Body Positive, or Unhealthy?
Being body-positive is so important to ensure that we are caring for ourselves, but what happens when it goes too far?
If someone is severely underweight or severely overweight, but happy with their bodies, is that okay? What if they have underlying health problems as a result of their weight?
This problem often arises because we don’t always have a good picture of what it means to be a healthy weight, and the idea of what our bodies are supposed to look like can be extremely distorted. While measures such as BMI can be helpful in determining a healthy weight range for someone of a given age and height, the reality is that everyone’s body is different, and certain weights may not be realistic for some people compared to others.
So what does all of this mean? The crux of it is that while we want to be body positive and love ourselves regardless of what’s on the outside, we also have to be realistic, and we want to strive for healthy lifestyles.
That leads to the next question… what does it truly mean to be “healthy”? While this may seem like a complicated question, it’s actually quite simple.
In order to be healthy, it is recommended that you eat a variety of different foods (balancing macro and micronutrient intake), and exercise regularly. There is a lot of misinformation about health and nutrition out there, so I want to take some time to dispel some of these myths.
Myth: I have to eat a low carbohydrate diet in order to reach or maintain a normal weight
This is a very common myth that many people believe. With diets like Atkins and the Keto diet, there has been a lot of talk about low carbohydrate diets being the only way (or best way) to lose weight and be healthy.
While this is certainly an option for many people and many are successful using this method, it’s not recommended by most professionals. There are a few reasons for this, especially that it’s likely not a sustainable diet. As time passes, people are more likely to gain the weight back later on once they stop eating low-carb, as is the case for many diets that include dietary or food restrictions (Insel, Ross, McMahon, & Bernstein, 2013).
Additionally, low-carb diets may be ineffective because of how our bodies work. Carbohydrates are actually quite useful! Our bodies use carbohydrates for fuel and many internal processes, including digestion and absorption of important vitamins and minerals.
Not only do most health professionals not recommend a low-carbohydrate diet, but the golden standard ratio of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat), suggest that the majority of your calories should come from carbohydrates (Insel, Ross, McMahon, & Bernstein, 2013).
If you want to lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight, the best way to do so is to eat a mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fats from a variety of different sources. If you want to lose weight, decreasing your overall intake of food is the best way to lose weight and stay healthy. MyPlate is a great resource to help you pick meals and foods that balance essential nutrients for our bodies. Stay tuned for part 3 of this blog series for more tips on how to lose or gain weight, depending on your goals.
Myth: I have to take up running or other high-intensity exercise to be healthy
General recommendations for adults and exercise is 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day. This doesn’t mean you have to go out and get a gym membership – there are many different things that you can do to stay active! Some of these include:
- Walking at a moderate to brisk pace
- Working a job that requires physical labour, such as housekeeper, mechanic, or factory worker
- Doing yoga
- Shoveling snow
- Cutting the grass, and many other household chores
Getting enough exercise is important to ensure that our bodies are strong. Moderate exercise helps us maintain bone, joint, and muscle strength, flexibility, cardiovascular health, and increases endorphins that make us feel good!
Not only that, but studies have shown that getting 30 minutes of exercise per day can help reduce your risk of health problems, including stroke, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety, and even many types of cancer (Mayo Clinic, 2018).
Myth: I have to be within a certain weight range to be healthy
It’s true that BMI (body mass index) is a common method of determining whether or not someone is in a healthy weight category based on their height an age. While many healthcare professionals use this as a baseline to determine if someone is over or underweight, it is important to note that it is not a tried and true method to determine someone’s overall health.
In reality, there are many factors that contribute to someone’s weight, including genetics, body-fat percentage, and bone structure. Consider this: Tom Brady, the quarterback for the New England Patriots, is 6’4” tall and weights approximately 225lbs. Based on BMI, he is overweight. However, Tom Brady is an elite athlete who has 6 Superbowl rings; we would be hard-pressed to suggest that he is unhealthy. The former running back for the Los Angeles Rams, CJ Anderson, is considered obese by BMI standards, and he played against Tom Brady in the Super Bowl last year!
Of course, most of us are not Tom Brady or CJ Anderson, and are not elite athletes. However, what this illustrates is that BMI is not always the best way to determine whether or not someone is healthy.
Instead of using BMI, try setting some goals for yourself based on the performance of your body, what you’d like your body to be able to do, or goals you have for your future.
Myth: I can’t have treats or eat the food I like if I want to be healthy
I think this myth scares a lot of people because honestly, food is SO GOOD and the thought of having to restrict or cut out certain types of foods can be upsetting. But I have good news! You don’t have to cut anything completely out of your diet in order to be healthy!
As I mentioned before, being healthy is all about getting a variety of nutrients from a range of different foods. Health is all about balance. Do you have to cut out McDonald’s from your life and give up those sweet, sweet chicken nuggets? No! Should you eat chicken nuggets every day? Also no.
Have a sweet tooth? Eat some chocolate. Just don’t each excessive amounts of chocolate every day. If you’re trying to lose weight, a big part of the difficulty can be training your body to eat smaller portions. In addition to portion control, it can be beneficial to get a better balance of different types of food in your diets, such as fruit, vegetables, protein found in meats or meat alternatives, and whole grains.
Myth: I have to be skinny and look like models and actors in order to be considered healthy
The media fills us with images of thin women and muscular men, suggesting that that’s how ‘normal’ or healthy people look. But this isn’t always the case, and the goals and ideals for one person may vary drastically from another person’s.
Consider the body image differences between an NFL linebacker and an acrobat. Both are arguably fit and healthy, but the physique goals for the NFL linebacker are likely going to be very different from that of the acrobat. The linebacker may be focused more on size and strength, whereas the acrobat might be focused on strength and flexibility, and not gaining size.
Again, health is about what you do, not necessarily about how you look. Think about what you want from your body, and what you want it to do. Is that in line with how you envision yourself looking? As always, you should consult with your doctor before making any food or exercise changes.
In our next edition of this blog series, we will explore how you can work to focus more on health and your personal goals, and less on how you look in the mirror.
Insel, P., Ross, D., McMahon, K., & Bernstein, M. (2013). Nutrition (5th ed.). Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC.
Mayo Clinic. (2018, December 14). Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389
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