The Fat but Fit Paradox: Why you should focus on fitness not weight loss

These days most of us consume news via social media, and that’s how I came across this news article. I mentioned in my social media detox post how I try and keep my pages quite body positive and therefore follow people who promote that message. Well one of them posted a screenshot of an article with the headline: “People can be ‘fat but fit’ and should focus on exercise rather than dieting for a longer life, experts say.”

The caption reflected a certain amount of affirmation that their message was now being spread by larger outlets. So, this article has been on my mind this week, because to me the article points out some really key advice that I think people should know.

I’ve said it time, and time again on this blog that you can’t make the assumption that because a person is overweight that they’re unhealthy and that because a person is thin that they’re healthy. It’s a common stigma that most people have because of the pressure put on us by society for us to look a certain way. Therefore we associate fat with unhealthy and thin with healthy even though it’s not true. I see thin people all the time take advantage of the fact that don’t easily put on weight and eat like utter crap. In the past I would have been jealous, or angry that they could do that and not worry about their waist line but now the only thing I ever think is: “Hun, you’re gonna have a heart attack at 30.”

So, let’s preach it — you can be fat and fit! Some researchers refer to this as the Fat but Fit Paradox. This “paradox/concept” has actually existed since the 1980s when they demonstrated that people who were at least moderately fit had a higher mortality rate than those with a lower cardiorespiratory fitness level. Further research was done in the 1990s which demonstrated that the mortality risk in obese individuals, as defined by body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage or waist circumference, who are fit is not significantly different from their normal-weight and fit counterparts.

They believed that a healthy diet and exercise are important but that the primary goal should be on improving cardiorespiratory fitness. Which is exactly what the above article suggests, researchers suggest doing more exercise and improving fitness is more effective than shredding pounds, which should also remove the health risks of yo-yo dieting.

The article also brings up something that concerned me. Initially I read this and thought great. In my last post I mentioned about holding myself accountable and since have stopped calorie counting and it’s been hard. The positives however, I feel more mindful in regards to what I’m eating and genuinely feel less stress when it comes to food and better about myself. The idea of focusing on fitness more than diet seems like a great thing and this idea of embracing a fat but fit mentality because MC4r is a bitch and my weight is forever fluctuating. However, we still live in a society that that believes thin is beautiful, that throws celebrity body goals in your face like it’s attainable and that believes fat is fat.

We would like people to know that fat can be fit, and that fit and healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.

We realise that in a weight-obsessed culture, it may be challenging for programmes that are not focused on weight loss to gain traction.

Prof Gaesser

It seems only natural that the world would reject a “weight loss” method that doesn’t actually focus on weight loss, regardless of the benefits.

However, a weight-centric approach to obesity treatment and prevention has been largely ineffective for years. It causes yo-you dieting, binge eating disorders, poor mental health, and around 80% of people who successfully lose weight will gradually regain it and end up as large or even larger than they were before they went on a diet.

It should come as not surprise that I agree with these researches, these studies because it’s a message I’ve regularly preached. Their conclusion is key here, adopting a weight-neutral approach does not mean that weight loss should be discouraged particularly if you want to lose weight. However, shifting your focus from weight loss to increasing physical activity will help prevent obesity related conditions.

It’s 2021, and we went through a national lockdown. The world changed in ways we could never have imagined, yet we came out the other side with the same stuffy views about body image. If we want to live in a world where we’re not judged for what our bodies look like, we need to take the stand, speak up and make a weight-neutral approach normal.

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