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Can You Be Fit and Fat?

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Every now and again a report pops up in the papers claiming you can be both fat and fit. This one is from September and found via Running Bunn. In this particular study 43,000 people were tested, 18,500 of which were overweight. Of these 18,500, half of them were assessed as being “metabolically healthy”, meaning that they had no high blood pressure, no high cholesterol and no high blood sugar.

The same study reported in the Daily Mail starts with the sentence “Nearly half of fat people are just as healthy as slim people – and at no more risk of developing heart problems or cancer, researchers claim.”

The problem with these reports is that the attention grabbing “YOU CAN BE FAT AND FIT” headlines cover up the uncomfortable truth that for an increasing amount of our population they’re just fat. The study actually found that those obese people who were metabolically fit exercised more than those who weren’t. There was no discussion of what their diets actually consisted of in the article.

by ~Twon~

As of 2008 a study found that only 40% of men and 28% of women in the UK were getting the minimum recommended levels of physical activity for adults, but almost a quarter of Adults were obese and 60% were overweight in 2009. There are an awful lot of people in those numbers who are obese and getting no exercise. (in fact this study found that over 90% of people WEREN’T getting enough exercise in 2009)

As I write this I am overweight, and in the past I have been obese on the BMI scale. There have been times when I’ve done no exercise. Times when I’ve done moderate and sporadic exercise, and in the last 6 months I actually consider myself a regular exerciser. I have no doubt that I am far fitter than someone who weighs less than me but the most exercise they get is walking to the fridge for another bottle of wine, but I also have no doubt that Jessica Ennis would kick my arse in any fitness test you care to pit us against each other in. I don’t eat as well as I should, or as badly as I could. But I do my best to live my life and exercise and eat well in a world that sometimes makes it nigh on impossible to do so.

Fat and thin, fit and unfit are extreme ends of a spectrum that we are all placed somewhere along. We need to stop making excuses for our position on it by pointing to studies with fat people who AREN’T dying of heart disease and focus on the idea that we can make our bodies work better by making small changes to our lives, even if it’s walking to the shops instead of driving or taking the stairs instead of the lift.

There are many indicators of health and our risk of heart disease and diabetes. Our BMI is a clear and easy to measure external indicator that other things may be wrong, another is our waist to hip ratio. These are indicators that we may have risk factors like a high percentage of abdominal body fat, high cholesterol and high blood sugar. They are promoted as measures of health because we can measure them at home with a tape measure and a set of scales instead of a blood test or full body scan.

So, can you be fat and fit?

Does it matter?

Focusing on fatness rather than fitness as an indicator of health causes problems as it’s so tied up with questions of body image and self worth. It’s an easily measurable variable, but people are very resistant to the idea of themselves as fat. They’ll point out other people who are fatter than them, that they are an average weight, the size of clothes they buy in the shops and they’ll leap on articles about fit and fat people as justification because it’s far easier than the alternative. This article in the Telegraph is interesting as it looks at one mans attempt to prove himself as healthy when his BMI showed he was overweight.

Maybe it’s time to move the focus from the scales and focus on improving activity levels and diet.

Unfortunately the world makes it far easier to be unhealthy, out of town shopping centres, huge restaurant portions and fat laden ready meals all reduce our activity levels and increase our calorie and fat intake, so maybe it’s time to address what business could be doing to help people make healthier choices. It’s time we looked at portion sizes in restaurants and insisted chain restaurants displayed calorie and fat values for their food on their menus.

If you’ve ever tried to buy a salad in McDonald’s you’ll know how hard that choice can be! They look at you a bit confused and then have to go and check if they actually have any. Often the answer is no. Frankly it’s far easier just to buy whatever 800 calorie burger is on special that day, and buy it with chips as asking for just a burger is far too confusing.

We need to take responsibility for the choices we make rather than making excuses, but we also need to start insisting that retailers and government make the healthier choices easier than the bad ones.

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33 Responses
  • Wendy
    November 2, 2012

    I bought a salad in mcdonalds a couple of weeks ago and it was the most dreadful thing I have ever seen. I admit that I dont have salad dressing which may have made it slightly better but it was so awful that I ate the cherry tomatoes and left the rest. When a company cant even throw together lettuce, tomato and cucumber then you know something is wrong and I fully understand why people would think, stuff it, I’m having a big mac and large it since you ask.

    I do think you need to look at more than just weight but be realistic about it. My husband is overweight. He is also careful about what he eats, drinks so little that he cant give you a units a week measurement and runs 30 miles plus a week, every week. I’d say he was pretty healthy overall. I have a similar BMI to him but I am a lazy moo so, of the two of us, its me I think that has the potential health issue not him. I am fat. He is overweight.

    • Lady Lipstick
      November 2, 2012

      They’re nicer with a dressing! Though you have to order that seperately and the staff don’t know enough to ask if you want one!

      Yes, I think you have to be realistic about what’s acheivable while still living in a world that makes it so hard to be the “right” weight. I think I’ve only been a normal BMI for about 2 years of my adult life all told!

  • Gisela (Miss Magpie's Musings)
    November 2, 2012

    This is one of the things I find interesting about the TV show ‘Supersize/Superskinny’ in that inevitably the ‘super-skinny’ person is as, or often more, unhealthy than the ‘supersize’ person. Being slim does not necessarily mean healthy. You are absolutley right, life today makes it far too easy to be unhealthy and I think what we see in the press and on t.v will always be skewed.

    • Lady Lipstick
      November 2, 2012

      Yes. Focusing on size and what we see other people doing gives us a skewed perception. I do love Supersize vs Superskinny for revealing the issues people have with food, whatever their size.

  • Frances
    November 2, 2012

    The “overweight people are metabolically healthy” thing that’s been going around honestly confuses me. I know people are reading it as “overweight can be good!” but I’m seeing that it says that these people are otherwise healthy and are only overweight because they’re eating too much for their bodies. Of course, from what I understand, “metabolic health” (a phrase I have never seen before!) is not the only health problem with being overweight… I also think people have gotten a very skewed idea of what healthy BMI looks like. Of course, there’s also the issue that BMI is a somewhat inaccurate tool meant to estimate body fat percentage, and it will show highly muscular people as “overweight”, but there are more accurate body fat measurements out there that people could consult if they really thought they were being unfairly categorized by the BMI charts.
    Agh. I have so many grumpy things to say on this topic and not nearly enough brainpower to get them all orderly and typed out.

    • Lady Lipstick
      November 2, 2012

      Yes, I did have a bit in there about the muscular thing and BMI but took it out for length! In reality very few people are really muscular enough for that to be an issue I think. Again, I think BMI is supposed to be a guideline for the average person rather than a hard and fast rule! If you know you run 30 miles a week and lift weights every day then you’re probably not going to be worried if the scales say your BMI is too high. If you can’t walk to the shop without getting out of breath then maybe you should!

      • Perdita
        November 5, 2012

        You have to be careful with BMI if you are shprt/tall or a particular build. I am near the top of my ‘healthy’ range but my doc has said for me not to lose a lot of weight. When I was technically at the bottom – but not under- my healthy BMI my health symptoms (and eating!) were that of someone underweight. I used to faint/lose hair/was on very low calories. This is due to the fact I carry a lot of weight/muscle in my legs, so essentially my muscular/chunky legs were disguising my low body fat elsewhere – the Dr picked this up before it got too far and explained I would be healthiest at a BMI of 21-23, not below. I have a friend who is very tall and it works the other way for them – their body fat measurements are above healthy when they are technically ‘in’ their healthy BMI.
        Speaking individually to a Dr or nurse and getting a professional take (rather than an online BMI chart) is the way forward as far as I’m concerned – it’s safer and better. They can measure body fat and so forth and give personalised advice.

        • Lady Lipstick
          November 5, 2012

          I’m much the same, I have always had a heavier bottom half, and muscular legs. I’m still overweight, but not necessarily as much as the BMI suggests. It is always worth remembering BMI is a healthy RANGE as well.

          At my height I should be between 7 1/2 – 10 1/2 stone. In reality I will always be at the top end of that scale because even at my very smallest as an adult it’s been impossible for me to get below 9 1/2 stone and I just look ill!

        • Frances
          November 5, 2012

          Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. BMI is an estimate of body fat percentage, but it’s a really crappy estimate… it’s much better to use one of the other, more accurate, methods to asses how much fat you actually are carrying. That and a realistic look at one’s own body (is this fat or muscle? how much of it?) are much better ways to sort things out.

          • straighttalkingmama
            November 11, 2012

            I’m really late to this but I have nearly always been overweight according to my BMI even when I looked fab and was super fit. I was once within it, but it didn’t last, it’s just not my natural weight, but I still struggle with this, as most people insist that BMI is a good way to measure. Sadly not for me!

  • Fi Phillips
    November 2, 2012

    Excellent article. You’ve hit it on the nail – this is about taking responsibility for ourselves and looking at our activity levels. I know myself that if I’m regularly exercising, I feel better, my joints aren’t as clicky and my skin is great. Time to stop looking for others to tell us what we should be. Thanks for sharing. .

    • Lady Lipstick
      November 4, 2012

      Yes, so many things improve when you look after yourself, but people so often focus on how they look rather than how they feel!

  • Ali Bunn
    November 3, 2012

    Oh Lady Lipstick, you’re so much more eloquent than I am! I would love to see people focusing on health over size more. I have a friend who has very proudly lost over 4 stone, and she’s done it slowly through diet and exercise. She always tells people how much weight she’s lost rather than ” I can run and cycle for miles, lift heavy weights and beat almost anyone in an arm wrestle” which is what I think she really should concentrate on!

    • Lady Lipstick
      November 4, 2012

      I guess losing weight is such an obvious visual thing people notice, but when people mention it it’s a shame we don’t say “thank you, I can run a 10k now!” 😀

  • Helen
    November 4, 2012

    My mum has been told by her doctor that her bmi is morbidly obese. As a size 12 who runs a marathon a week (6 miles a day for 5 days) and swims for half an hour a day she was pretty narked. She suggested that perhaps she was just a short 60 year old who’s had 3 kids and just isn’t going to be skinny anymore, so maybe bmi wasn’t the best measure for her! Bmi is a good starting point for weight issues but it’s not a one size fits all measure and lifestyle and exercise is important. Trust me, she can run rings around her ‘normal weight’ daughter!

    • Lady Lipstick
      November 4, 2012

      I had a nurse tell me I “didn’t look that big” when I got on the scales in her office!

      I think BMI is a helpful indicator, but even medical professionals have got too hung up on it.

  • Jess
    November 5, 2012

    I am a lot like you. Once obese, didn’t do any exercise and now overweight and a regular exerciser. I think you can be fat and fit but you’re making it harder on yourself. It’s a lot more difficult to go for a run when your joints are screaming at you from all that weight crashing down on top of them (speaking from experience, here).

    Also, metabolically fit doesn’t mean fit in the sense that you can climb five flights of stairs without being out of breath. It just means that you aren’t in any danger of health issues. It means that you can continue through life comfortably as long as you don’t need to do more than walk to the shops.

    I also don’t understand how the study can say that these obese people aren’t at any more risk of heart disease etc. than a person at a normal weight. I’m no scientist but surely they can’t see 20 years into the future. And who’s to say that their weight issues just haven’t caught up with their joints/heart yet.

    As for BMI, it’s a good indicator for a normal person. However, if you lift weights – as I do – it soon starts to become irrelevant. I have lost about six inches total from my waist/hips over the last couple of months without losing any weight. I’m at that stupid cross over point where I’m going to get smaller but weigh more. That sort of bugs me, means I won’t ever be a normal weight, but I will be strong, fit and toned.That makes up for it.

    My other half is six feet tall and 10 and a half stone. I’m 5’7″ and 12 and I can lift more than he can. I can’t run as far as him because he’s a cyclist and is good at all the cardio but there’s plenty of skinny women I could run circles around!

  • Bookworm
    November 5, 2012

    This post is disgustingly hateful, I can’t believe it. OK, so you were fat and hated your body, so you changed it. Is your own low self-esteem any reason to hate on other fat people?! I can’t get over how gross and unpleasant this post is. I beg you — beg you, really — to read this post. It’s an eye opener. http://lovelivegrow.com/2012/10/21-things-to-stop-saying-unless-you-hate-fat-people/

    • Lady Lipstick
      November 5, 2012

      I actually think I’m saying largely the same thing as the post you mention. We focus too much on size rather than health. I don’t think it’s disgusting to suggest that looking after your health is a good thing?

      I think it’s obvious you’ve read the post with your own agenda on what I have to say already in place. It is, of course, possible to be overweight, healthy and active. But the fact is most obese and overweight people aren’t, neither for that matter are most under weight or normal weight people. We focus too much on external appearance and weight without considering what else is going on.

    • Wendy
      November 5, 2012

      Following this comment I’ve re-read the article. Twice. I am completely lost I’m afraid – “hate on other fat people”, “low self-esteem”? There is absolute no display of that anywhere in the article so its almost impossible to understand where this is coming from.

      • Lady Lipstick
        November 5, 2012

        I’m glad you said that as I went back and re read it in a panic and couldn’t see where I’d done that either!

    • Helen
      November 5, 2012

      I’m trying to read your article that you’ve linked to, and I’ve only managed to get halfway through before I wanted to throw my computer out of the nearest window.

      I was morbidly obese, I had health issues caused by being massively overweight. I ate way too much, I didn’t exercise, and I entirely bought into fat acceptance, but an unhealthy version of it, which is the kind of thing that your blog entry is espousing.

      I had painful knees and feet so couldn’t walk (since I’ve lost weight, that’s stopped), I had acid reflux (the incidence of which is higher in fat people) which led to a terrifying experience with a stomach ulcer which could have killed me (shitting blood in A&E at the hospital? Not fun, believe me), I had a tumour removed from my back which turned into an horrendous operation because my fat disguised how big the tumour was and I was pumped with so much local anaesthetic that I passed out. I was out of breath by going up a short flight of stairs and those knee and feet pains… Oh god. I snored so loudly it disturbed my sleep. I felt like 20 stone of crap.

      But no one could tell me to lose weight – I had to decide that myself. I didn’t think I looked ugly as a fat person, but I felt unhealthy and my flab was stopping me from what I wanted to to with my life. But it was easier for me to get behind “fat acceptance” and not do anything about it. It was a multitude of fat-related health-issues which got me to sort myself out.

      I don’t think anyone should fat-shame, so I agree with you that much, but please, please, please do consider that there are health issues associated with being fat. Yes, thin people can be unhealthy, of course they can, but there are specific problems which are linked with being fat. It worries me that you’re saying there isn’t. Because while some fat people may be fine, there are others who do have these issues, which could kill them, but I know from experience that living in denial was easier than facing up to what I needed to do.

      So now I have a gastric band and I can walk without being in pain.

      • Lady Lipstick
        November 5, 2012

        Thank you Helen.

        I also don’t believe anyone should be made to feel shamed for being fat, it’s not about that. It’s also not about ugly or pretty, it’s about being realistic about our lives and our bodies and what we can do with them.

      • Jess
        November 5, 2012

        I also read that article and it made me angry too. Some of the stuff on there is just plain cruel and should never be said to a fat person. However, said fat person isn’t in denial of their weight, we don’t have to tip-toe around them. If they’re a friend or family member and are bothered by what you’re saying then they’ll speak up. Fat acceptance is fine but we need to be realistic.

        Well done for putting into words what I couldn’t!

        • Lady Lipstick
          November 5, 2012

          It should never be said to anyone, some of it’s just rudeness and patronising! But the idea of just accepting fat, like it’s a skin colour or a hair colour isn’t something I feel comfortable with.

          There’s a great blog on my blog roll where a guy was overweight and a runner, but he never did anything about it till someone at his running club said something to him.

          http://intimeitwillpass.tumblr.com/

          • Wendy
            November 5, 2012

            Right, thats me told. I have been making excuses for quite some time to not get back on the treadmill since I had a terrible period with shin splits back in february / march this year. Some of them valid (like hospitalisation and anemia), some less so (like feeling a bit off colour). I’ve lost close to 2 stone with diet but its slowing down and in all honesty its depressing so I know I need to do something but there is always next week with me. So running app is downloading now, trainers are located and I’m good to go in the morning.

          • Lady Lipstick
            November 6, 2012

            Yay! Enjoy 😀

  • Amy
    November 5, 2012

    I just don’t think BMI is useful at all. It’s not tailored enough to each person – bone density, muscle, lifestyle – and I try not to get too hung up on it, although I do occasionally use it as a way of tracking my progress and hate myself for it. I heard it was invented for Swedes in the 17th century of something like that. How would that be suitable for us now?!

    • Lady Lipstick
      November 5, 2012

      Exactly, like all these things they’re occasionally helpful as a guideline, but nothing more!

  • sandra
    November 5, 2012

    “Maybe it’s time to move the focus from the scales and focus on improving activity levels and diet.”

    I can see what you’re trying to say, but I’m not sure I *completely* agree with this statement. I currently weigh 240 pounds. A year ago, I weighed 285 pounds. I’ve lost 45 pounds by changing my diet. But the scales were instrumental in giving me immediate feedback so I could know if the changes I was making were having an effect. Obviously I’ve seen other effects – I’ve gone from being pre-hypertensive to having normal blood pressure, but that’s not something you can check on a daily/weekly basis!

    I made a conscious decision to focus on diet over activity for the first year because I wanted to lose weight as a priority over improving my general health (which, other than my blood pressure, was good). And a lot of the research I read indicated that diet has a stronger link to weight loss than exercise. Secondly, the exercise I could enjoyably do at my top weight was limited. Now that I have lost a significant amount of weight, I find I can participate in a wider range of enjoyable activities and I recognise that activity is an important factor to maintaining good health for my future.

    What I do agree with you on (if I read your article correctly), is that we need to stop assuming health is directly correlated with weight alone, and realise that it’s a combination of:
    (a) genes – these can be good or bad and you don’t get any say in which ones you get!
    (b) input, i.e. diet (both the quality and quantity)
    (c) output, i.e. physical activity.

    Sorry if this is a bit long and wordy, it’s such a complex area and hard to express sometimes!

    • Lady Lipstick
      November 5, 2012

      That is what I’m saying, yes!

      I think advice needs to be tailored to individuals as well an their specific health needs. There’s obviously no one size fits all solution to these things and someone who is only a little overweight might be better advised to focus on activity and other health indicators than weight, while someone who is a lot overweight might have different priorities first.

      It’s great that you’ve lost the weight so far. I hope you manage to get to whatever your long term goal is.

  • Jules
    November 6, 2012

    I’m astonished at the article you link to, particulary the ridiculous suggestion that you must not recommend “weight loss as a treatment or solution to anything, even if you are a doctor.” Right, so, lets just stick our heads in the sand and ignore the problem, hey?

    Lady Lipstick I think this (and its sister article) are very eloquent and well-written (as always!). I particularly agree re BMI – mine comes out low but my body fat index comes out high, so I don’t think its reliable at all.

    Thank you for recommending that app – I will have to look into it as it sounds like fun!

    • Lady Lipstick
      November 6, 2012

      Thank you!

      If you mean Zombies, run! then it’s brilliant! I love it!