finish this section off with a thought which the majority of researchers will not dispute:


–          As you progress towards overweight, class I obesity and class II obesity, the percentage of individuals who are fit does go down. But here’s a shock: among class II obese individuals [with a body mass index, or BMI, of between 35 and 39.9], about 40% or 45% are still fit. You simply cannot tell by looking whether someone is fit or not. In all of these studies, we typically see higher rates of mortality, chronic diseases, heart attacks and the like, in people with high BMI – we see the same thing that everybody else sees. But when we look at these mortality rates in fat people who are fit, we see that the harmful effect of fat just disappears.


If we look at individuals who are obese and just moderately fit – we’re not talking about marathon runners here – their death rate during the next decade is half that of the normal weight people who are unfit. So it’s a huge effect.”



One day this fat-but-fit question will be answered without the shadow of a doubt. In the meantime, is there anything that all the experts agree on? Yes. However much your body weighs, you’ll live longer if you move it around a bit.



The Tricky Part: Behavior Change (this is further discussed in Part 2)


I further my argument that this isn’t about obesity but rather Unhealthy eating by talking about behavior change versus habit behavior.

What I mean is ask an overweight person about this issue and their blood pressure goes through the roof.


“I’d like to say to the various people who say ‘it’s not rocket science etc’, the issue of weight rarely has anything to do with intelligence. Much like how many intelligent people smoke. Behavior change isn’t about how easy we are told something is, it’s about how hard it seems to be when you are about to start. I’ve been changing my habits for the past three months because I know I have to lose weight. And it’s fucking scary if you don’t know where to begin. I am significantly overweight and literally thought I was beyond help. I thought I’d be laughed out of any dance class/gym/whatever I went to. I did get looks as well, half pitying “aah at least she’s trying” and half smug “I’d never let myself get like THAT”. That’s exactly what people don’t need when they are already scared about making changes.

What is there to be afraid of? You might ask. After all it’s not rocket science. If you have been overweight for many years of your life, or even your whole life. Changing that is effectively changing part of yourself, for the better yes, but scary none the less.”


“Comments such as “it’s so easy” and “it’s not rocket science” just go to show how ignorant the authors of those comments are.”


Amen sister (that’s me). I couldn’t say it better.

My Part 3 will be focused on what kind of campaign and message I would do to address behavior change.



This Issue comes in all Shapes and Sizes


Because obesity and overweight is so complex people invariably go to the simplest common denominator – appearance. And then it is a quick step to “slim is good.”


The hardest leap for people is the idea that all bodies are worthy of respect; that it is permissible and important to appreciate and care for the body you live in, whatever size you are; that bodies should not be disliked or despised for their lack of conformity to a particular size or shape.

Adopting a HAES approach may or may not result in a weight change, but that’s not the point. The point is that HAES improves health outcomes long-term and dieting doesn’t.


It seems counterproductive to continue pouring money and effort into attempts to make everyone slim. Instead let us aim for a different approach: treating people of all shapes and sizes with respect and providing equal access to evidence-based healthcare without discrimination or prejudice. HAES, adopted by increasing numbers of researchers and healthcare professionals, provides just such an approach. And permits us to address the core issue – unhealthy eating.



Here is the Summary:


If you’re fat and don’t do anything about it, you’ve increased your chances of eating disorder constant battleheart disease and the rest of health issues associated with carrying around extra weight.
If you’re fat and you do some exercise, you’ve reduced that risk.

If you’re not fat and don’t do anything, you’ve increased your risk of health issues.
If you’re not fat and you exercise, then you’ve reduced it further.


If you are anything and smoke or eat crap you have increased risk of health issues.


We already know this.

We also know that caloric restriction (not malnutrition) increases longevity too. I believe there was a study on this in 1996 so even then it was well known.


If you eat less (but eat better) you live longer (regardless of your weight or shape).


You can exercise as much as you like, but if you’re eating more calories than you need, you’re chances of heart disease and health issues are going to be higher. (regardless of your weight or shape)




This is kind of simple.


Regardless of your size (or ‘weight label’) we should be encouraging everyone to eat well, consume an appropriate number of calories and be more active. So let’s move forward with attacking the Unhealthy Eating issue and throw obesity to the skeptics to chew on.

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Written by Bruce