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Weight is often seen as the most important (if not only) indicator of health. Those that are skinny are seen as healthy while those that are overweight are seen as unhealthy. Being overweight can definitely put you at higher risk for certain health conditions, but some of the research that’s been done might surprise you.

Your Ideal Weight

First and foremost, it’s of utmost importance to realize that you are the healthiest you can be at your ideal weight, and this weight is completely different for each person. Also, keep in mind that modern day beauty standards are not promoting a healthy body weight (especially for women), and unfortunately the idea of “fit” is often associated with an unhealthy ideal.

Remember, as well, that being overweight is not necessarily a health problem in and of itself, but instead is a symptom of a problem such as an unhealthy diet or lack of physical activity. Other factors that are not as easily addressed include hormonal imbalances, unaddressed emotional issues, and chronic stress.

Taking pride in your body and maintaining its health should certainly be top priority, and learning the differences between overweight and fit versus skinny and unfit is a good place to start.

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Skinny and Unfit

Just because someone is thin does not automatically mean they are healthy (or fit). Visceral fat is fat that surrounds your internal organs, and research suggests that this type of fat might actually be more dangerous than more obvious, external fat. In fact, many people who are naturally slim could be falsely assuming that they are fit, when they might actually be at risk for conditions associated with visceral fat, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Hidden visceral fat must be addressed by a healthy diet, exercise, and stress management, regardless of a person’s weight.

Another important idea to keep in mind is that the traditional use of BMI (body mass index) is often not an accurate measure of a healthy body weight, as it only takes into account your height and weight, without considering body fat percentage. A skinny and unfit person could have a “healthy” BMI while a muscular athlete could have the exact same BMI as someone who is obese. Check out this article for more information on this important topic, as it can be confusing.

Can I Be Overweight and Fit?

Yes, you can be carrying some extra weight and still be healthy. However, this can be a slippery slope, and there are far more unhealthy people that are overweight than thin. Instead, it’s important that you are using actual blood markers measured in lab tests, such as insulin, cholesterol, leptin, and triglyceride levels.

It is well known by now that obesity puts you at far greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. However, not all fat is created equal. Studies show that subcutaneous fat (AKA fat that collects under your skin) might help to improve insulin sensitivity — our blood sugar-regulating hormone. This is the type of fat that causes cellulite and skin dimpling. While mid-section fat is associated with a higher risk of disease (as this is often that visceral fat we talked about), fat on your bottom, hips, legs, and arms has not been equally shown to raise your risk of disease.

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Hidden Causes of Weight Gain

The idea that being overweight is a simple lack of will-power is a dangerous myth that ignores many underlying factors. Obesity is also intricately connected to genetic and other factors, such as childhood eating and exercise habits, medications, hormonal imbalances, leptin resistance, lack of healthy gut bacteria (probiotics), sugar addiction, and poor nutrition education, to name a few.

With this in mind, addressing weight loss should include helping people with the above-mentioned factors, as well as education and support around the very real (and more controllable) dangers of a sedentary lifestyle, lack of sleep, and a poor diet.

So, Whats the Verdict?

If you are active (the CDC recommends no less than 150 minutes of physical activity per week to reduce your risk of conditions such as diabetes), eat a diet where at least half of each plate is filled with veggies and (some) fresh fruits, you get plenty of healthy protein and good fats, and keep your carb count low to moderate, there is a good chance that you are relatively healthy. Run the labs to prove it, and then you can relax about shedding those extra pounds if they don’t bother you.

Life is too short: as long as you eat healthy and exercise, striving to be a “perfect” size and stressing yourself out about achieving a certain body type will cause far more harm to your health than being slightly overweight.