Living a Healthy Lifestyle

Contrary to popular belief weight is not always a good indicator of health. Many people assume that if someone is skinny, that they are also healthy. However, this is not always the case.  Because of this, many thin individuals feel that they do not need to worry about the many health issues that overweight people face, such as diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol. Skinny refers to a certain weight an individual can have, in reference to one’s height.1 However, one in four skinny individuals in the U.S. have pre-diabetes and are “metabolically obese”.2 This phenomenon, described as “skinny fat”, has become one of the fastest growing medical conditions.2 The medical term for skinny fat is metabolically obese normal weight, or “MONW”.2 Usually, being healthy results from the combination of a healthy diet and regular exercise.  An individual with at fast metabolism can be MONW, and not feel the need to eat well and exercise because they appear to be healthy.2

Metabolism

Metabolism is controlled by a person’s genetic background.  In a study conducted at the Medical Research Council in the U.K., researchers found that lean people with a specific genetic variant were at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease despite having a low body fat percentage.3 People store fat differently from one another and the location of an individual’s fat storage depends largely on genetics.4 Fat that is just under the skin does not contribute much to heart disease and diabetes. Not noticeable from the outside, visceral fat is the fat that lies under the skin and around the organs. The fat that surrounds the internal organs, muscles, and deeper tissues is the main contributor to a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes.  In this study, those with thin bodies who have this genetic variant consistently showed higher blood cholesterol levels and trouble processing insulin, both early indicators of diabetes. While some people are aware of this, there are also people who are unaware that they could be at higher risk for various diseases.4 

Eating Healthy

Eating to be skinny and eating healthy are often thought of as the same thing but they are quite different.  The key to eating healthy is consuming a balanced diet, which should consist of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, fiber, and minerals. The types of fat that a person consumes also play a significant role in their health. There are two main types of fats: saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated fats, found in nuts, avocado, and vegetable oils are the “good” fats. When consumed in moderation they can lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. When we refer to foods that are healthy, we are referring to foods that are good for your body. Additionally, Omega-3s which are found in fatty fish, olive oil, and walnuts are very healthy fats. The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fatty fish per week.5 Saturated fats are detrimental to health over time.  Saturated fats are found in animal products such as meat, poultry, and dairy products. Evidence supports the idea that saturated fats increase the risk for colon and prostate cancer. It is recommended to favor “healthy” unsaturated fats over saturated fats. Extreme dieting may hinder the overall process of switching to a long term, healthy lifestyle. Small steps are often much easier to accomplish than a drastic change and can make the switch to a healthy diet manageable and long-lasting.4 The following are some tips that may help in the transition to a healthy diet:6

  • Preparing meals: Cooking meals at home can help an individual be in control of what food they are consuming. This will help avoid over consumption of calories, chemical additives, sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats.

  • Making healthy changes: Incorporating healthy foods while eliminating unhealthy foods is an important step. For example, foods that contain unhealthy trans fats such as fried food can be replaced with grilled, baked, or poached fish, which contain healthy fat. Replacing animal fats with refined carbohydrates, such as replacing bacon with a donut, would not be a healthy change.

  • Simplifying: Rather than counting calories, focus freshness, variety, and portion control in a diet. Avoiding processed food and add fresh ingredients.

  • Looking at labels: Some foods claim to be healthy, but the nutrition facts and ingredients list can indicate otherwise. Food manufacturers often hide unhealthy fats and large amounts of sugar.

  • Feeling satiated: Feeling good after eating can help replace bad habits with good ones. Consuming healthier food can uplift mood and increase energy after a meal, rather than causing bloating, sluggishness, and discomfort. Consuming a large amount of unhealthy food can make an individual feel nauseated and uncomfortable.

  • Drinking a lot of water: Many individuals do not consume enough water. Dehydration can lead to headaches, low energy, and overall lethargy. Thirst can be mistaken for hunger, which is why staying adequately hydrated can lead to making healthier choices.

A lot goes into eating healthily, and it is important to remember that eating healthily is a habit. Good habits can be formed with the right practice. Many of our eating habits start during childhood, but this does not mean they can not be changed.7 Establishing habits that can be maintained rather than ones that will be given up quickly can help one to form new habits. Reflecting on all habits, whether they are good or bad, can provide insight to distinguishing the good ones from the bad ones.7 Replacing those bad habits with good ones is crucial in making a positive change.7 It is important to then continue on with these habits and reinforce them in everyday life.8 With these tips, any individual can attempt to make a change in their unhealthy eating behavior.

Exercise

Having a weekly exercising routine in addition to a healthy diet provides many benefits. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people from ages 18 to 65 should have about two and a half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) once every week and muscle-strengthening activities twice every week, engaging all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).9 On the quest to better health, many individuals do not realize the crucial role that exercise plays. Combining a healthy diet with proper exercise is the most effective way to lead a healthy life. Exercising regularly provides many benefits, including the following:8

  • Exercising controls weight: Exercising prevents excess weight gain, and can help maintain weight loss. The more strenuous the physical activity, the more calories will be burned. A long, fast-paced walk can act as a form of exercise that does not require a gym.

  •  Exercising lowers the risk of health conditions and diseases: Being active increases the body’s good cholesterol, and decreases unhealthy triglycerides. This increases blood flow, and decreases the risk of multiple kinds of cardiovascular diseases. Consistent exercise prevents strokes, diabetes, multiple types of cancers, and depression.

  • Exercising increases mood: Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may lead to feelings of relaxation and happiness. The boost in mood can also increase confidence and self-esteem.

  • Exercising boosts energy: Consistent physical activity improves muscle strength and increases endurance. Exercising helps the cardiovascular system run more efficiently. Improving heart and lung health leads to an increase in energy and stamina during daily activities.

  • Exercising promotes improved sleep: Regular exercise can help an individual fall asleep faster and sleep deeper.

  • Exercising can reenergize the sex life: The improvement to energy levels and physical appearance can provide a boost in an individual’s sex life. For women, regular physical activity may enhance arousal. Men who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction than men who do not.

  • Exercising is enjoyable and social: Exercising provides a chance to unwind, and connect with friends in a social setting. Again, exercise does not need to take place in a gym. However, signing up for a recreational sports team or taking a class can be a good motivation to exercise regularly.

Starting can be the most difficult part of exercising. It is never too late to start engaging in physical activities, and, like a habit, it gets easier each day. If it has been a long time since the individual has exercised, we recommend consulting a physician, especially if they are older or have a chronic health condition.8

Making a Change

There are plenty of ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  First, focus on diet and exercise. Then, start incorporating more healthy choices into everyday decisions. The following is a list of lifestyle changes that promote healthy habits:10

  • Put down the bubbly drinks: Cutting out soft drinks can help rid the body of dangerous toxins. Artificial sweeteners in these soft drinks interfere with the body’s chemical processes, and metabolism.

  • Start weight-training: MONW individuals have too much fat and not have enough muscle. Weight-training is an effective solution. Strength training causes the body to keep lean muscle instead of burning it as fuel. Lifting weights also activate core muscles, which can improve organ function.

  • Consume more omega-3s: Omega-3 rich foods such as salmon and sardines reduce blood pressure and stabilize cholesterol.

  • Reduce stress: Practice calming and relaxing activities such as meditation, reading, drawing, or taking walks. Stress can cause weight gain and alleviating stress can be an effective solution against it.

  • Get more sleep: Sleep deprivation alters your metabolism by increasing cravings for carbohydrates and sugars. So, sleeping more can cause weight loss.

Concluding Remarks

It is never too late to start eating healthy, and to start recognizing the difference between healthy eating and eating to be thin. If your diet is unhealthy then it may be time to change eating habits, and start focusing on overall health. There is a cultural obsession in the United States with being skinny. A professor from Syracuse found that 75% of women in the U.S report “disordered” eating behaviors.11 This is attributed to society’s fixation with being thin. It is detrimental to focus on weight as an indicator for health.11 The media plays a fair role in this popular desire to be skinny, but each individual should strive to not just be skinny, but to be healthy.

References

1. "Body Mass Index/ BMI Calculator." Super Skinny Me. N.p., 01 Mar. 2016. Web.

2. Garcia, Oz. "Being Thin Isn't The Same As Being Healthy." The Huffington Post. N.p., 08 Aug. 2011. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

3. Park, Alice. "Why Being Thin Doesn't Always Mean Being Healthy." Time.com. N.p., 27 June 2011. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

4. "How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?" Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. N.p., 04 June 2015. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

5. Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids." Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. N.p., 6 Oct. 2016. Web.

6. Robinson, Lawrence, Jeanne Segal, and Robert Segal. "Healthy Eating." Healthy Eating: Simple Ways to Plan, Enjoy, and Stick to a Healthy Diet. Helpguide.org, Apr. 2017. Web.

7. "Improving Your Eating Habits." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 May 2015. Web.

8. "Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 13 Oct. 2016. Web.

9. Remmer, Sarah. "Being "Skinny Fat": Why Your Health Is At Risk." YummyMummyClub. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

10. Thackray, Lucy. "It's more dangerous to be 'Skinny Fat' than it is to be OBESE: Research shows that one in FOUR skinny people are 'metabolically fat' because of diet soft drinks, lack of sleep and unhealthy habits." Daily Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 20 Nov. 2014. Web.

11. Corrigan, Patricia. "Why Our Culture Is Obsessed With Thinness." Next Avenue. N.p., 10 June 2015. Web.

Last Updated: 8 June 2017.