Can You Be Fat But Fit?
- Your Weight and Fitness
- The New Thinking on Weight
- How Fat and Weight Affect Your Health
- Eyeing a Different Prize
- Overweight and Athletic
- Minor Changes, Major Benefits
- Are You Heavy?
- Everything Body Fat Distribution Tells You About You
- 7. Six ways to achieve healthier fat distribution
- What Being Overweight Means
- 1. Add Sugar to Each Meal
- 2. Limit Fat and Protein Intake
- 3. Sleep Less Than 7 Hours Each Night
- 4. Overuse Antibiotics
- 5. Leave a Night-Light or Two On in Your Bedroom
- 6. Sign Yourself and Your Kids Up for a Few More Activities
- 7. Start Each Day with a Bowl of Cereal and Fruit Juice
- 8. Eat Extra Gluten
- 9. Assume Your Metabolism Is Functioning Just Fine
- 10. Over-train or Under-recover
- 11. Use Extra Stimulants
- 12. Drink Juice. Don’t Eat Your Vegetables or Fruit
- 13. Use Containers Made with BPA
- 14. Reward Yourself After Each Workout
- New study casts further doubt on the idea that you can be ‘fat and fit’
- Where does the study come from?
- What kind of research was this?
- What did the researchers do?
- What were the basic results?
- What do the researchers conclude?
- Links to the headlines
- Links to the science
- What’s a Healthy Weight, Anyway? The Truth About Being Fat But Fit
- How is it possible to be overweight but still be in shape?
- 5 Signs You Might Be ‘Skinny Fat’
Can You Be Fat But Fit?
Your Weight and Fitness
There are two large women who’ve been in boot camp with me for years. They almost never miss a class and never take it easy. Yet as I’ve lunged, squatted, and planked alongside them nearly daily, I’m ashamed to admit that one question has occasionally bounced around my brain: With all that exercise, after all this time, why aren’t these women in better shape?
Then came the 2012 Olympic Games. The world was poised to witness its most formidable female athletes lock horns in London. And what did we hear? Slams against Australian swimmer Leisel Jones, declaring the eight-time medalist fat and thus unfit to represent her country. Cheap shots about muffin tops and saddlebags on the British women’s beach volleyball team. And tweets about British swimmer Rebecca Adlington’s physique that became so vicious, she dropped off Twitter altogether. “These women made it to the Olympics, for god’s sake. How unfit could they be?” I found myself ranting at the TV.
Then I thought, sheepishly, about the women at boot camp. It became clear to me that the knee-jerk connection I and apparently others might make between how much a person weighs and how physically fit and healthy she is needed some serious reevaluation.
The New Thinking on Weight
Recent research suggests that being overweight or even obese may not, in and of itself, be the health threat we think it is. A 2012 study from the National Cancer Institute found that moderately obese people actually lived about 3.1 years longer than normal-weight women and men. Another study, published in the European Heart Journal, showed that when obese people are metabolically healthy — which means their blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and other indicators fall within a healthy range — they are at no greater risk of dying from heart disease or cancer than those who are of normal weight.
“What we’re learning is that a body that exercises regularly is generally a healthy body, whether that body is fat or thin,” says Glenn Gaesser, PhD, a professor of exercise and wellness at Arizona State University and the author of Big Fat Lies: The Truth About Your Weight and Your Health. Case in point, the metabolically healthy participants in the European Heart Journal study were generally more physically fit than their obese peers. “The message should really be that if you are exercising regularly, you shouldn’t necessarily be looking at the scale to determine how healthy or fit you are,” Gaesser says.
There are a multitude of reasons that movement is such strong medicine: Because muscles are the largest consumers of sugar in the body, increased muscle mass reduces the chance of excess sugar accumulating in the blood, which is essentially what diabetes is. Regular physical activity reduces inflammation in the cardiovascular system and affects the secretion of clotting hormones, allowing blood to flow more easily to muscles and preventing the formation of deadly clots. Moderate exercise (at least 150 minutes a week of medium-intensity exercise like walking) combined with diet changes can also reduce the amount of potentially deadly fat in the liver. And study after study has shown that overweight and obese people who work out can reap such benefits and improve their metabolic health even if they don’t shed a pound.
How Fat and Weight Affect Your Health
None of this is to say that we can pack on pounds without worry. Carrying a lot of weight around increases stress on joints and can make us less inclined to be active. There’s also the plain reality that the more overweight you are, the more likely it is that your metabolic health will take a hit, now or in the future. “Given the choice, I come down almost always on the side that being overweight is a bad thing,” says Walter R. Thompson, PhD, a professor of exercise science at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
But choice is a loaded word for many obesity experts, as well as for countless individuals who have waged a lifelong war with their weight. “I spent the first part of my life struggling with being fat. I would lose weight on diets, gain it back, and each time end up feeling horrible about myself,” says Hanne Blank, the author of The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts. “Only as I’ve come into my own as an adult have I made peace with the fact that I may always be big.” It’s a brutal realization that seems to bear itself out in the big picture: As many as two-thirds of us end up regaining more weight than we lose while dieting.
Pinning ambitious weight-loss hopes on exercise hasn’t panned out too well, either. At five feet four inches and 172 pounds, Sherry Norris, 42, of Norcross, Georgia, knows this firsthand. A dedicated exerciser, Sherry alternates running and working out to the Insanity DVD program on most days and ran her first marathon last year. “I’ve followed all the directions and done the training plans, and I’ve lost exactly five pounds. At this point I have no idea how to get the weight off,” she says.
Within the past few years numerous studies have borne out exactly what Sherry is experiencing: Despite the extra calories we burn, many of us fail to lose weight — and may even gain some — after embarking on an exercise program. This could be because our appetite is triggered by vigorous activity; we reward ourselves for our efforts with food, or we spend more time vegging out on the couch when we’re not at the gym.
Then there’s the tricky topic of metabolism. “Exercise doesn’t rev up the metabolism, as we’ve been led to believe,” says Diana Thomas, PhD, an author of a study from the Center for Quantitative Obesity Research at Montclair State University in New Jersey. “We found that when volunteers who were put on an exercise regimen began to lose weight, their metabolic rate — how many calories they would burn while sitting and doing nothing — actually began to drop.” Thomas and her colleagues suspect that metabolic slowing may be the body’s protective attempt to preserve energy when it senses that more calories are being burned through exercise. Plus a fit body operates more efficiently — the heart doesn’t have to pump as fast, breathing is less rapid — and that also reduces how many calories we burn all day.
Making long-term weight loss even more elusive is the fact that we each may have our own personal set point, a range of about 10 to 20 pounds in which the body biologically tries to stay despite our efforts. This means that weight loss is biologically resisted in some people. Also, our appetite makes it too easy to override the upper threshold of our set-point range, so we gain weight, says Linda Bacon, PhD, the author of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight.
The net result of these many hurdles: Even if people do lose some weight from exercise, they often don’t lose as much as they expect to. For many, that’s reason enough to abandon boot camp and head back to the couch.
Eyeing a Different Prize
That, Thomas says, is a crying shame. Because even if pounds don’t disappear, a big fat change is probably taking shape. “Adding regular physical activity can reduce the proportion of fat to muscle and affect where fat is distributed,” Thomas says. In particular, as little as a 20-minute daily walk can reduce the amount of visceral fat that reaches deep into the abdomen. That’s the fat that health experts worry about, because it is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and a higher mortality rate. There’s even evidence suggesting that exercise stimulates the production of a substance called irisin in muscle tissue. This hormone appears to transform white fat cells, like those in belly fat, into brown fat cells, which are metabolically active and actually burn calories.
“The scale doesn’t necessarily reflect all of this,” Thomas says. Neither does the body mass index (BMI), which uses only height and weight to estimate how much body fat we ostensibly have. This is why a growing number of doctors are now measuring patients’ waist circumference as part of their standard physical exams. And it’s why Thomas and colleagues at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, have devised an index that takes body shape into account when assessing a person’s health. The body roundness calculator (pbrc.edu/bodyroundness) uses hip and waist measurements in addition to weight and height. The closer to a circle shape a person is, the more visceral body fat she has. “We’re catching people who are out of the ‘safe shape’ zone but who are not visibly apple shaped. There are also people whose BMI may indicate obesity but whose body roundness is healthy. It’s a much better reflection of a person’s health overall,” Thomas says.
Overweight and Athletic
But can women who are packing an extra 25, 50, or even 75 pounds on their frame actually kick ass athletically? “They might pay a price when it comes to speed,” says Chuck Hobbs, the head coach for Fit2Train, a triathlon team in Dallas. But in terms of strength and endurance, the answer is, hell, yes. Consider the group of athletes recruited for a recent study at the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. All of them are seriously accomplished, having participated in multiple Ironman competitions, marathons, or distance cycling events. And all of them are obese, with fat making up more than 30 percent of their body weight. “From a cardiorespiratory standpoint, they are very strong and very healthy,” says the study’s lead author, Santiago Lorenzo, PhD, a cardiopulmonary researcher at the institute. “They have outstanding endurance and are comparable in fitness to fellow athletes of normal weight.”
What’s more, Lorenzo and other experts suspect that an obese athlete’s body can actually become stronger from carrying its own weight. In essence, the extra pounds provide built-in resistance training, especially for the lungs, which can have trouble inflating fully when there is a lot of fat in the chest cavity. “The bodies of the obese athletes in our study have adapted after years of conditioning,” Lorenzo explains. “They have developed an ability to generate higher airflow and deliver ample oxygen to their blood and muscles. For typical obese people who want to become active, this may mean that they are not going to have the limitations we previously assumed they would.”
Minor Changes, Major Benefits
For those who set their sights on the fat-but-fit paradigm and aspire to a healthier body, metamorphosis doesn’t come easy, however. Packing extra poundage can make it hard to get down on the floor or up from it or to move freely. There’s also an emotional component: “They need to find environments where they won’t be bullied and where they can actually enjoy and excel at what they’re doing,” Hobbs says. “When they are confident about what their body can do, they become more motivated to take good care of it. Real change begins to happen.”
When the author Hanne Blank retrained her focus on exercise instead of food, her eating habits and her weight finally reached an even keel after years of yo-yoing. And every one of the active large women interviewed for this story drove home the fact that making regular exercise a part of her life has caused her to feel happier as well as more empowered, attractive, and inclined to take on greater physical challenges.
All of which is reason for us to stop using the word normal when we talk about weight and start focusing on realistic goals and expectations, including exercising regularly and being more active every day. These are words to live by for Blank, who is happy just to get out and get sweaty. “It’s been almost 10 years since I took my life off hold and decided to become physically active in spite of my weight. I’m out there almost every day, walking, biking, hiking, or weight lifting. I feel comfortable in my body. I’m energetic and healthy,” Blank says. “But even people close to me sometimes shake their heads and ask why I’m still fat. And I tell them, ‘Because I am. That’s just what I’ve got!'”
Are You Heavy?
Don’t stop moving just because the scale has. If you’re feeling discouraged, keep these important points in mind.
There’s no need to suffer.
If you detest every minute you spend on a treadmill or Spinning bike, you’ll never stick with it. Find an activity — kickboxing, ballroom dancing, walking with friends — that you’ll want to make a near-daily part of your life.
You’re not alone.
Does being surrounded by smaller, buff bodies at the gym sound like hell? Sign up for tours at several clubs near you to find one where you’ll feel comfortable and that has classes that appeal to you. Party-atmosphere Zumba classes are particularly welcoming, as are CrossFit classes, where there’s a team dynamic.
You can look great right now.
Enough with the shapeless sweats and tees! Workout wear that fits and supports your body will have you sweating in style and performing at your best. Athleta.com, Zella at Nordstrom.com, MovingComfort.com, and TeamEstrogen.com have particularly fab plus-size selections.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, June 2013.
Q: I am active and exercise regularly, but I am still overweight. My BMI is 32. I have read that being “fit but fat” is fine in terms of future heart risk. Why should I lose weight if I remain fit?
A: “Fit but fat” is sometimes referred to as metabolically healthy obesity (MHO), meaning overweight but lacking other cardiovascular (CV) risk factors.
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At any given point in time, the future cardiovascular risk in people with MHO appears similar to that of people of metabolically healthy normal weight. However, this may not be the case when observed over time.
A recent analysis from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) reported that despite conferring a risk similar to normal weight at baseline, MHO did not reliably predict future risk. The reason is that in more than 12 years of follow-up, nearly one-half of individuals with MHO and no CV risk factors at baseline developed metabolic syndrome (MetS), which increased the risk of cardiovascular disease 60 percent, compared with those with stable MHO or healthy normal weight.
MetS is characterized by multiple factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, elevated triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol.
Underestimating risk at a single point in time has implications for long-term follow-up. Preventing MetS, and treating it if it develops, is critical.
The best way to prevent MetS is to prevent further weight gain, maintain regular physical activity/exercise and follow a diet that reduces saturated fats, refined sugars and carbohydrates.
If you are “fat but fit,” you should watch for and promptly treat high blood pressure, cholesterol abnormalities and rising blood sugar levels to help minimize your CV risk. Although cardiac fitness and the absence of metabolic abnormalities may be more important than weight alone for predicting what will happen over time, losing weight can help prevent MetS, has many other health benefits and is worth considering.
— Leslie Cho, MD, Co-section Head of Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation
Silvia JansenCan exercise defend against health conditions related to being overweight?
Does being physically fit counteract some of the undesirable health consequences of being overweight? That question, of pressing interest to those of us who exercise while carrying a few extra pounds, prompted an important new study that focused on aerobic fitness and weight swings.
The study, which was published last month in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology, examined health information about more than 3,100 adults who’d visited the Cooper Clinic in Dallas for medical checkups. During the exams, physicians gathered information about each person’s cardiovascular health, including blood pressure, cholesterol profile, abdominal girth and body fat percentage. They also measured the patients’ aerobic fitness using treadmill tests.
Gretchen Reynolds writes about the science of fitness.
- Why It’s So Important to Keep Moving
- How Exercise Fuels the Brain
- How 1-Minute Intervals Can Improve Your Health
For years, scientists and the news media have been debating the relative risks of being fat but fit. While it might seem as if aerobic fitness could ameliorate many of the health problems associated with extra body fat, studies on the topic have produced mixed results. Some have suggested that being in shape virtually eliminates the health risks of extra pounds, especially in terms of heart health. But others have come to the opposite conclusion, finding that excess fat contributes to heart disease and premature death, even if someone is physically active.
Many of these studies, though, have compared people’s fitness and fatness at only one point in time, which is an artificial measure because, as we all know from experience, bodies change.
So, for the new study, scientists from the University of South Carolina and other institutions turned to Cooper Clinic data that covered the same patients over the course of at least six years and three checkups.
They chose 3,148 adult men and women, most in their 40s at the start of the study and all normally active but not athletes. None at first had any indications of heart disease or other risk factors, like high blood pressure or cholesterol.
The researchers then compared the patients’ body fat and aerobic fitness during their second checkup, usually two or three years after the first. A majority of the people had, by that time, gained body fat. Paradoxically, many also had become more fit, a surprising statistic, unless you consider that these were men and women who were dutifully showing up for medical checkups and receiving repeated admonitions to exercise.
None during that second visit yet showed discernible risk factors for heart disease.
But by the time they showed up for their third checkup several years later, almost a quarter had developed high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels or a combination of risk factors called metabolic syndrome.
Those at greatest risk for these health problems were, unsurprisingly, those who’d both lost fitness and gained fat. If someone had grown less fit over the years while adding fat, he now had a 71 percent greater chance of suffering from metabolic syndrome than those who’d lost fat.
But fitness offered some protection to those who gained fat. A person who had improved fitness but added girth had a 22 percent lower risk than someone who was both fat and unfit.
Not surprisingly, dropping fat mass also reduced people’s risks of suffering from metabolic syndrome and the other health problems, but very few people in the study lost fat.
The bottom line: Exercise by itself won’t erase the heart risks of extra body fat, but it may blunt them.
“What this tells us is that both fitness and fatness matter, separately and together, for heart health,” says Duck-Chul Lee, a research fellow at the University of South Carolina who led the study.
More encouragingly, simply maintaining fitness may be all that is required to protect your heart. “We did not see a great deal of added benefit from improving fitness,” Dr. Lee says, “compared to maintaining it.”
People who had bettered their aerobic fitness had 28 percent less risk of developing high blood pressure than people who’d let their fitness slide. But those who’d merely kept up their baseline fitness throughout the study, adjusted for age (aerobic capacity declines with age, even among people who exercise regularly) had 26 percent less risk of the condition, a barely discernible difference.
“The message is simple,” Dr. Lee concludes. “So much attention gets focused on weight reduction, but reducing body fat is very difficult for most people. Our study suggests that,” in terms of heart health, “maintaining your fitness over your lifetime is just as important, and for most people is probably more achievable.”
Dr. Caleyachetty, the author of the new paper, agreed that the lack of information about fitness and exercise was “an important caveat.”
“Those people who are metabolically healthy, obese and vigorously active may have a decreased risk of developing cardiovascular disease,” he conceded.
Critics say that’s an important message to convey, because many people will find it easier to embark on an exercise regimen and stick with it than to lose weight and maintain the weight loss.
“I do think that’s a better message than telling people, ‘You better not gain weight,’” Dr. Lavie said. “People aren’t trying to gain weight. They’re not trying to get to be obese. A better message would be to tell people that if they get themselves to be more physically active, they can improve their prognosis, despite carrying a few extra pounds. That’s a better message, and a more obtainable message.”
But Jennifer W. Bea, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona Cancer Center who was a co-author of an editorial accompanying the new study, said, “we haven’t heard the whole story yet” and questioned whether someone can be obese but “metabolically healthy.”
“Obesity itself is a metabolic disorder,” Dr. Bea said, noting that being overweight and obese is often associated with low-grade inflammation that may contribute to cardiovascular disease, regardless of metabolic measures.
That doesn’t mean that weight trumps all. Indeed, the study found that individuals who were considered to be of normal weight but who had a single risk factor such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol were actually at greater risk for coronary heart disease than the healthy obese people.
Everything Body Fat Distribution Tells You About You
7. Six ways to achieve healthier fat distribution
You might not have complete control over where your body prefers to store fat. Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t steps you can take to keep excess fat from ending up in potentially harmful places, like deep in your belly.
6 tips for healthy fat distribution
- Choose complex carbs and protein.
- Eat healthy fats.
- Exercise 30 minutes a day and increase the intensity.
- Keep your stress in check.
- Get six to seven hours of sleep every night.
- Limit alcohol intake.
- Choose complex carbs and protein over the sugary stuff. They digest at a slower rate, so your insulin levels stay steady instead of spiking and prompting your body to store extra belly fat, Petre says.
- Go for healthier dietary fats. Polyunsaturated fats like walnuts, salmon, and flax seeds are an especially good bet — especially when you swap them in for saturated fats. Findings suggest that polyunsaturated fats promote the growth of calorie-torching muscle tissue, while saturated fats seem to encourage excess fat storage.
- Exercise — and try to up the intensity. Get the most bang for your buck by breaking a sweat. Strength training helps increase muscle mass, which in turn reduces body fat, explains Petre. High-intensity intervals (like alternating sprinting with walking) are more effective for attacking visceral fat than moderate aerobic exercise, research shows.
- Try to keep your stress in check. Taming the tension keeps your system from constantly getting flooded with cortisol. That in turn can help keep excess fat from taking up home in your visceral tissue, Peeke says.
- Get enough sleep. In one six-year study, participants who normally slept for five hours showed a 32 percent increase in visceral fat. Those who logged six to seven hours only increased their visceral fat by 13 percent.
- Limit your booze intake. Flooding your system with excessive amounts of alcohol in one sitting means more of the calories could get stored as visceral fat. Heavier drinkers tend to have higher levels of belly fat as well, so stick to no more than one drink a day (for women) or two per day (for men). And above all, avoid binge drinking. That’s defined as four or more drinks in two hours.
Don’t try all these steps at once if it seems overwhelming. Enjoying the baby steps and building lifelong habits is more effective and healthier for yourself.
If anything, remember this key tip: Watch your portions overall. When you eat too much of any food — even healthy ones — the extra calories your body doesn’t need get stored as fat.
Marygrace Taylor is a health and wellness writer whose work has appeared in Parade, Prevention, Redbook, Glamour, Women’s Health, and others. Visit her at marygracetaylor.com.
What Being Overweight Means
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Your weight has been important since the moment you were born. Maybe you even know what your birth weight was. Most newborns weigh between 6 and 9 pounds, but some may weigh more and some less.
But very quickly, a baby gains weight and everyone is glad about that because it means the child is growing bigger and stronger.
As you get older, your weight is still important. It’s something your parents and doctor will probably keep an eye on. When you go for a checkup, the doctor often will record your height and weight and compare it with what it was the last time you came in. The doctor wants to check that you are a healthy weight because weighing too much — or too little — can be a problem.
But these days, being overweight is more common than being underweight. More kids and teenagers have weight problems than ever before.
What Does It Mean?
When people talk about being overweight or obese, they mean that someone has more body fat than is healthy. Everyone has some body fat, but too much fat can lead to health problems. Overweight kids might find it hard to get around and keep up with friends on the playground. They might be teased or feel bad about themselves.
How Is It Measured?
Someone can be underweight, at a healthy weight, overweight, or obese. There is no one perfect weight for a kid to be, but there are healthy weight ranges for kids based on height and gender (whether the person is a girl or a boy).
Doctors use four categories to describe a person’s weight:
- Underweight: A person weighs less than the healthy range for his or her age, gender, and height.
- Healthy weight: A person’s weight is in the healthy range for his or her age, gender, and height.
- Overweight: A person weighs more than the healthy range for his or her age, gender, and height.
- Obese: A person weighs much more than the healthy range for his or her age, gender, and height.
What Is BMI?
But being overweight is more than a number on the scale. A taller kid naturally could weigh more than a shorter kid and not be overweight. That’s why doctors use something called body mass index, or BMI, to help decide if a kid is overweight.
BMI uses a kid’s height and weight in a calculation that results in a number. The doctor plots that number on a chart. There are different charts for girls or boys. BMI estimates how much body fat the person has.
Because muscle weighs more than fat, a muscular person can have a high BMI, but not too much body fat. Likewise, it’s possible for someone to have a low or ideal BMI but still have too much body fat.
You may get a BMI report from school, but the best way to understand BMI is to talk to your doctor.
Why Do People Become Overweight or Obese?
Most of the time, people have too much body fat because the body gets more calories (from foods and drinks) than it burns through physical activity, such as playing soccer or walking to school. Extra calories are stored as fat. The more extra calories a person eats, the more fat is stored.
This happens very easily in modern life. People spend more time in front of screens, like TVs, phones, and computers, and less time moving around. We drive everywhere instead of walking or riding bikes. Fewer schools have gym classes every day; more kids play video and mobile games than active games like dodgeball.
People lead busier lives so they have less time to cook healthy meals. We eat more restaurant meals, take-out food, ready-made food, and snacks.
Weight problems can run in families. But don’t let that discourage you from making changes that could help you be a healthy weight. Your habits — what kind of food and how much you eat and how much you exercise — can make a big difference.
How Can Extra Weight Hurt Your Health?
It’s hard to feel good when your body has too much weight to carry. Being overweight or obese can make it harder to breathe and sleep. It can make a person feel tired and cause aches or pains. A weight problem also can make you feel embarrassed, sad, or even angry. When people feel bad, they may eat more because food can be comforting. This isn’t a good idea, especially if someone is already overweight.
Getting help is important because weighing too much can make you sick. Overweight or obese kids have a greater chance of getting diabetes and other health problems. And overweight adults have a higher chance of getting heart disease.
How Can You Keep From Becoming Overweight?
One of the best ways to stay at a healthy weight is to be active. You can join a sports team. Or, if you don’t like team sports, try swimming, tennis, martial arts, or just playing in your own backyard. Jumping rope, dancing, and running around will get your heart pumping.
Getting some extra exercise can be as easy as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking instead of having your parents drive you. Being active also means watching less TV and playing fewer video and mobile games.
Eating healthy is another part of staying fit. Eat a variety of foods and get five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Choose water and low-fat milk over soda and other sugary drinks. When it comes to high-calorie and high-fat foods, eat them only once in a while and, when you do, have smaller portions.
What Should You Do?
Talking to a parent is the best first step if you are concerned about your weight. Your mom or dad can make a doctor’s appointment for you. The doctor may suggest ways of changing your eating and exercise habits.
In general, kids don’t need to diet. But a kid who is very overweight may need some expert help from a dietitian or a doctor who specializes in weight management. Together, along with your family, you’ll come up with a plan that includes eating nutritious foods and exercising regularly.
If you have a friend or relative who is overweight, remember to be kind. He or she is probably well aware of the problem. Jokes or teasing will make the person feel worse. Encourage your friend instead by exercising together and sharing what you know about eating healthy foods.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD Date reviewed: June 2018
The majority of weight loss programs still suggest that weight loss is a simple process of managing calories in and calories out. It’s not that simple. Fat loss or fat gain is the result of a number of choices and habits.
Perhaps, some of these bad choices could be contributing to unwanted gains in body fat.
1. Add Sugar to Each Meal
Mary Poppins suggested a spoonful of sugar to help medicine go down, but if your goal is to add a little more size to your thighs or love handles, you should try to add a little extra sugar to each of your meals.
If you eat a lot of processed foods, you’re probably already doing that. You can even find added sugar in processed meats.
Don’t stop there, though. White flour, bread, waffles, many cereals, chips, granola and crackers are easily converted to sugar as well. If you’re not keen on eating plain sugar, these foods should help with being able to add on extra body fat.
2. Limit Fat and Protein Intake
Fat and protein have significant effects on appetite.
Both of these macronutrients contain nutrients essential to our health.
By avoiding these foods, you’ll be more likely to have an insatiable appetite. People who eat fat and protein with every meal have a harder time overeating and may not have as much desire for carbohydrate-rich or sugary foods.
Protein helps enhance lean mass, which supports and optimal metabolic rate and helps with blood sugar management. Those who are trying to get fatter wouldn’t want these benefits of protein.
3. Sleep Less Than 7 Hours Each Night
Imagine how much more time you’ll have in your day if you skip out on sleep. If you’re trying to fatten up, sleeping less can be a great solution.
Missing out on sleep will probably increase your appetite, making it easier to fill up on more junk food, but it can even help you gain body fat without changing your nutrition habits.
Reducing sleep duration and quality helps your body become more of a sugar-burner so you don’t use up the fat stores you’re trying to preserve.
4. Overuse Antibiotics
Though some types of bacteria can lead to illness, our health depends on millions of beneficial bacteria in our digestive tract.
A growing body of research suggests that gut bacteria play an important role in weight regulation. The bacteria in the digestive tract have been shown to communicate with other parts of the body, including “brown fat” which is a type of fat that can help increase calorie expenditure.
Other research has shown the bacteria in the gut may also affect how much energy we get from food we eat, which can affect weight management as well.
Antibiotics do not discriminate. They are designed to wipe out all bacteria, which means good bacteria are lost through antibiotic use and this may contribute to weight gain.
5. Leave a Night-Light or Two On in Your Bedroom
Your eyes are be closed when you sleep But some research has shown leaving faint lights on during sleep can cause an increase in weight gain even when controlling food intake.
Light doesn’t affect us only through our eyes. The cells throughout the body are affected by light and dark, so leaving a night-light on may affect your ability to get into a complete, restful sleep.
Disrupted sleep seems to contribute to gains in body fat and other health changes, so leave a night-light or two on, or make sure your cell phone blinks or buzzes during the night.
6. Sign Yourself and Your Kids Up for a Few More Activities
If you still have a little time left in your weekly schedule to relax, find a way to fill it up. If you stay overcommitted, you’ll have a harder time eating quality meals and fitting in exercise.
Over-commitment will increase your level of stress and help to keep you up later at night as well. The over-commitment could help the whole family with gaining body fat.
7. Start Each Day with a Bowl of Cereal and Fruit Juice
The great American breakfast, or at least the breakfast often advertised on television, is a bowl of cereal and juice.
Low in protein and fat, and high in easily digestible carbohydrates, this breakfast is a great way to start the day with your goal of accumulating additional body fat. And such a breakfast can leave you hungry just a couple hours later.
You may even start feeling the effects of low blood sugar, like trouble focusing, a reduction in energy and increase in irritability. The low blood sugar can be an advantage on a fat-gaining plan as it will lead you to eat more high-carbohydrate snack foods.
Starting the day this way sets you up for a blood sugar roller-coaster, which will keep you snacking throughout the day and keep you on track with your fat gain goals.
8. Eat Extra Gluten
If you’re among the many people affected by gluten consumption, eating foods with gluten can help with gaining weight.
It can act as an appetite stimulant and may make certain processed foods addicting. If the thought of giving up bread, pasta, pizza or other gluten-containing foods seems almost unbearable, there’s a possibility gluten has you hooked. That’s good news if you’re trying to gain body fat.
9. Assume Your Metabolism Is Functioning Just Fine
Some people think as we age, we should expect to get fatter.
Men should continue to gain fat around their belly and women should gain more fat around their thighs and arms. Often the reason for these changes isn’t just diet and exercise. It’s a shift in the function of the metabolism.
If you want to keep gaining weight, don’t be tempted to get your internal health checked out with blood testing.
Comprehensive blood testing can identify shifts in your metabolism, like changes in thyroid, testosterone, estrogen and blood sugar, which can all impact the way you use and store fat. If you want to gain more body fat, you’d be better off avoiding these types of tests as you may find something has gone awry and feel the need to do something about it.
10. Over-train or Under-recover
When it comes to your exercise program, you can help your body store more fat by either overtraining or under-recovering. Both have the same effect, but the perspective is a little different.
Overtraining is often the result of following a poorly designed exercise program. You can over-train by working out every day with high levels of intensity.
Each person is different, but generally, high-intensity workouts include metabolic conditioning or circuit training workouts where heart rate is elevated for most of the workout. Even running can lead to overtraining if individuals don’t vary their pace each day. Group fitness classes can also lead to overtraining if participants choose high-intensity, full-body workouts every day.
Overtraining can also be the result of under-recovering. Though an exercise session may not seem to be too challenging on the body, if someone does not take in sufficient amounts of protein and other nutrients, they won’t be able to recover from one workout before beginning the next.
In both situations, cortisol levels go up, the body burns more sugar and it becomes easier to store more fat and difficult to get rid of it. In addition, overtraining can lead to a loss of muscle tissue – exactly what you’re looking for on this fat gain plan. If you’re curious, you can learn more about the signs of under-recovering.
11. Use Extra Stimulants
Caffeine has some benefits in moderate amounts. Overdoing caffeine, though, can wreak havoc on your adrenal system. As much as it may give you a lift in small quantities, it can contribute to a general lack of energy, motivation and enthusiasm if you use stimulants in high quantities for too long.
The main source of caffeine, especially in teens and younger adults isn’t coffee, it’s energy drinks. And energy drinks often include more stimulants than caffeine alone. If you want to take your fat gain to another level, be sure to mix your coffee or energy drinks with extra sugar. Most energy drinks already have sugar, but you should also add flavoring and other sweets to your gourmet coffee.
12. Drink Juice. Don’t Eat Your Vegetables or Fruit
If you’re striving to gain fat, be sure you’re not eating your produce. Instead, meet your vegetable and fruit requirements through juice.
Juice is much more concentrated in sugar, especially fructose, and does not include fiber, which may help reduce your appetite.
Loading up on juice is a great way to increase calorie intake, much like drinking soda would be. If you focus on using only fruit over vegetables and fruit for your juicing, you’ll be able to increase the amount of sugar per serving.
Taken to an excess, drinking a lot of juice could help in increasing not only body fat, but even liver fat. With enough effort, drinking enough fructose could contribute to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
13. Use Containers Made with BPA
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used in many plastic containers, the lining of food cans and even cash register receipts.
BPA has been attacked over the past several years for its endocrine-disrupting effects. A recent study shows it has the potential to significantly increase production of insulin, the body’s primary fat-storage-signaling hormone.
Those looking to train their body to store more fat may benefit from using more containers made with BPA to keep insulin levels elevated. Cooking or microwaving with containers that use BPA may increase your body’s exposure to this chemical.
14. Reward Yourself After Each Workout
If you’re going to include exercise in your fat-gaining program, be sure to reward yourself after every workout.
It doesn’t take much to offset what you burn in each workout. Have a muffin, some chips, or a bowl of pasta. You’ll replace all the glycogen you burned in your training session and eat enough extra carbohydrates that it will help contribute to your fat stores. Most of these foods also have hidden sources of processed fats, which will also help with filling up your fat stores.
There are probably a few other habits you could take advantage of in pursuing a higher level of body fat, but those mentioned above are a great place to start. If gaining more fat isn’t really your thing, and you want some guidance on how to do things right, either
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On Wednesday a major UK study came out with headlines proclaiming that you cannot be fat and fit. For me, someone who promotes ditching the diet, it was sad to see that associated coverage lacked any solutions for people to improve their health and seemed, more than anything, to dish out more fear-mongering to fat people, who already feel sidelined by society.
Over the course of 10 years and thousands of training sessions working specifically with obese clients, I can say this: I have witnessed incredible feats in fitness by obese clients. I have trained both healthy obese clients with sound athletic disposition and immobile clients who couldn’t stand on two feet who were not metabolically healthy. Over time, I had them running up hills, boxing, lifting weights and making fitness a sustainable part of their life. During this time, their risks of disease greatly decreased without significant weight loss. Medications were lowered, cardiovascular health, physical mobility and quality of life were greatly improved.
I’ve seen first-hand the difference physical exercise can make if offered in a safe and inclusive environment. Regrettably, such spaces for fat people are sorely lacking. That’s a big part of the problem. Our fitness culture is an elite club where only slim, ripped, young people have the privilege of being represented in fitness media, advertising and gym culture. The rest of us pretty much don’t exist. How can we be what we cannot see?
We are living in a society that accepts weight bias and discrimination as the last form of openly acceptable oppression. Fat people are heckled from cars as they run, cursed at on the internet to get their “fat asses” moving. And, in this case, they are publicly called unhealthy by the medical profession. Fat people are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Studies like this only amplify that message, especially when there’s no solutions offered alongside it.
What motivates people to get physically active and keep health risks at bay? I know that fear-mongering statistics, studies and advice do the exact opposite. They intimidate and oppresses individuals. Heckling, shaming and name-calling can end someone’s fitness endeavours or prevent them from starting at all.
It takes a huge amount of courage for a fat person to step into the wolf’s den to exercise; compassion and support are key. We have a responsibility to work hard at motivating people to find health solutions that are plausible and sustainable.
We need to stop assuming all fat people are unhealthy. There are many unhealthy reasons someone might be thin: disordered eating, smoking, atrophy or lack of muscle mass, yet studies regarding these specific topics don’t make eye-catching headlines.
Fashionable body sizes have changed throughout the ages. In the 1800s lush, big bodies were considered healthy, and showed signs of wealth. In the 1990s there was “heroin chic”, referring to underweight runway models. We are now in an era when our bodies have become larger because of the food chain, technology, desk jobs and stress, yet we still measure our health by an archaic body mass index standard developed in the 1830s for population studies, not individuals.
Our times have changed, and we need to change with them. As a fitness professional I am committed to making fitness accessible to everybody and providing sustainable health solutions to millions of people who have desperately tried and failed at the dieting way of life.
After working with thousands of obese clients, and consistently helping them improve their lives, my findings for better health are this: stop spending your money and ditch the diet; move your body often and rigorously; eat nutritionally dense food as much as possible but enjoy the occasional birthday cake. Be the healthiest version of yourself, each and every day.
• Big Fit Girl: Embrace the Body You Have published by Greystone Books (£10.99)
New study casts further doubt on the idea that you can be ‘fat and fit’
“Fat and fit at the same time? Sorry, but it really is a myth,” the Mail Online reports.
A new study adds to the growing evidence that the so-called “obesity paradox” is a myth. The obesity paradox, first described in 2003, is the claim that contrary to perceived wisdom, obese people lived longer than people with a healthy weight.
But this has been followed by 15 years of investigation arguing against the case, with many experts saying the 2003 study used flawed research methods.
This latest study of nearly 300,000 Europeans would seem to “put another nail in the coffin” in the concept of “fat but fit”.
In this latest study, middle-aged adults had body measures taken and were followed up 5 years later to see if they had developed cardiovascular disease.
The findings showed a clear relationship between being overweight and increasing risk of cardiovascular disease. The results were almost identical whether body fat was measured by waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio or waist-to-height ratio.
There are some limitations, such as the focus on white Europeans, which can’t be applied to other ethnicities. But overall this is a large and valuable study that clearly supports current understanding that obesity is a strong risk factor for cardiovascular disease, as it is for various other chronic diseases.
As the lead author, widely quoted in the media, summarises: “The message is that if you’re obese or overweight, losing some definitely lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke.”
Where does the study come from?
The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Glasgow and funded by the British Heart Foundation, European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries Associations, Innovative Medicines Initiative Joint Undertaking, European Medical Information Framework and Medical Research Council Skills Development Fellowship.
The study was published in the peer-reviewed European Heart Journal and is freely available to access online.
The UK media’s coverage of the study was accurate.
What kind of research was this?
This was a cohort study that aimed to see how different measures of body fat (for example body mass index and waist circumference) were linked with cardiovascular outcomes, such as heart disease and stroke.
A large body of research has linked being overweight and obese with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancers and various other chronic diseases. However, a number of studies have argued that obesity has no link to risk of cardiovascular disease, or may even be protective. This has been summarised as the idea that people might be “fat but fit”.
This latest study aimed to investigate this concept by collecting data from a large group of European adults.
What did the researchers do?
The study used data from UK Biobank, which recruited more than half a million middle-aged adults (aged 40-69 years) between 2006 and 2010. They attended an assessment clinic, completed health questionnaires, and had body measures taken. These included BMI, waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, waist-to-height ratio and percentage body fat.
Participants were linked with hospital and death registers to look for cardiovascular diagnoses up to 2015. The researchers looked at the relationship between body measures and adverse cardiovascular outcomes such as heart attacks and stroke, taking account of various other things that could influence this, such as:
- physical activity
- socioeconomic status
- diagnosis of diabetes or high blood pressure
After excluding people with cardiovascular disease, they tracked 296,535 people for 5 years. All were of white European descent and 58% were women.
What were the basic results?
During the follow-up period, 3% of women and 6% of men developed a cardiovascular outcome. The lowest risk of cardiovascular disease was for a healthy weight BMI of 22 to 23. Above this there was a clear linear pattern where increasing body mass index (BMI) was linked with increasing risk of cardiovascular disease. People with a BMI of below 18 (under a healthy weight) also had a higher risk of cardiovascular events.
Each increase in BMI by one standard deviation above the average (5.2 for women and 4.3 for men) was linked with a 13% increased risk of cardiovascular events such as stroke (hazard ratio 1.13, 95% confidence interval 1.10 to 1.17).
Very similar risk increases were found for a one standard deviation increase in waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, waist-to-height ratio and percentage body fat.
What do the researchers conclude?
The researchers conclude: “Increasing has a detrimental association with cardiovascular health in middle-aged men and women … Any public misconception of a potential ‘protective’ effect of fat on cardiovascular risk should be challenged.”
The possibility that people might be “fat but fit” has often been touted. This study goes against this and supports what is widely understood, that being overweight and obese are detrimental to health.
It benefits from looking at a very large sample of people. All body measures were taken objectively rather than self-reported, and valid diagnoses of later cardiovascular outcomes were obtained from medical records.
You still can’t remove the possibility of influence from other factors, but many of these factors (such as diabetes, high blood pressure) may be caused by obesity anyway. Last year a similar study made the headlines showing that obese people are at higher risk of heart disease even when they are otherwise “metabolically healthy” without high blood pressure, diabetes or raised cholesterol. Obesity is enough of a risk factor on its own.
There are some limitations to this research that should be noted:
- Though the study sample was very large, these people still represented only 5.5% of those invited to participate. The people in the study sample could be healthier than non-participants.
- The study only represents white people and people of other ethnicities are known to be at higher risk of obesity-related diseases like diabetes at lower BMI thresholds.
- It only looks at middle-aged people.
- It only focuses on cardiovascular disease rather than cancer or other chronic diseases.
Overall, though, it supports current government recommendations to aim for a normal weight through a healthy balanced diet and regular physical activity, not smoking and minimising alcohol.
If you want to lose weight then try the NHS weight loss plan.
Analysis by Bazian
Edited by NHS Website
Links to the headlines
Fat and fit at the same time? Sorry, but it really is a myth: Experts say it is impossible to be overweight without increasing the risk of heart disease
Mail Online, 16 March 2018
Fat but fit? It’s a big myth, say scientists
The Times (subscription required), 16 March 2018
Links to the science
Iliodromiti S, Celis-Moarles CA, Lyall DM, et al.
The impact of confounding on the associations of different adiposity measures with the incidence of cardiovascular disease: a cohort study of 296 535 adults of white European descent
European Heart Journal. Published online March 16 2018
What’s a Healthy Weight, Anyway? The Truth About Being Fat But Fit
Weight isn’t everything. The foods you eat, how well you sleep, and the quality of your relationships all affect your health too. Still, new research suggests you can’t outrun your scale when it comes to your overall well-being.
For a study published in International Journal of Epidemiology, researchers followed more than 1.3 million young men for an average of 29 years, examining the link between their weight, aerobic fitness, and risk of early death. They found that men at a healthy weight-no matter their fitness level-were 30 percent less likely to die young compared to the fit, albeit obese, men. The results suggest that the beneficial effects of fitness are blunted with increased obesity, and that in extreme obesity, fitness has little to no benefit. “Maintaining a normal weight at a young age is simply more important than being fit,” says Peter Nordström, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chief physician of community medicine and rehabilitation at Umeå University in Sweden, and co-author of the study.
But what do these findings mean for you? First off, it’s worth noting that the study looked at men, not women, and counted deaths from suicide and drug use (to be fair, previous research links both physical inactivity and obesity to depression and poor mental health). Nordström also notes that even though the risk of early death was higher in “fat but fit” men than in healthy weight men, the risk still wasn’t all that high. (Remember that 30 percent stat? Even though the overweight and obese people did die at a 30 percent greater rate than the normal-weight, unfit people, only 3.4 percent of the study’s participants died in total. So it’s not like overweight guys were falling over left and right.) And previous research, including one 2014 meta-analysis of 10 separate studies concluded that overweight and obese people with high cardiorespiratory fitness have similar rates of death compared to fit people at a healthy weight. The review also concluded that unfit people have twice the risk of death, no matter their weight, compared to fit people.
“No matter what you weigh, you’ll benefit from being physically active,” says Timothy Church, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., professor of preventative medicine at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana. “I don’t care about your weight,” he says. “What’s your fasting blood sugar level? Blood pressure? Triglycerides level?” In terms of measuring wellbeing, these markers are more reliable than weight determining your health, agrees Linda Bacon, Ph.D., author of Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. In fact, research published in the European Heart Journal shows that when obese people keep these measures in check, their risk of dying from heart disease or cancer is no higher than for with so-called normal weights. “Weight and health aren’t one and the same thing,” says Bacon. “Just ask a fat football player, or a thin person who lacks sufficient access to food. It is very possible to be fat and healthy, and thin and unhealthy.”
That said, people with a lot of one specific kind of fat, abdominal fat, do tend to be at a greater risk for health problems than people who carry their fat in their butt, hips, and thighs, says Church. Unlike subcutaneous fat, which hangs out just below your skin, abdominal (aka visceral) fat goes deep into your abdominal cavity, surrounding and compromising your internal organs. (Research from the University of Oxford even shows that butt, hip, and thigh fat is healthy, ridding the body of more harmful fatty acids and producing anti-inflammatory compounds that help lower the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It pays to be a pear.)
That’s why a large waistlines and apple body shapes-not a high number on the scale-are an established risk factor for metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that increases your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke. Consider this: Healthy weight women with a waist of 35 inches or more have three times the risk of dying from heart disease compared to healthy weight women with smaller waistlines, according to Circulation research, one of the largest and longest studies on abdominal obesity. Both the American Heart Association and National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute agree that waist measurements of 35 inches and higher are a marker of an apple-shaped body type and abdominal obesity.
Whatever your weight, the simplest way to determine your individual fat-to-health connection may be to measure your waist. Luckily, if your waistline is flirting with that line, exercise is one of the best ways to reduce your levels of abdominal fat and improve your health. Who cares what the scale says?
- By K. Aleisha Fetters
How is it possible to be overweight but still be in shape?
To most of us, being in-shape means being physically fit; this implies good muscle tone, strength and endurance. It is possible to have those attributes while still being overweight. In fact, many elite athletes work, you might even say struggle, on a regular basis to maintain an ideal weight for optimum performance in their sport, e.g., road racing cyclists and gymnasts. If they, just like anyone else, eat more calories than they burn they will gain weight, regardless of being in shape.
“Overweight” is a somewhat relative term and is most accurately reflected in ranges rather than a specific number on the scale. There are several methods of calculating an ideal weight and body fat percentages, including; Body Mass Index, Waist–to-Hip Ratio, and circumference measurements.
NASM considers BMI (body mass index) to be the most reliable method of determining a healthy weight and can be easily calculated by dividing body weight (in kilograms) by height (in meters squared). A BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9 is thought to be ideal, a range from 25 to 29.9 is considered to be overweight and can begin to lead to weight related health problems, while a BMI over 30 is generally accepted as obese and the cause of an increased risk of many chronic diseases.
5 Signs You Might Be ‘Skinny Fat’
If you’ve always been a normal weight without having to try too hard, you may consider yourself lucky. But the mirror and the scale only tell part of the story: You can look great in a bikini or have a body-mass index (BMI) in the normal range, but if you don’t take care of yourself, you could be just as unhealthy as an obese person.
This phenomena—sometimes known as skinny-fat, or “normal-weight obesity”—may affect up to one-fourth of normal weight people, according to one 2008 study. “They look healthy, but when we check them out they have high levels of body fat and inflammation,” says Ishwarlal Jialal, MD, director of the Laboratory for Atherosclerosis and Metabolic Research at UC Davis Health System. “They’re at high risk for diabetes and cardiovascular problems, but you wouldn’t know it from their appearance.”
Getting your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels checked is the only way to know for sure how healthy you are metabolically. But there are some warning signs that may help you determine whether you’re at risk for normal-weight obesity. If these characteristics apply to you, talk to your doctor about how you can make sure you’re physically fit, both inside and out.
You have a muffin top
Even if you’re a healthy weight overall, sporting a spare tire can be dangerous. In fact, a recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that normal-weight people with excess fat around their middle had an even higher risk of dying early than their overweight or obese peers.
“Fat around the middle is worse than fat anywhere else,” says Dr. Jialal. “It’s where the damage starts in terms of insulin resistance and inflammatory proteins.” And this kind of fat doesn’t appear all at once, either, so it’s easy to ignore. “It should be a warning sign if you’re slowly increasing your belt size or your pants start feeling tighter around the waist.”
RELATED: 10 Reasons You’re Not Losing Belly Fat
You can’t do a push-up
Skinny people can still have high levels of body fat, especially if they lack lean muscle mass. And if you can’t remember the last time you broke a sweat, there’s a good chance this could be you. “When people aren’t overweight, they don’t have the incentive to work out and get in shape,” says Dr. Jialal. “But without regular exercise, they just get more and more unhealthy.”
Getting regular aerobic activity—like brisk walking, cycling, or running—is important for maintaining a healthy heart and lungs. But adding in regular strength training will also help you build muscle, which will rev your metabolism and burn toxic fat.
You have a family history
If a parent or sibling has developed diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol (no matter what his or her size), you may be genetically predisposed to these conditions, as well. Maintaining a normal weight will certainly lower your risk, but it will be most effective if you do it in a healthy way—through exercise and a balanced diet.
Talk to your doctor about other ways you can avoid health problems that run in your family. If you still have risk factors (like high blood pressure or elevated blood sugar) even with a healthy lifestyle, medications may help you keep them under control.
RELATED: 57 Ways to Lose Weight Forever, According to Science
You don’t eat a healthy diet
Maybe you’re able to eat burgers and guzzle sodas without gaining a pound. Or maybe you count your calories, but you fill up on white bread and junk food rather than fruits and veggies. Either way, consuming too much sugar and fat—and not enough vitamins, fiber, and lean protein—can damage your organs and raise your risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and more.
Yo-yo dieting, skipping meals, and extreme cleanses can also skinny-fat syndrome, says Cynthia Sass, RD, Health’s contributing nutrition editor. That’s because you pack on body fat when you get hungry and overeat, but you lose muscle mass when you drastically cut calories—a bad combination that wreaks havoc on your health.
You’re in an at-risk population.
BMI isn’t a perfect measurement for any group of people, but research suggests that it may be even less useful for certain ethnic groups as a measure of overall health. For example, a 2011 study found that people of South Asian descent are more likely to store excess fat around their internal organs, compared to Caucasian people of the same BMI.
This type of fat that surrounds organs, known as visceral fat, has been associated with metabolic problems and chronic disease. “Genetics are definitely involved in how people store fat, but culture and diet also probably play a role, too,” says Dr. Jialal. “And obviously eating healthy and getting exercise is good for everyone, no matter what your risk factors.
Another 2014 study found that older adults should pay less attention to their BMIs. Because we lose muscle as we age, it’s common for elderly people to have high body fat percentages, even at normal weights. Focusing on building muscle mass, rather than worrying about the number on the scale, can help older adults live longer and healthier lives, the study concluded.