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Big Fat Lies

Once upon a time I believed that I needed to lose weight to be healthy, that I risked illness and disease and even early death if I stayed large. Once upon a time, I believed being thin was the only goal, and after that I wouldn’t have to worry about anything.

Unfortunately, what I was told and believed simply isn’t true. It took me a long time to learn that, because the myths are simply so pervasive. How could all this belief be wrong?

Yet more and more evidence is coming to light showing exactly that. My most recent exposure to it came when reading Big Fat Lies: The Truth about Your Weight and Your Health by Glenn A. Gaesser. It’s a book that deconstructs the myths that say thin = healthy and fat = sick, period. In some cases, though, not only is this not true, the reverse is more correct, in that sometimes obesity may be beneficial.

I didn’t expect to be as disturbed as I was by this information, but some of it hit so close to home I couldn’t help but flinch. Consider this statistic: “Among those who had never smoked, women with a BMI between 22 and 24.9 had a 140 percent higher risk of developing lung cancer than women with a BMI of 28 or more. In other words, it was better to be clinically obese than to be within the recommended guidelines.” (p. 101 – italics from Gaesser)

That one stands out for me because my mom died when her breast cancer metastasized and spread to both of her lungs. To this day, the sound of someone struggling to breath terrifies me. Yet my mom did everything she was “supposed” to, including being thin. To think that her “correct” weight may have contributed in some way to her early death is terrible and heart wrenching.

Even from a broader viewpoint, it’s stark and sobering to consider that, in addition to myths about weight, we have the myths that dieting is good for us. And yet, studies have also shown that to be actively harmful, not the wonderful thing we’ve been told: “For example, compared with healthy, overweight women who remained weight stable, women who intentionally lost between one and nineteen pounds over a period of a year or more had premature death rates from caner, cardiovascular disease, and all causes that were increased by as much as 40 to 70 percent.” (p. 160 – italics from Gaesser)

All of which leads the author to make the important point that the key factor for health is fitness, and to remind everyone that both thin and fat people can be fit. Focusing on weight alone as an indication of health keeps us jumping to wrong conclusions, as well as fostering other negative responses, such as forming snap judgments based on someone’s weight.

I only hope that the truth revealed by these studies becomes part of the mainstream, and we can move away from weight obsession to focus on health, because that is what we should more truly be striving for in order to lead long, joyful lives.

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