Health above all – through thick and thin

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I’m about to do something very vulnerable; between my research and reflections, I’m sure there is something here someone could take offense to. But, before you read on, there’s two things you should know about me that may shape the way you interpret this article:

First, at 5 feet 4 inches, I weigh approximately 115 pounds.

Second, I’d like to share that I love my body.

For years, I struggled to appreciate what I saw in the mirror. I felt guilty that others were put out by my frame, and confused when people told me I didn’t need to watch what I ate – so long as I was eating.

But you know, skinny doesn’t equal healthy.

In our culture, it’s become appropriate to make judgmental comments about someone’s body in guise of concern: “Do you even eat?” “You have no real reason to have body image issues” and “Do you have an eating disorder?” are some statements I related to from Lara Parker’s and Javier Moreno’s Buzzfeed article, “19 Things Every Naturally Skinny Person Is Tired Of Hearing.”

Over time, these comments (directed at anyone of any size) can cause a person to feel alienated and shameful for who they are. However, there was one phrase from the list that struck me harder than the others.

There, at number 15, I read: “It’ll catch up with you one day.”

What will catch up with me won’t be my weight, though. No, it’ll probably be diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure or a slew of other health issues associated with being thin – several of which run parallel to the problems connected to being overweight, according to a March Time article “The Hidden Dangers of ‘Skinny Fat.'”

Being thin yet unhealthy is not uncommon. Naturally thin people might indulge in fast food and skip the gym, thinking they can get away with it because they’ve been misinformed from a young age that they can. No matter the number on the scale, however, factors such as increased intake of bad cholesterol can cause harm from the inside.

Thinner people might also skip out on the check-ups that can detect serious medical problems because they believe they’re in good shape.

“I see these people all the time,” said Dr. Daniel Neides, medical director at Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute, in the Time article. “On the outside they look incredibly healthy, but on the inside they’re a wreck.”

There is a growingly popular term for the people Neides described: “skinny fat.” They are the individuals that never eat vegetables, love red meat and can’t remember the last time they exercised – yet they’re still thin.

But don’t be envious of those who don’t count calories or think twice about eating McDonalds for breakfast. Skinny fat is a real, and remarkably common, issue that can have life-changing consequences.

Healthy aging specialist Oz Garcia, in his article “Being thin isn’t the same as being healthy,” recounted such an experience when a client of his discovered he had developed Type 2 diabetes.

“A few years ago, one of my thinner clients who looked externally healthful came to me for a consultation after she had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes,” Garcia said. “Rightfully, she was nervous and confused and couldn’t understand how she had developed this disease, she thought only “fat” people were diagnosed with these types of conditions. When asked if she exercised, she shook her head, stating that she had never really had to think about exercising or eating healthy, that she had always been lucky to have such a great metabolism.”

This laissez-faire mentality naturally thinner people have is a fault of our weight-obsessed culture and it is also one I’ve shared. For a long time I allowed myself to think that so long as what I ate didn’t show up on the scale, I could do and consume whatever I wanted.

Then I started to realize that, compared to my friends, I was incredibly unhealthy. When they wanted to run a mile, I begged for them to power-walk so I could keep up and breathe. While they made themselves dinners that included every food group, I was eating Chipotle and drinking my fourth Diet Coke of the day.

It wasn’t until a friend pointed out how terribly I was treating myself that I realized I needed to make a change, and fast. Nowadays, I walk to school rather than drive five blocks and fit in a work out when I can. I eat meals that include protein and vitamins I would have normally taken a supplement for. I drink a bottle of water in-between each caffeinated beverage – though I try to stick to just one Diet Coke a day.

Like I said before, I love my body. I love it not for its size, but for the fact that it’s a work-in-progress towards a healthier me. With every work out and balanced meal, I see a stronger woman in the mirror instead of a feeble girl.

So whether you think you’re too heavy or too lean, focus on being healthy instead. Let your lifestyle choices, not the number on the scale, define you.

Erin Poppe is a graduate student in public administration.

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