Health at every size trending now
Take a look around Santa Monica, and you'll see the signs of health conscious citizens everywhere. Joggers, cyclists, and skateboarders fly around the block at any given time. In our current image-focused culture, fitness has become more than a necessity, but a lifestyle obsession.
Despite the fact that over 30 percent of the United States is obese, apparently it's not easy being overweight, which has led to the popularity of a new trend in the realm of health and fitness; Health at every size or HAES.
HAES proponents advocate that people should worry less about attaining physical fitness standards, and concentrate more on attainable levels of exercise and diet.
Santa Monica College nutrition professor Yvonne Ortega has made a career out of healthy living and helping others live healthfully. Ortega recalled a story from a half marathon that changed her perspective on fitness.
"I would run races and the funniest thing I saw was this guy wearing a shirt that said ‘I may be fat but I’m passing you,’" said Ortega.
The man kept a lead on her the entire race.
"It made me realize you can be overweight and fit, the most dangerous place to be is to be overweight and inactive," Ortega said. "It is possible to have a higher amount of body fat and be at a fit level; that’s where this whole size acceptance thing comes in.”
According to the website, haescommunity.org, "Health at every size is based on the simple premise that the best way to improve health is to honor your body. It supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being (rather than weight control)."
Although HAES may be popular on the internet, it is still controversial within the medical community.
Typically, body mass index is used to determine if an individual is at a healthy weight. To be considered at a healthy weight you must have a BMI of 18.5-24.9. Individuals with a BMI of 25-29.9 are considered overweight, and those with a BMI of 30 or over are considered obese.
"BMI only takes into account height and weight, it does not take body composition. We get people in the healthy BMI weight range with a lot of body fat," said Ortega. She added that it's also possible for weightlifters and bodybuilders to be considered "overweight" or "obese" based off BMI alone.
Most of us are looking to lose weight when it comes to fitness but as the average American waistline broadens, as a society we’ve kept a narrow view of what it means to be healthy. The question needs to be asked can you be fat and fit?
"When you think of health at every size from that perspective can you be an overweight and healthy person, yes, but what is constituting that extra weight?” said Mary Lynne Stephanou, anatomy and physiology professor at SMC.
Stephanou said whether you have excess weight from bodyfat or muscle there is an increased load on the joints.
“When someone is overfed combined with being under exercised, that changes the biochemistry and affects the endocrine system responsible for hormones which can lead to type two diabetes,” said Stephanou.
In addition, being overweight with little activity increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and high blood pressure. Stephanou also warns “even having one fatty meal can increase the chance of a heart attack or stroke,” even for those with a healthy BMI.
“Someone can cosmetically look fantastic but be in horrible shape,” she said.
Having too much body fat is unhealthy while having too little is equally as dangerous. The key is finding a healthy balance.
“One, people have to be comfortable with who they are and what size they are and two, that thin people can be very unhealthy,” said Ortega. “Weight isn’t everything, fitness level is more important.”