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Can You be Fat AND Fit?

By Staff 3 months ago

The Narrative

Fat and Fit is feasible and normal. Being overweight does not have substantial negative health outcomes, so if you exercise but stay fat, you need not lose the weight.

This narrative is false and dangerous because:

Fat people are far less healthy

Because the excess weight is in and of itself unhealthy, thin people who exercise are by far healthier than fat people who exercise.

Fit but obese people still die sooner

A 2016 study found that unfit people at a normal weight were still less likely to die than fit obese people

Being overweight makes you sick

Obesity is linked with heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, stroke, osteoarthritis, dementia, kidney disease, and more.


A DEEPER LOOK:

Many body acceptance activists claim that being overweight or obese is not a significant health problem and that is possible to be physically fit even when carrying extra pounds.

  • Take this 2018 Cosmo UK article, which features morbidly obese fashion model Tess Holiday. The print headline claims that she is “strong, fit, and 300 pounds” and dubs her an “ unlikely fitness icon.”

  • This 2015 New York Daily News article cites the stories of several “plus-size athletes” in support of the “fat but fit” contention.

  • Popular Science jumped on the bandwagon with this headline "'fat but fit' is possible" in 2017.

The claim that overweight people can be physically fit has gained traction in recent years. Many who make this claim are fat activists—their term—who wish to destigmatize those who are overweight and view it as a social justice issue. One specific approach, Health at Every Size (HAES), has even been trademarked. While on the surface this might seem to be an admirable goal, it has veered into a dangerous and irresponsible campaign of misinformation.

** Supporting the Narrative

Claiming that overweight people can be fit largely relies on semantic sleight of hand. “Fitness” is, after all, a somewhat subjective term. Like many social justice concepts, “fat and fit” widens a category to the point of meaninglessness. In this case, activists and their sympathizers support their claims by misrepresenting research findings that overweight and obese people can benefit from exercise even if they don’t lose weight. This is true. Does this make them “fit” or “healthy” in any meaningful sense? The body of research on the subject is clear: almost certainly not.

The research most often used to bolster the claim says something else entirely. Overweight people who do exercise may be able to offset the many health problems caused by fatness by exercising and are more “fit” than overweight people who don’t exercise and eat properly (the lowest bar possible). And some studies show that deemphasizing size as the bottom line may encourage overweight people toward a healthier lifestyle. They may even be more fit and healthy than some non-overweight people who lead unhealthy lifestyles. That is, however, an extremely broad subset of people—drug users, smokers, people with eating disorders, slim people who live sedentary lifestyles.

Even regular exercise does not make overweight people even close to as fit or healthy as people who are not overweight, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and avoid such risky behaviors as drug taking and smoking..

The Research

Being overweight leads to a host of health problems, some of them fatal, that are at best temporarily forestalled by exercise and other “fitness” behaviors. Heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, stroke, osteoarthritis, dementia, and kidney disease have all been attributed to being overweight. Metabolically healthy obese people who did not yet have any of the health problems associated with their condition were significantly more likely to have heart disease and heart failure, diabetes, and stroke within a scant five years of the original analysis per a 2017 study. Two other studies that year (here and here came to similar conclusions. So did another that came out in 2018. Maintenance of an exercise routine is also notoriously difficult even for those who are sedentary but not overweight, challenging the idea that it is a sustainable health strategy in and of itself. Weight loss absolutely needs to be part of any plan to reduce the health damage caused by excess weight. Even researchers who are generally supportive of HAES warn that attempts to demedicalize weight problems may make it more difficult for those with health problems associated with their weight to seek treatment.

The Danger of Misinformation

The Narrative has created a dangerous feedback loop according to some research. A 2011 study found that the normalization of being overweight and obese caused many people to underestimate their own weight and its associated risks. A 2018 study reported similar findings. This normalization was created by both a rising population of overweight people and by media depictions. A 2008 study found that over an eight-year period, there was a significant decrease in the number of people who correctly identified themselves as overweight and an associated increase in the weight at which people did correctly identify themselves as overweight.

The Take-away

It is certain that maintaining a healthy weight results in a lower chance of disease and death. The “fat but fit” slogan is simply a measure of relative fitness to other obese people who do not exercise. However, overweight people are not, on average, as fit as people who are not overweight.

What do you think?

Fat and Fit is

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  • 8 votes
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of this website or its members.

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6 comments

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Also, and this is just me, Fat women are not attractive at all. I see so many teens and young women who would be absolutely stunning if they lost a few pounds. I know it's not only me who thinks this way.

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Being overweight because of a medical cause is something that cannot be avoided, the same as someone who sweats excessively (a condition called Hyperhidrosis). In that particular case, if you are overweight, you can exercise in a seemingly Sisyphian attempt to achieve some state that could be 'not too bad', but not really fit in the athletic sense.
Otherwise, if I have the basic physique to maintain a regular exercise regime, it's ordinary to achieve a good level of fitness. So, HAES is not a bad thing, it's like reassuring someone whose armpits stains are enormous by ignoring them, what else can anyone do? But otherwise, it's up to me to not fool myself by ignoring obvious warning signs that I can avoid with enough will power.

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It probably depends on how fat you are. I don't think morbidly obese people like the lady in the picture can be fit since fitness requires moving and aerobic activity to maintain. I guess it depends on what is generally accepted as a normal level of fitness. I always thought that if you can run or power walk for 20 minutes and have a conversation while doing it, you're fit.

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I really do not like that magazine cover. Maybe if she wore a different style of swim suit she may look different. I really can't see why any man (or woman) would find her attractive.
Also, I guarantee, that an obese man with a gut hanging over his pants and man boobs would never be on the cover of Men's Health Magazine.

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I know I'm fat and not fit, I just don't currently have sufficient inclination to do what it takes to change it. That's no reason to deny the truth!

same here.

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