Thursday, June 23, 2011

Can An Obese Person Be Healthy?

I was thinking about something someone (a relative) told me, when I weighed about 214 pounds. She said, "You have got to get that weight off. You are really unhealthy! Think of your children!" At the time, I had lost 64 pounds already. I had cut junk food almost completely out of my diet and replaced it with local, organic, fresh produce and free range lean meats and eggs, whole grains, and healthy fats. I was biking 6 days a week, about 7 miles each ride. I was lifting weights three times a week. Many of the health issues that plagued me at 278 pounds had completely disappeared, including high blood pressure, acid reflux, and plantar fasciitis. I was able to hike up steep terrain for two miles with my children with no problem at all.

But was she right? Was I "really unhealthy" because of the weight?

Am I healthier now, almost 30 pounds lighter but NOT biking or exercising as much, and eating less whole, healthy foods?

Is WEIGHT, or BMI for that matter, really an accurate indicator of a person's health? I don't think so. But by definition, obesity is (according to Wikipedia) "a medical condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to the extent that it may have an adverse effect on health, leading to reduced life expectancy and/or increased health problems.... Obesity increases the likelihood of various diseases, particularly heart disease, type 2 diabetes, breathing difficulties during sleep, certain types of cancer, and osteoarthritis." How can an obese person really be healthy, then?


There is the whole "fat and fit" mindset, where people who are (according to BMI charts) obese are still very active and *feel* wonderful and healthy. I am not talking about bodybuilders or professional athletes, for whom BMI charts are completely inaccurate. I mean your standard "heavy" person, who by society's standards could stand to lose 30 or 40 pounds, maybe more. Do you think an obese person *can* be healthy and fit? Or must they lose weight to reach their full potential?

How about someone who is *morbidly* obese (about 100 pounds or more overweight)? Do you think *any* morbidly obese person can be fit and healthy?

I am curious to see what your views are on this topic, so feel free to leave a comment here, or continue the discussion in my new community that I just created. It's a BlogFrog community, which is like a message board where we can post discussions about weight, diet, health, etc. and connect as bloggers and readers. I set this up after seeing the fiery discussion in the comments of this post, and I thought it would be neat if we could continue discussing things like this on a message board forum rather than just in the comments section. I hope you guys will find the forum useful and fun, a way to connect and discuss things that are on our minds. You can weigh in on this question by clicking on the Escape from Obesity Community link on the left side of this page under my progress picture links, or by clicking here: Can an obese person be healthy? Those who join the community will also be able to have their own blog posts listed and linked on the forum for others to read and connect with them! Let me know what you think. I have never tried to set up a message board forum before, so I hope this is something we'll all enjoy.

42 comments:

Janis said...

Honestly, no. Like you said, the definition of "obesity" is that it impacts a person's health. "Morbid obesity" is obesity that threatens a person's life. That's what "morbid" means. It's not a word that's used trivially. It means something might kill you. The rate at which a condition kills people is called its morbidity rate.

And while I do think that the BMI is a very coarse indicator of anything, I have to disagree with the whole idea of professional athletes automatically being considered the picture of perfect health just because they smash their bodies into one another at high velocity for a living. Wait until most of those guys have turned 40 and stopped playing football, and they get the same health complaints that anyone who is very overweight has: diabetes, destroyed knees and hips, back problems, etc. They are just young while they are playing and so it hasn't caught up with them yet. But yes, they are obese, and no it's not healthy for them either. "Athlete" doesn't automatically mean "healthy."

oh_mg said...

I agree that morbid obesity is unhealthy, but as you get closer to a healthy weight, sometimes the line can be blurry. Have you heard of the Body Adiposity Index (BAI)? It's a bit more accurate than the BMI, which only factors in weight and height - the BAI also includes hip circumference. I have an obese BMI but my BAI is in the healthy range because I am very athletic. So yes, I think an obese person can be healthy, but within reason. I wasn't healthy at 345 pounds, but at 196 I'm in pretty good (healthy) shape.

Christine said...

I have lost 58 lbs and have about 30 more to go so I have never been a "normal weight" person. However I feel very strongly that you CANNOT be obese and healthy. I also believe that just because you are a normal weight doesn't automatically make you healthy either. There are a lot of people out there who would argue that we have a prejudice against fat people and that they can be healthy. Prejudice against fat people is one of the last accepted forms of prejudice and is wrong but we cannot confuse the issues...it is still unhealthy.

Not all overweight/obese people have "numbers' that show them being unhealthy. For example, I always had perfectly normal blood pressures, blood sugar levels, etc. However my capacity for aerobic exercise or any exercise for that matter was terrible and I was a heart attack waiting to happen with all the fat i was (OK, still am) carrying around my gut. it is time for people to take responsibilities for their bodies and their health!

Chris (http://christinejmolloy.blogspot.com)

Mich said...

YES, I certainly do believe an obese person can be healthy.

See this Jan 2011 article from Scientific American, for a start, as well as this 5 part series at Obesity Panacea. There's also this quote from the blog of Dr. Arya M. Sharma: "In our program we see a significant, albeit small proportion (~15%) of severely obese individuals, who have no detectable health problems" (source).

Jen said...

I would highly recommend checking out Dances With Fat (http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/) if you never have. The author, Ragen, writes a lot about Health at Every Size, and I find her arguments well-reasoned and quite convincing. I personally believe that--just as every thin person (of which I suppose I am one) is NOT by default healthy, every overweight/obese person is NOT by default unhealthy.

Jill said...

I think if you are overweight then you are not healthy. I think as you get closer to goal weight you might be considered overweight, yet you are healthier than someone who is at their goal weight. I am a few pounds above my goal weight- but I eat so much healthier than my friends who are at their goal weight. I think if we had our blood work done- I would have better numbers. My mom, who is a dancer and has ALWAYS been skinny had a mild heart attack 5 years ago. Her blood work numbers were horrible. I was still 20-30 pounds overweight at the time and my numbers were all normal. I think this goes to show... you cannot judge a book by its cover. There is always more to the story. We are all unique and I think need to be looked at individually rather than grouped in a height/weight range to determine whether we are healthy or not. How is that for an opinion? :)

Anonymous said...

That's the crazy kind of crap that we, as fat people, want to believe is true. The answer is NO, fat is not healthy. Obese is not healthy. Morbidly obese is not healthy. It's not just about weight but having too much FAT on your musculo-skeletal frame is NOT HEALTHY. It makes your organs work too hard. It's more difficult on your joints. In order to be healthy we need to drop the weight. I'm not talking about becoming stick-thin skinny but fat is not healthy.

That's not to say a skinny person is healthy.

birchgirl said...

I think if you are obese you are risking your health, even if you do not have signs of ill health currently.

Anonymous said...

When I was 150/160 pounds in college I was able to stay out longer (dance more) than my friend that was 30 pounds lighter than me and two dress sizes. I was just healthier, but heavier than her.
I just started going back to the gym as I am 214lbs and I want to get back to my fighting weight so I have more energy at work (I am a teacher and am doing 2 a day workouts 3-4 times a week.

Anonymous said...

I think it's possible to be somewhat obese and relatively healthy at a younger age (maybe in one's twenties.)

From what I have seen of the obese people in my own family (myself included) is that health problems tend to occur as the person gets older and spends more and more years obese. High blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, strokes, venus insufficiency, severe swelling... these problems get worse and worse with the passing years.

My own mother, for example, was obese and strong well into her thirties. She did all the yardwork, worked a demanding retail job with lots of lifting, picked vegetables and canned food... she was as strong as a horse!

As she grew older, she developed knee arthritis. Then diabetes. Then, a stroke. In the years between 45 and 70, she has become a wheelchair-bound invalid in constant pain, with unhealing wounds and venous and articular disease... it's horrible. Things got much worse for her after menopause.

My cousin's husband is a similar tale. He's 50 and super-obese. He's always boasting about his "clean bill of health" (no diabetes, etc.) BUT needs a hip replacement, is too heavy to get one, and walks with a cane and is considered disabled.

Again, I think a lot of this shows up over time. My own sister is over 100 pounds overweight. She travels constantly in a demanding job, has a busy life... for now, she doesn't have high blood pressure, diabetes, or knee pain. I wonder what will happen as she enters her forties.

Just IMHO.

Sheri said...

Hi Lynn!

You are doing well! It's been a while. I am still the same. I am find that when I was younger the weight didn't hamper me and my stats medically were not a concern, but I do believe that this weight is I have is causing negative health changes. If the weight was there and all other lifestyle choices were healthy as far as food and mobility, then I do believe weight would not be a factor. But when I eat right and move outside the confines of my sedentary life the weight goes down. When I don't eat right and move I feel crappy, and there are physical issues, headaches, aches, pains, feeling tired a lot, ... and as I get older these issues get worse.

So doesn't it stand to reason, even if health is fine now, as long as we eat poorly and don't get mobile, that our healthy state is short lived? And if that's the case our quality of life is depleted, and there's a good chance our life too can be shortened.

Yep, all these things are in my head, just confirming that, so what is wrong with me in getting that weight loss journey right? There is the real question - at least for me lately.

So glad to see the progress you've made.

Leah (The Kind Weight Watcher) said...

There are obese people in the world who are VERY HEALTHY.

Example A: http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/

But for me, it wasn't healthy. I got obese because of extreme overeating and inactivity. So when I started to act healthy, I lost the weight.

But there are obese people out there who are both healthy and obese, and I think that to think otherwise is judgemental and assuming.

Just as there are skinny/thin/"healthy" weight people who are very unhealthy, there are fat/obese/"unhealthy" weight people who are very healthy. It goes both ways.

Antonia said...

Two things:
1) You make a very valid point about obese people who are in the PROCESS of getting healthier (and yes, exercise and better nutrition will cause most, though perhaps not all, people to lose weight)- in this sense, YES, you can be healthier at 220 than a much thinner person living off junk.
2) One thing I do notice is a person's waist. If I see somebody with a huge gut, I think they are unhealthy. If I see, say, a woman with broad hips and a bootie but an athletic waist I don't think she is unhealthy...

Marshmallow said...

I am a strong believer in health at every size. After all, I'm approximately the same weight that I was when I was at my heaviest after a long stint of dieting, starvation and excessive exercise (6+ hours a day), and I am *infinitely* fitter and healthier than I was back then. Heck, I'm teaching group fitness now - and participants come to my class and stagger out because they've been pushed to their limits because of the tough workout I deliver to them. I know that I have to give 150% for them to give 80%, and that's not something an unfit, unhealthy person can do.

Anyone who looks at me and judges otherwise, doesn't no squat, and can take a hike.

Marshmallow said...

*doesn't know squat, not no squat. I make spelling mistakes when I rant >_<

Diandra said...

My sister, at more than 130kg, was able to bench-press her own weight (she is not a bodybuilder) and hike for hours without tiring. I may have mentioned already, but she took fencing and bellydancing and riding lessons for the amateur theater she was part of at that time, and many less overweight or even downright slim people could not compete with her when it came to strength, speed, flexibility(?) or balance.

But, nevertheless, the additional stress put on any overweight or obese body does mean there is an increased risk for certain diseases and/or injuries. So, even with a.m. example in mind, I would not say that overweight or obese people are truly healthy. However, that does not mean that people at their "ideal weight" are necessarily healthier... they can still suffer because of malnutrition (I know women who live on a diet of chocolate and salad without dressing) or lack of exercise (or too much exercise!).

Water Lily said...

Absolutely, an obese person can be healthier than a thin person. If a thin person lives on junk food and sugar, doesn't get adequate sleep and never exercises, and an obese person eats healthful, nourishing food and does some exercise, and gets some sleep, the obese person's immune system will still be stronger to fight off disease, in most cases. I am overweight, and my general health is much better than many average-weight people I know, who are always sick, at the doctor's office, and have to take several prescriptions. Check out this link:http://everydaypaleo.com/2011/06/22/attention-scale-addicts-part-2/

timothy said...

you can be "heavy" and healthy as a horse, but no one carrying around 100 pounds of excess is healthy. now that said of course of you lose 50/60 pounds your health will improve and will continue to improve as you lose.

Diandra said...

Oh, there's an award for you over at http://slimandhealthybymagic.blogspot.com

Lyn said...

Marshy~

So glad to see you comment on this! I actually thought of you as I posted this. You are such an amazing example to me of focus on fitness and not WEIGHT. Hugs to you my friend :)

Lyn said...

Diandra~

Thanks for the link! I tried to leave a comment over there, but Blogger is still being really irritationg and I can almost never leave comments, even anonymous ones, except on my own blog.

You guys are bringing up some EXCELLENT points. Lots to think about here.

Niecy said...

No, I don't believe you can be obese and healthy. What I do believe, however, is that our definition of obese, in some cases is wrong. I know a PE teacher who is very fit, but not the definition of small and fit. She is not obese, but just not tiny, I would say about a size 12.

For me, I have learned that 20 pounds can make a difference - 20 pounds! That still blows my mind because I used to have to lose over 100, according to the experts. Anyway, as I have lost throughout the years and have kept some weight off, I do feel healthier. I do plan to get off cholesterol meds and my CPAP machine before long. It does make a difference.

Niecy said...

Oh, and as Water Lily said, thin does not mean healthy is every case either. Many thin people walking around are not as healthier as some with some weight on them.

I still believe, however, that too much weight is unhealthy.

NewMe said...

Check out danceswithfat.wordpress.com to read the blog of an amazingly fit, obese woman.

Legally Fabulous said...

I am 35 pounds over the highest weight that is considered "healthy" based on my height of 5'10" according to the BMI charts.

The only people that have ever called me fat are asshole guys in bars who don't know me.

I do high intensity workouts six days a week. I CrossFit, I lift heavy weights, I run. According to my heart rate monitor I burn between 600-1000 calories every time I work out, which is 5-6 days a week.

I wear a size 12 or a 14. I eat lots of fruits and vegetables. I also drink beers and have fast food on occasion. I have normal cholesterol, blood pressure, etc.

I haven't been a "normal" weight since I was 16 years old.

I am obese, and I am healthy.

Yvette said...

Thanks for creating a community forum Lyn! Will you still be posting regular blogs?

Lyn said...

Yvette~

I sure will! But if you guys have a topic you'd like to discuss, or want to add your blogs to the blogroll over there, it'll be open 24/7 for you to do so. I am posting over there as well. I think it will be a neat place to say some things that don't really need their own whole log post.

Anonymous said...

I think people here and confusing "healthy" with "at maximum prime possible 100% optimum health".

Yes, an obese person CAN be more healthy than a thin person. There is more to it than just % of body fat that contributes to a person's overall state of health. Far more. Just because one person has a lower BMI than I do, does not in itself mean they are more healthy than I am. It does coorelate with some aspects of health, but you can not say that ALL obese people are less healthy than ALL thin people.

Here is another article that I don't think has been cited yet:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/20/health/20iht-19well.15460493.html

JSP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

The analogy I'd make is to some of the college students I taught. One group had good high school teachers, and didn't need to work hard to understand the material and get good grades. One student was intelligent, but didn't have the foundational material and would work really hard for 2-3 weeks only to find herself still in B range. Health is not just your current eating and exercise habits, today or this week or even this month. It's the average over your given lifetime. Your average today (or at the lower weight) is better than your average at the higher weight. To put it another way, by eating right you are improving your health, but it's not an overnight process

JSP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Thankfully the insane denial demonstrated by a few commenters is outweighed by the rational outlook of most. I remember my favorite aunt suffering through her last days insisting that her 50 year smoking habit was NOT responsible for her lung cancer. Just because you get away with something for a while doesn't mean it will not catch up to you drastically eventually. Be honest with yourself: How is being obese or overweight benefiting you?

JSP said...

I deleted my posts. I find some of the responses judgemental and don't think this is actually a beneficial conversation since it isn't rational or scientific, just based on people's feelings about what they consider healthy. It is sensationalistic, sort of like the discussion of whether it is child abuse to let one's children eat junk if they are overweight. I have followed you for a long time Lyn, but these kinds of posts are divisive and bring out the worst in people, and rather than waste my time discussing this with a bunch of people I don't know or respect, I will exercise that little "x" in the corner and leave. I won't be back. I wish you the best of luck in your life and your journey, I truly do.

Lyn said...

JSP~

that's too bad. I found your posts very thought-provoking and helpful. The purpose of such discussion is not to be divisive or hurtful, but to help each other see other points of view. I know I have been enlightened by several of the comments here and I very much appreciate people sharing their thoughts. That's how we can learn.

As for what 'healthy' is, I do agree it is at a specific point in time and not over a lifetime average. At any given point in our lives we can go from healthy to unhealthy.

Anonymous said...

I believe an obese person can have healthy days, where they eat right, exercise, and stretch. I believe this behavior can go on for months, and they lose weight. They can continue this behavior until they are at an ideal body weight. Or they can stop and go back to an unhealthy lifestyle. I don't think that we should pick a day in the journey of an obese person trying to lose weight and say " well they ran 5 miles, ate a balanced diet and got 8 hours of sleep, they are healthy!" How much body weight we carry tells the story of our choices over our life. One last thing that I wanted to say was that fat is not a huge mystery. I know that eating for emotional reasons is complicated but the mechanics of fat storage are straight forward. WE all have places we store fat, some of us store it more readily than others, but you cannot attain morbid obesity by eating healthy foods within your calorie recommendation.

Anonymous said...

I think it's possible to be relatively healthy and obese but, all other things being equal, that same person would be much healthier without the extra weight.

I also agree with the people who commented that you can be fairly healthy and obese when young but it'll catch up with you as you age. It just flat-out does put a strain on so many physical systems.

Arabella

Water Lily said...

Actually it is a gross generalization that ALL overweight people eat junk food, and that's how they gained weight. Some folks are overweight due to auto-immune issues, food intolerances, hormonal issues, etc., not necessarily from eating junk. I personally do not eat junk food or eat excessively.

I agree that obesity is definitely a symptom of something else going on in the body, most likely inflammation. However, most people who have allergies, catch colds, etc. also have inflammation, whether they are fat or skinny.

I wouldn't generalize that ALL obese people are unhealthy. I think that MOST people who eat a lousy diet are unhealthy. Some are overweight, some are not.

Anonymous said...

Here's another perspective from the skinny/healthy versus obese/unhealthy side...

I'm not obese. I'm about 5'4" and I weigh 135. I'm about 15 pounds over what I weighed on average through Jr year of high school, and college and post college a few years. When I sit down, I have a large stomach roll, I can pinch off "extra" on the tops of the my thighs and my back, I have a very large ass (which I love) etc. I have a much curvier figure now. However I am so much more fit than I used to be! That being said, I often go to the gym and feel discouraged when I'm waiting in line for yoga class and the women around me have Self magazine fitness model type bodies- long and lithe, with good definition in their muscles. I'm always the heaviest regular attendee in those classes. But you know what? I usually end up outlasting them. When they're taking breaks, or using modifications, I'm still fine. I'm incredibly strong and fit right now, even though if you looked at me and looked at those girls, you might assumed they'd be outlasting me (I understand yoga is not a competition, this is just a very one to one real world example). These are very intense vinyasa flow type classes that leave muscled up weight lifting men groaning and gasping.

So, even in the very small differences between "a little bit overweight" and "conventionally perfect body type" I feel insecure about being seen, and compared to, as "not fit" because I have belly rolls, back fat, and a prominent ass. I can only imagine how much harder it is for a very fit obese person to have to constantly say "um, no really, I just ran a marathon, jerk, back off telling me I'm not healthy!".

Anonymous said...

No one ever said ALL "skinny" people are necessarily (let's look at skeletal fashion models who pretty much all smoke, not to mention their other suspected habits)...and no one ever said ALL overweight people are necessarily very unhealthy. However...how can anyone insist that carrying around 20, 30, 50 or more extra pounds is good for them or even neutral? Just because my father smoked for 65 years (ages 15-80) but DIDN'T get lung cancer can I say that smoking was okay? Someone in Lyn's new forum said the lengths that Americans will go to in order to delude themselves into thinking stuffing pizza down your throat in front of the TV every night ...and it's true.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I can't believe how many people come down so hard obese people saying that they are "deluding" themselves if they think they are fit. There are plenty of skinny people walking around who have the same bad habits -- junk food, no exercise. Only, you can't tell by just looking at them that they eat fast food for every meal. I know, because I was one of those people. 5'3" and 98 lbs who only drank coke (not diet). Ate candy bars for breakfast and ice cream for lunch and pizza for dinner 90% of the time during my 4 years at college. No one would have dared accuse me of being unfit. I never exercised (other than walking to class). Couldn't have run a mile if my life depended on it.

Twenty years later, the metabolism slowed down and I was obese, but I'm on my way back down. I weigh 160 lbs and I just completed my first 10K. I may not be completely fit or healthy, but my skinny 20 year old self couldn't have done that.

I can't believe that so many people who struggle with their weight buy into the stereotype of what fat people are like. We don't all eat junk food (though many of us do). We didn't all get here because we were lazy (though some of us are).

I don't look at a person in a bar drinking and assume they are an alcoholic, even if I notice they are on their second or third or fourth round. I don't know their story.

I don't look at a skinny woman and automatically assume she has an eating disorder or is a herion addict. Maybe she is like my cousin who can't put on weight to save her life because she got the "good" genes in the family. Or like my friend who kept losing weight no matter how much she ate until she was diagnosed as having celiac disease.

I don't ASSUME. Because frankly, it is none of my business.

I have enough trouble keeping myself on the the straight and narrow. I don't have time to judge everyone else I meet along the way.

Yes, I am healthier, even though I am overweight, than I was when I was skinny. Am I at optimal health? No. That is why I am working to lose weight. But, if someone wants to minimize my fitness achievements because I don't "look" like the fitness models say I should -- they can kiss my big fat a$$. Their judgemental attitude says far more about them than it does about me.

Anonymous said...

I would just like to say that I am a "morbidly" obese 28 yr old woman. I gave birth to a son 2 yrs ago and put on some weight then but have been somewhat big my whole life. It was a perfectly healthy pregnancy btw. I am currently at a whopping 314lbs. Last week I needed to get a physical and a blood work up for a new job at a hospital. I have normal blood pressure, low cholesterol, perfect kidney and liver function, normal blood sugar etc.... I am not person who gets sick easy. I live a somewhat active lifestyle, walking, bike riding, playing with my son. I wish for cosmetic and self esteem reasons that I was much smaller but I am proud to say that I AM HEALTHY!! This should prove that at least some people CAN be obese yet healthy!

Anonymous said...

I'm classed as being obese, a few points off being classed as morbidly obese and I have good blood pressure and low cholesterol. Where as by best friend who is slightly under weight has both high blood pressure and high cholesterol. I believe you can be obese and healthy! I can do just as much as my thinner friends, I'm just heavier.