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To lose weight, focus on building health

Posted Jan 17 2011 12:32pm

A little while back, I wrote about how being active does not automatically equate to being healthy . What you put into your body is even more important than how much you exercise. You simply can’t eat whatever you want and think that you can negate its unhealthy effects because you burn a certain number of calories on the treadmill.

Along the same lines, being skinny does not automatically make someone healthy. I encounter this attitude all the time, because I’m very skinny. I’ve always been skinny and I’m currently at my skinniest since probably high school, because I eat an extremely healthy diet. Yet people seem to think that because I’m skinny, I have a license to eat whatever I want. I know I’m probably getting a lot of eye-rolling right now, and I realize that I’m very lucky because I’ve never had weight problems. But it deeply saddens me whenever someone sees me eating a salad or some raw veggies and remarks, “You don’t need to eat that! You’re so skinny!” Or when I turn down a donut and it triggers comments like “Oh, like you need to worry about your weight!” Or if I mention I’m on a special detox diet and I get horrified reactions from people who think I have some sort of eating disorder, because to them there is clearly no reason I should be on any kind of a “diet.”

No, I don’t need to worry about my weight. But I do need to worry about providing my body with nutrients so it can build healthy cells, keep my immune system strong, and fight off the cancer-causing toxins we are exposed to every day in our environment, our food, and our water. I do need to avoid refined sugar so that I don’t make my candida problems worse. I do need lots of phytonutrients so that my cervical dysplasia doesn’t come back. I do need healthy foods so that I have the energy and brain power for work and school.

Our culture is obsessed with weight, which is understandable: we are in the middle of an obesity crisis. I ran across these eye-opening maps last week while doing some obesity research for one of my work projects:

Obesity trends 1990

Obesity Trends 2009  

The picture presented here is horrifying. Notice that in 1990, no states reported an obesity rate above 20 percent. In 2009, only one state (Colorado) had an obesity rate below 20 percent. (Coincidentally, my husband published the same maps on his own blog last week. Be forewarned: he’s extremely opinionated on the topic of obesity.)

Clearly, this pattern needs to change, but I don’t think it will until we stop being obsessed with losing weight and start focusing on gaining health. The comments I receive about my own diet clearly indicate that many people don’t realize the amazing health benefits of fresh, whole, natural foods. The New York Times recently reported that only 26 percent of the nation’s adults eat vegetables three or more times a day . Even health care professionals admit to hating vegetables.

Until we shift our focus to building health, preventing disease, and establishing long-term healthy diet and lifestyle habits, we are only going to continue our cycle of ineffective yo-yo diets and all the health problems that come with obesity and overweight: diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and more. So please, the next time you see a skinny person eating a salad, don’t berate her. Try following her example instead. Trust me, when you focus on health, the weight loss will follow.

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