Recently, I wrote about how changing your lifestyle and eating a Mediterranean diet could cut your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes – even though you didn’t lose any weight.
It struck me that, with all the encouragement to shed the pounds and lower your BMI, weight control has become the be all and end all of our health goals.
And in doing so we’ve ignored something much more important: your lifestyle – what you eat, how active you are, whether you smoke and how much you drink.
If you get all those things right, research says your weight (within reason) hardly matters.
Looks like we’ve been focusing on the wrong thing.
I’m not saying weight loss in obese people isn’t beneficial, but we mustn’t lose sight of other important factors – because weight loss alone doesn’t always mean better health.
Even in the most rigorous research, it’s hard to know if the healthy outcomes are due to weight loss or lifestyle changes. So we often concentrate on weight loss because it’s easy to measure.
Furthermore, in the long term, it’s weight-loss maintenance that’s the problem. Once weight has been gained the body actually fights against weight loss. This means that adjusting lifestyle takes on even greater importance.
It’s worth remembering that body weight is only a small part of being healthy. As we know, not all body weight is equal: round the waist it’s bad, on the thighs and hips much less so. And there are risk factors much worse than being fat. Smoking!
Carrying too much weight can increase your health risk by 20%, but smoking increases it by 100%. You can lose tens of kilos of weight, but if you continue smoking you’ve hardly touched the risk of a heart attack.
In addition, many measures of health and wellbeing can be markedly improved without weight loss.
Heart fitness, lung fitness, blood sugar control can all be improved with physical activity, even if your weight doesn’t change.
And let’s not forget that most weight-loss programmes started in the US where the media place value on a lean physique. This then led to anxiety about body shape and silhouette.
Promotion of weight loss as the ultimate goal can do harm by raising levels of body dissatisfaction.
Of course we all want to extend life, but not at the cost of wellbeing.
Weight loss doesn’t always equate to an improvement in the quality of life and physical health, so it shouldn’t be the ultimate goal.