Thursday, December 22, 2011

Skinny is not Healthy

The Globe and Mail Hot Button blog, a column designed merely to get attention by shocking and appalling audiences, making it the Fox News of the website, ran a headline yesterday stating that family members should let each other know that they're fat this holiday season. Yes, because in the midst of an awkward turkey, stuffing and potatoes dinner, everyone wants to be reminded that they can lose a few, particularly when they're with their family, which is not going to aggravate anyone at all.

The blog argues that a tough love approach is needed in order to combat obesity, which is an increasingly large, pardon the pun, problem around the world. But the very notion that a frank discussion of how fat a person has gotten is going to lead to productive results is flawed and ridiculous.

First of all, if a person in your family turns to you at the dinner table and tells you that you should lose a few pounds, your first inclination is probably to tell them to go to hell. This inclination is entirely correct and justified. You are well within your rights to react this way and end the discussion.

Second of all, if you really want a person to take an interest in their health, you should encourage them to be healthy. It's a general misconception out there that skinny equals healthy. There are many skinny people who eat badly or don't exercise, but the consequences don't hang off their belts. It's usually good genetics or bone structure, but as infuriating as it may be, it does not mean that they are de facto healthy. They can be just as prone to high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes or cancers if their lifestyle habits don't add up.

The same can be said for bigger people as well. Just because they tip the scale in the opposite direction, doesn't mean that they aren't healthy or active. Skinny also doesn't equate happy- an active lifestyle, balanced diet and a general feeling of satisfaction with ones life doesn't just come from being skinny.

And if you're seriously concerned about someone's health, try being healthy yourself. Be a good example. Be the conscientious host who offers veggie and fruit platters and sparkling water at events. Don't load up the table with fatty foods and then tell people that they can lose a few. It's a great way to anger family and alienate friends to tell them that they're fat.

One final point and this is indicative of a larger problem in today's world: you don't want to shame people into losing weight. When you tell someone that they're fat, guess what happens to their sense of self worth? This process of shaming people who are overweight leads to negative body imaging and it can affect every aspect of a person's life. It can lead to terrible eating disorders and a dysfunctional relationship with food and massive depression. If you're truly concerned for people and their health, emphasize that you want them to be healthy, not less fat.

This is a health issue, a public health issue, but guess what? So is depression and eating disorders. Don't create a new public health issue while trying to solve another. If you're going to tell anyone anything this holiday season for their own good, tell them to be healthy.

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