Why healthy lifestyles may be more important than your weight

Beautiful Mexican Woman Biking

Don’t judge a book by its cover. We have heard that advice over and over again. And it makes sense. Why should we judge someone who is overweight simply for how they look? It has nothing to do with them as a person, it says nothing of their inner struggles and challenges, and it says nothing about all they have accomplished in life.

The same holds true for thin people. We should not judge them as healthy simply because they are thin. How many times have you said/thought, “She looks great! Nice and thin and healthy!”

An article in The Conversation recently highlighted this exact topic. The article referred to people in Australia, but the concepts hold true across the globe. We place so much emphasis on weight, and so many struggles to maintain a “healthy weight,” that we assume those who succeed must be healthy.

The Conversation: Just because you’re thin, doesn’t mean you’re healthy

Numerous studies have shown that being overweight increases the risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and even death. But the problem lies with how we define being overweight. Some studies look just at pounds. Some use body mass index (BMI) which includes both height and weight measurements. But neither one definitely says anything about overall health.

After all, healthy lifestyle habits have numerous health benefits regardless of any impact on our weight. Not surprisingly, poor adherence to exercise, nutrition and smoking recommendations leads to an increased risk of complications after a heart attack. And, in some studies, an individual’s fitness appeared more important than overall weight. That means those at “normal” weight, but below average fitness could be at higher risk than fitter and heavier cohorts.

Thus the common saying: There is no such thing as healthy weights, only healthy lifestyles.

If you are thin and want to know if you may be at increased health risk, whole body MRIs can define the amount of visceral fat, the fat surrounding your inner organs, and determine if you are a TOFI (thin on the outside, fat on the inside). This is felt to increase your health risk even if you are at an ideal body weight.

The main message is that weight loss should not be our number one goal. Rather, creating and sustaining healthy lifestyle habits should be the goal. These include:

  • Eating real, unprocessed food without added sugars
  • Staying physically active and maintaining a regular exercise program
  • Prioritizing sleep
  • Managing stress
Start there and you are well on your way to improving your overall health. Weight loss will usually naturally follow. But even if it doesn’t, rest assured you are still improving your health and your life.

Thanks for reading,
Bret Scher, MD FACC


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