Health at Every Size: What Does “Healthy” Really Look Like?

People seek weight loss as a means to improve health and reduce their risk of chronic disease. But, does looking skinny really equate to better health? An emerging body of research is actually suggesting quite the opposite. Glenn Gaesser, PhD, an exercise physiologist and author of “Big Fat Lies: The Truth about Your Weight and Your Health,” says “the number on the scale may be a poor predictor of health as it fails to consider cardiovascular fitness, physical activity and diet.” That is: Being fit and fat can be healthier than being skinny and out of shape, aka “skinny fat.”

The Link Between Weight & Health
As they say, you can’t judge a book by its cover. Just because someone is overweight doesn’t mean their health is at risk. In fact, according a review by Linda Bacon, PhD, author of “Health at Every Size,” except in extreme cases, body mass index “only weakly predicts longevity.” Her review discovered that most studies following large groups of participants over many years “find that people who are overweight or moderately obese live at least as long as normal weight people, and often longer” with the greatest longevity in the overweight category.

New research has revealed yo-yo dieting or weight cycling to be associated with increased markers of inflammation, high blood pressure, low HDL (the “good” cholesterol) and premature death from heart disease. Obesity may not be the underlying cause of disease, as traditional medicine and health policy suggest. Diet quality, exercise and sleep habits have more impact on health than weight. Instead of fighting the war on fat, focus your efforts on eating healthy, being active and forming good sleep habits.


“Diet quality, exercise and sleep habits have more impact on health than weight.”


The Alternative to Weight-Centric Goals
The alternative approach to weight-centric health goals looks at health holistically and through a different, body-positive lens, which can be very motivating for many people. The Health at Every Size movement promotes weight acceptance and addresses the stigma and cultural obsession with weight that makes it challenging for many people to be healthy. Some experts even believe that the focus on fat and obesity is making the population more obese. How? Research has shown a potential relationship among weight stigma, emotional eating and poor self-esteem.

Shifting the paradigm in how we view weight can be an effective way to encourage small tweaks to lifestyle that makes health even more achievable. This doesn’t mean that you can throw in the towel, sit on the sofa and eat potato chips all day long. The Health at Every Size approach is about being the best person you can be no matter what you weigh. It’s about seizing the day and working toward health — physically and emotionally. Instead of making weight loss the goal, allow it to be a side effect of a healthier lifestyle.

If you want to challenge the status quo and face these weighty issues head on, find further reading about the Health at Every Size movement at LindaBacon.org, or check out Gaesser’s book, “Big Fat Lies.”

Kristina LaRue
Kristina LaRue

Kristina LaRue, RD, CSSD, LDN is a sports dietitian in Orlando, FL and co-author of the Flat Belly Cookbook for Dummies. She writes the food and nutrition blog, Love & Zest, where she shares recipes, life, and nutrition. Connect with her outside of the blog on Pinterest,  Twitter and Instagram.

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