In your weight loss journey, health should be your ultimate goal. It is easy to focus on the number on the bathroom scale but your overall health is the priority. Putting too much emphasis on weight or BMI can lead many people to make decisions that are actually detrimental to their health in their pursuit of weight loss — such as resorting to fad diets or other unhealthy eating patterns.
Thin Does Not Always Equal Healthy
There’s a prevailing assumption in our culture that thin equals healthy. Thinness is perceived not only as the primary desired body type, but also as the healthiest. But this isn’t always the case, and re-evaluating our perceptions of what it means to be healthy is an important step in making significant progress toward our own health goals. Many thin people aren’t healthy on the inside. A thin person who eats a poor diet or is sedentary is still at risk of health conditions such as heart disease, digestive problems, depression, and premature aging.
Our focus on weight leads many people to the conclusion that weight by itself is the most important health metric. But the number on the scale tells only part of story. Even BMI, or body mass index, isn’t completely reliable on a case-by-case basis: a muscular person who is generally healthy may have a higher BMI than a thin person with risk factors such as high blood pressure and chronic inflammation.
There’s a reason that gaining weight back after a diet is very common: short-term diets designed to help people lose weight quickly don’t focus on building sustainable habits, and don’t address the issues that contributed to weight gain in the first place.
Health comes first
Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight means often adopting healthier habits that help address underlying medical issues such as inflammation, hormone imbalances, leaky gut syndrome, and other hidden factors that can make weight loss difficult.
When the emphasis is shifted from losing weight to optimizing health, not only are these issues often rectified, but risk factors for serious chronic disease are often reduced as well. Weight loss may not always happen immediately, but studies show that adopting healthier lifestyle habits — such as being more active and eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables — can increase longevity and reduce the risk of weight-related health risks, even if those changes don’t immediately lead to significant weight loss.
In a study led by CDC epidemiologist Edward W. Gregg, researchers analyzed data from approximately 6,400 adults who were overweight or obese. The study showed that people who attempted weight loss and succeeded lived longer when compared to people who made no attempt to lose weight. This aspect of the study was not surprising. However, individuals who attempted to lose weight and failed also lived longer, owing to the fact that their improved lifestyle habits succeeded in improving their overall health and wellness.
Focus on Long-Term
Does this mean you should give up your goal of fitting into your skinny jeans again? No, but it does mean that weight is not the only indicator of health, or even the most important one. Rather than focusing on weight or even on BMI, many health experts suggest focusing more on body composition. People who adopt a healthier diet and start a strength-training routine may actually gain weight as they burn fat and build muscle, but they may also find themselves fitting into a smaller clothing size and experiencing benefits such as increased energy and improved sleep quality. This is why body measurements and labs are an important part of the weight loss, or health optimization, journey.
Long-term improvements in activity level and diet seem to be the most important factors in maintaining better health, whereas weight loss by itself can have positive or negative effects, depending on the methods used. Physicians and health professionals still suggest that managing weight should be an area of focus, but not the only focus. Often, when the focus is shifted to improving health, excess weight comes off naturally. Although sometimes it may take a little longer to figure out your own individual nutritional needs and most beneficial exercises, once you do, you’ll likely experience results that are much easier to maintain than any results you’ll get from a short-term fad diet.
Different health factors to consider
Many factors influence your weight and your overall health. For most people, it simply isn’t possible to address weight without also addressing factors such as stress, sleep quality, nutrition, hydration, digestion, and activity level. A holistic approach to creating a healthy lifestyle and body should include:
- A sound nutrition plan: This isn’t necessarily about counting calories. A healthy eating plan can simply be to eat whole foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. Avoid processed foods and artificial ingredients. Focusing on lean proteins, healthy fats, and non-starchy fresh fruits and vegetables will give your body the proper fuel so it can perform to its potential. Remember, no one gains weight from eating too much broccoli!
- Medical evaluation: A complete medical workup, including lab tests, to determine if there are any underlying health conditions that need to be addressed.
- Prescription review: Have a physician review all the medications you are currently taking to see if there’s anything that could be causing weight gain or could inhibit the body’s ability to release weight. Be sure to let the doctor know of any supplements or over-the-counter medications you are taking, too. Medications and supplements can sometimes interact to produce an undesirable health result.
- Physical fitness: If joining a gym makes you want to cringe, don’t do it. Physical fitness doesn’t have to be about lifting weights or taking group exercise classes. Anything you enjoy doing that moves your body in a healthy way is good for it. Some of the world’s longest-living populations get daily activity simply from activities such as walking and gardening. Find something that you look forward to doing so you don’t have to force yourself. The goal is to create a healthy new lifestyle that can be followed indefinitely. If you hate it, you won’t stick with it.
- Emotional health: Emotional stressors can make lifestyle changes extra challenging and can lead to emotional eating. Talking to a trusted counselor or coach to work through the emotional baggage of life can be empowering. Some therapists specialize in health and wellness issues and can be a great source of support. Journaling can also be a powerful tool for helping you reduce stress and reach your goals.
Ready to get started?
The first step is to find a doctor who understands that losing weight is only part of your commitment to getting healthy. Dr. Garcia’s medical weight loss program is a customized, holistic approach to getting healthy for life. Your first visit to the center includes meeting with trained medical staff who perform a full health assessment, including reviewing your medical history, conducting an EKG, and doing blood work. With ongoing medical supervision, you will learn to live a healthy lifestyle that allows you to optimize your health and release excess weight. Request your no-cost consultation today!
Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on April 12, 2018