March 2012 - Caution: "Thin" Does Not Equal "Fit"

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The American public spends approximately $35 billion a year on diet products. The ads for diet products usually show slim, or sculpted individuals-all happy and smiling because they lost weight and look great. The individuals often claim to have more self-confidence and feel better about themselves now that they've shed those unwanted pounds. The message to be thin is pervasive in our culture-highlighted and reinforced by the media, fashion, and entertainment industries, which send blatant messages that thin is glamorous, preferable, and attractive.

I find it interesting that in our society, the issue of weight is treated as if it were an aesthetic issue, rather than one indicator of overall health status. In fact, the issue of body size and its relationship to health seems to have taken a back seat to vanity. While excess weight is widely recognized as a health hazard, unfortunately being thin does not automatically mean that you're healthy. There are many thin people that lack good muscle tone, lack the capacity for physical endurance, and are prone to poor eating habits-all putting them at risk for chronic disease. There are also many thin people that smoke and abuse drugs and alcohol-all unhealthy behaviors that are known to wreak havoc on your internal organs and result in untimely death. The cautionary note here is that focusing solely on being thin is a very limited measure of overall health status. Moreover, the singular focus on getting and staying thin can be deceptive, providing a false sense of good health. You can be the "picture of good health" on the outside, but be a mess on the inside.

Whenever I talk with people about issues surrounding weight control, I am careful to point out the difference between being "thin" and being "fit". A healthy weight is only one component of a healthy body. Notice, I said "healthy weight", which may or may not equate to "thin" –depending on your height and build. Rather than focusing on being "thin", our focus should be on getting in shape and being healthy. Getting in shape means toning and strengthening your muscles, increasing your physical endurance, making sure your "numbers" (e.g. blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, etc.) are within a healthy range, having health screenings to detect the early onset of any problems, and possessing a healthy mental attitude. A healthy body falls into shape and finds its best healthy weight naturally.

Good health comes in many sizes and while the media may promote "thin is in", it's important to keep body size in its proper perspective.

With you on your Journey To Wellness...
Dr. Mary S. Harris

* Originally posted in March 2008

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