Double Trouble

I’ve had trouble finding time to write during the past week or so, but an endless stream of interesting health articles managed to cross my path, so reading was clearly not a problem. Two of these articles are of great concern to me, especially when considered in tandem.

First, the National Cancer Institute just published (in the New England Journal of Medicine) the results of a study that found being overweight or obese can shorten people’s lifespans, even if they don’t have cancer or heart disease. These results kind of refute rather controversial 2005 findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that being slightly overweight may protect people’s health.

The current study excluded people who smoke or who had been diagnosed with cancer or heart disease, or had previously had a stroke. This means that the study was able to focus on the role excess body weight plays in the likelihood of dying in otherwise healthy people.

One issue this new study didn’t really consider was how physically active the overweight participants were. There’s a lot of talk about whether being “fit and fat” is a healthy state of being. I think the jury is still out on that. Surely, it is better to be overweight and fit than overweight and not fit (and possibly even better than being normal weight and unfit), but whether the benefits of fitness totally overcome any pitfalls of being overweight or obese…well, I vote in favor of playing it safe by building a healthy, active lifestyle that allows you to enjoy eating and enjoy being at a healthy weight.

The second article revealed that an awful lot of women are in denial about how much they weigh. The study, published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, found that about 1 in 4 overweight women thinks she is normal weight, and that a smaller number of normal weight women (16 percent) think they are overweight. The concern is that both groups of women might, because of their false thinking, be taking risks with their health (such as trying to lose weight when they don’t need to, or NOT trying to lose weight when they should).

I know all about such denial. I spent probably a good 5 years being obese, although I had pretty much convinced myself I was “just overweight.” Needless to say, looking at photos of myself from those years was pretty shocking, because the image I see now is NOT the image I saw when I was looking in a mirror at the time.

If you are overweight, you can’t do anything about it if you can’t start by being honest with yourself. You are where you are…you can’t go back and change the past, but you can always move forward and improve the situation. No guilt, no shame. Just reality.

Even though the body mass index (BMI) is not a perfect indicator of where you stand, weightwise, it is a pretty darn good estimator for most people. Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you have so much muscle that the BMI doesn’t apply to you. Unless you are a highly trained athlete in a sport that requires a lot of muscle mass, that is most likely not the case. Also, don’t excuse away a higher-than-normal BMI by saying, “Well, I’m big boned.” I thought I was big boned for years, until I found out that I was actually small boned. I’m just saying.