Skinny vs. Healthy

Some of you took exception to my recent review of the “Skinny Songs” CD. Because skinny is not synonymous with healthy, correct? True. But not being too overweight is certainly a big part of being healthy. Still, the fact that I just took this music to be an amusing “soundtrack to getting in shape” tells me how far I’ve come since my own eating disorder days. I’ve almost forgotten how painful it can be when you’re unhappy with your weight/body image, and struggling.

I absolutely agree that our society is “obsessed with being thin,” and that this in particular puts pressure on women to live up to some ridiculous ideals of glamour.Skinny

Yet we live in country where about a third of all adults are dangerously overweight, putting their hearts and other organs at risk. Our overly rich diet and overly sedentary lifestyle have led us here. So anything we can do to motivate people to become more active is good, in my mind.

Still, I’m by no means claiming that everybody has to be “skinny.” What it comes down to, in fact, is how thin is healthy-thin? And how do you define “healthy,” anyway?

For some expert advice, I turned again to dietitian, diabetes educator and author Hope Warshaw, who’s many nutrition titles include Eat Out, Eat Right and Guide to Healthy Fast Food Eating. I ought to mention that Hope is a very attractive and healthy lady, but not someone you’d describe as “skinny.”

DM) How do you define “healthy”?

HW) Weight is not the only indicator of health or longevity. Clearly genes play a role. Also nutrition -– how well you eat and nourish yourself — plays a role as well. Interestingly there is research being done on and a group of people that believe that regularly restricting calorie intake below daily need can lead to a longer and healthier life. The jury is still out.

As a dietitian and diabetes educator, I believe that the window for healthy includes both maintaining a desirable weight and eating healthy. I feel strongly that there’s a big body of evidence that supports the Dietary Guidelines for Americans –- plenty of fruits and vegetables (note: for Type 1s – that fruit issue again!), whole grains, low fat dairy foods, light on the red meats and other protein sources, and light on the saturated and trans fats. No one needs to wait for more evidence to follow these healthy eating principles.

Another area that deserves mention is the discussion that Covert Bailey began a number of years ago: Fit or Fat? Research has been done in this area as well. Is the large muscular football player healthier at 250 pounds than the sedentary person at that weight? Likely so. Or is it OK to carry around a few extra pounds as long as you eat healthy and are physically active? Likely so.

DM) Can you elaborate on the “skinny is not synonymous with healthy” concept?

HW) To answer this requires considering both ends of the spectrum and the gamut in between –- from too thin to obese. It’s known that people who are too thin, possibly thinner than skinny (of their own choice or disease-related, such as anorexia or cancer) are often not healthy. On the other side of the spectrum, people who are obese (30% more than their desirable body weight) are often also not healthy. It’s well known that people who are obese have much greater incidence of many diseases. This includes the disease generating influence of insulin resistance (metabolic syndrome) which often begets high blood pressure, heart disease and last, but not least type 2 diabetes. Additionally being obese has been linked to certain cancers, orthopedic problems, sleep apnea and more.

There appears to be a window of desirable body weight – between too thin and overweight – that people should stay within to promote disease prevention and long term health. In terms of body mass index, the current favored tool to discuss a person or population’s weight to height relationship or body fatness, it’s ideal to be in the normal weight range, between 18.5 – 24.9. (note: calculate yours HERE).

Another measure of healthiness or not so that is gaining favor is waist circumference (WC). It is known that women who’s WC is more than 35 inches and men who’s WC is more than 40 inches, are at risk for the above mentioned insulin resistance syndrome and related diseases.

DM) For those who need to lose weight, is it wrong to focus on “thin” as a goal? Or how should they envision themselves trimming down?

HW) One needs to discuss this question from a weight loss and weight maintenance perspective. People who “go on diets” want to achieve their desired body weight — “get back to my skinny weight or into my skinny jeans.” For people who are significantly overweight and have been so for years, getting to the weight they were at when they were 18, 25 or whenever, is likely both not realistic and not necessary when it comes to their health. For example, it is well known looking at the pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes and general weight control literature that losing 5-7% of body weight (what people did in the DPP) can help people lower blood glucose and blood pressure and improve lipids. Losing more weight may not be realistic or necessary. The bigger issue though is that it’s tough enough to maintain this small amount of weight loss. Any change in the less weight direction is good.

[Editor's Note: I've discovered a blog called "Back in Skinny Jeans" that promotes itself as "an uplifting place to create "a healthier you." Go figure :) ]


4 Responses

  1. Healthy
    Healthy February 28, 2008 at 8:25 am | | Reply

    I like your proactol on dieting and losing weight program and thanks for giving reference links for a good diet plan programs now I’m going to the link to grab for actual stuff how to apply in practical.

  2. Skinny Minnie
    Skinny Minnie February 28, 2008 at 1:05 pm | | Reply

    It’s funny… Growing up, I know I was always a “healthy” weight, and was probably considered “skinny” by 1980s standards.

    Nowadays, I’m still a healthy weight, by the BMI calculator anyways… but wouldn’t consider myself “skinny.” If I had to guess what has changed so many people’s perceptions of what is considered thin/ healthy/ beautiful, I don’t think I’d have to look any further than a “Best and Worst Bikini Bodies” section of a magazine or celebrity tabloid in the grocery store checkout aisle… Yikes!

  3. Heidi Roizen
    Heidi Roizen February 29, 2008 at 12:40 pm | | Reply

    I really enjoyed reading your comments about skinny versus healthy. As the lyricist behind the songs I have also been asked this many times. I knew the choice of the title would be controversial, but that is in part why I chose it — as an indie label with a small budget we had to find a way to draw attention! That said, I think if anyone listens to the songs carefully, it would become clear to them that my songs are not about any particular weight or size, just about looking and feeling good and getting into healthy shape. I myself went from 190 to 158, not skinny in anyone’s book — but far healthier. And of course the songs were meant to be tongue-in-cheek and humorous, because that is what I felt would make me want to listen to them and make their messages stick in my head (and the heads of women like me.) But I understand, what motivates one person does not necessarily motivate another — everyone has different musical tastes and different motivational triggers.

    The collateral benefit of weight loss at the level I am trying to motivate is a healthier body and heart. As someone from the American Heart Association said to me, “If you wrote songs about how excited you were to lower your cholesterol, no one would listen to them!” Anyway, thank you for the thoughtful post and best wishes

  4. Powerful
    Powerful February 29, 2008 at 2:10 pm | | Reply


    superb site, I found the most valuable information from this site really helpful in nature.healthy diet can be way down on the list of our priorities.I found a site related to your site which contains a tones of information about the Health and i hope this site will helps a lot. Thanks !

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