Does Being Skinny Mean You Are Healthy?

Fact about risk of diabetes for skinny and obese people
Skinny people are often assumed to be healthy because they look the part. But there is a hu-u-uge difference between looking healthy and being healthy. So let’s shoo the elephant out of the room right away.

No. Being skinny does not mean that you are healthy.

Well, it depends on how you define ‘healthy’ and ‘skinny’. If you define healthy as merely ‘anything but fat’, and skinny as ‘Keira Knightley’, then yes, all you skinny people are ‘healthy’. But is health merely a visual absence of obesity? Go on, take a guess. If your answer is ‘yes’, you are gravely mistaken!

A healthy person has a sound body, mind, and spirit. Even if we ignore the psychological and spiritual aspects of health for the matter of this discussion, skinny is not a sound state of body. In nature, too much either way of any optimum is harmful. So, while obesity is a much-publicized danger, the other end of the spectrum is also harmful, possibly even more so. Here’s why.

‘Obesity’ is Not Always Unhealthy

Health fanatics and most physicians depend almost exclusively on a parameter known as Body Mass Index, or BMI, to assess general health. This is based on the incorrect assumption that the ratio between your body weight and your height is enough to make a diagnosis on whether you are obese, and that this ‘obesity’ is inherently unhealthy. Granted, a BMI of more than 30 is almost always unhealthy, but here’s an interesting fact. Dwayne Johnson weighs about 265 lb, and is 6′ 5” tall. That gives us a BMI of 31. LeBron James’ weight is around 245-250 lb, and he is 6′ 8” tall. That gives us a BMI of 27. Let’s not even get started on Shaquille O’Neal! So, according to the BMI scale, The Rock, Shaq, and King James are overweight – dangerously so! Someone should warn them, and get them to work out more to shed those unhealthy pounds, right?

The reason why LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, and Dwayne Johnson are ‘overweight’ is that they have large, heavy muscles, and thus weigh more. However, their ‘rotund bellies’ are healthy, and packed with rock-hard muscles, instead of flabby fat.

This is where the fallacy in BMI is exposed. It is not your total body weight that determines whether you are obese, it’s your Body Fat Percentage.

Check Your Body Fat, Not Your Paunch

Body Fat Percentage shows how much of your body is made up of fat, regardless of your total body weight. A high body fat percentage (more than 25-30%) is linked to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and the likes, but a high body weight can’t be linked to the same diseases.

Since very few ‘obese’ people are muscle-maniac NBA or WWE stars, it is likely that having a BMI higher than 30 corresponds to a high body fat percentage, but the converse is not true. In simple terms, overweight people are likely to have a higher body fat percentage, but that doesn’t mean that thin people are likely to have a low body fat percentage. You can be thin and weigh in at your ideal weight, but that could just be because of your weak, undeveloped muscles. Thin people are just as likely to have a high body fat percentage as overweight people – it just doesn’t show.

When you visit the doctor next, ignore your BMI-approved weight and insist on getting your body fat percentage checked. You may be in for a surprise.

Skinny AND Metabolically Obese is a More Dangerous Combo

We think obese people should watch their diet, and not even think about grilled cheese sandwiches for the rest of their lives (no, no, think about something – anything – else!). Well, sure, people looking to lose weight should indeed watch their diet, but this doesn’t mean that skinny people can get away with anything. Since skinny people don’t weigh or look obese, they think it’s okay for them to indulge in processed, high-carb, sugary meals. But since metabolic obesity doesn’t depend on weight, their ignorance can lead to them eating even larger amounts of such risky foods than visibly obese people who are obviously more cautious. In fact, studies have shown that being obese and being severely underweight is equally dangerous in terms of heart trouble and hypertension.

I’m Skinny, Am I Metabolically Obese?

Body Fat Percentage
As mentioned before, check your Body Fat Percentage. If it is less than 20%, you have nothing to worry about.

Blood Test
Get a blood test done, and insist on including an insulin response test in your next physical checkup. High blood sugar level and insulin response indicate that you already are or are at a risk of becoming diabetic.

Just Ask Yourself!
Do you feel great? Are you happy with the way you look? Do you run out of stairs before you run out of breath? Do you sleep well? Are you immune from periodic bouts of cold and flu? If your answer is yes, great! Your body is probably fine. If not, you may be ‘skinny obese’.

How Do I Become Truly Healthy?

Cut Out the Cardio
First and foremost, cut out the heavy-duty cardio, and start lifting weights. This applies to skinny women as well – stay off the little pink dumbbells, and start lifting heavy. Cardio does burn fat, but also eats into muscles. Weight training, on the other hand, pumps up your metabolism and thus increases your hunger, which should only be satisfied via healthy foods that increase muscle mass and help burn fat. Larger muscles need more calories for sheer sustenance, which, combined with a smart diet, are obtained by burning fat. Also, there is no scientific way to say this – larger muscles look hot!

Eat Fresh
Cut down on processed foods, and start eating fresh foods. Those daily burgers that you thought were fine will bite you in the bottom one day. Instead of the hastily gobbled burger or Sub, have a fruit or a salad. It takes even less time to prepare than the supposed ‘fast food’, and is infinitely healthier. And if you think fruits taste bland, that is what real food tastes like! You have just become used to the hokey and horribly harmful layers of sugars, flavoring agents, and trans fats.

Eat More Natural Fats
There are good fats (high-density cholesterol) and there are bad fats (low-density cholesterol). ‘Real’ foods such as fish, nuts, eggs, and fruits contain healthy fats, which are essential in the proper maintenance of our body. Good fats actually help prevent heart disease, and better our brain functioning. Good fats can be obtained through something as easy as switching to olive oil. Frying chicken or potatoes in olive oil is better than other options, but deep-frying is still harmful.

Eat More Proteins
Proteins are essential in increasing muscle mass. Have a protein-rich breakfast (e.g. boiled eggs, omelets, stir-fried chicken, baked beans, protein shake), and include some form of protein in every meal. For those of us who like to snack between meals, install nuts or chopped fruits as your snack food. The best forms of proteins are found in animals, i.e. white meat, eggs, and fish, but vegetarians have the options of dairy, non-processed cheese (the ones that stink), beans, nuts, etc.

As with any natural phenomenon, straying too far away from the optimum physical condition in either direction has terrible consequences. The best option is to eat real, wholesome foods, and exercise regularly like our life depended on it – it does! Our body is a result of genetics, but modifying it is completely in our hands, and maintaining it is nothing less than a responsibility.

Why Does Unhealthy Food Taste So Good?

Reason you crave for unhealthy food
Broccoli, spinach, kale, and Brussels sprouts are all considered healthy. Loaded with minerals, vitamins, and fiber, they are a dietitian’s dream – a dietitian that hates you and wants you to be miserable by taking away all the sweet pleasures of life.

On the other hand, stuff that you love, – fries, burgers, desserts, and even red meat – are right at the bottom of the food pyramid. Called junk food, these, the health experts say, should not be consumed more than once a week, that too in moderation. I guess, like me, you are wondering why only the food that is so flavorful is always considered bad!

The reason is that, most ‘tasty’ foods are high either in fats, sugar, or salt; or some combination of them. And the reason our taste buds prefer them, is that we have evolved to love them. Our ancestors didn’t live in the prosperous times that we live in, and back then, these three things weren’t so abundant. So, prehistoric man and his body learned to value and preserve them.

Fatty Foods
There is a huge list of foods that are rich in fats, and we love to eat them all. But, a few popular ones are mentioned here. Also, add anything to this list that is fried, and things that you would describe as ‘greasy’ or ‘creamy’.

Fries, Fish and Chips, Donuts, Pizzas, Cheesecake, Pastries, Bacon, Salami, Burgers, Milkshake, Ice cream

The reason we love to eat fatty food –
They store energy. Fats are very high in calories – they contain twice the calorie content of carbohydrates. But since they take longer to digest, the body likes to store them for use when we don’t have enough food.
Our ancestors’ food supply was very irregular. The day they killed a mammoth, for example, there was enough food to feed the tribe for several days. But that happened pretty rarely, hence, our ancestors evolved to store as much as they could, and depended on the fat stores in times of food shortage. The person whose body was most equipped to store fat, was, by an evolutionary point of view, the fittest. He/she could survive through the harshest of times, and hence, our brains and taste buds love fat.
Foods High in Sugar
These of course, include the usual suspects – desserts and assorted cakes, especially those with icing and Jell-O. But flavored milk and yogurt are also high in sugar. Many products also contain high-fructose corn syrup, which ultimately is sugar in biological terms.

Cakes, Cookies, Ice cream, Donuts, Cream-filled Biscuits, Jam, Packaged Juices, Carbonated Drinks, Candies, Chocolates, Most Desserts, Flavored Milk

The reason we crave sugar –
For our body, sugar is energy. Always on the lookout for food, ancient man also was an expert at detecting the most energy-rich sources. Usually, this meant ripe fruit, which are sweeter and easier to digest than unripe food. Many scientists speculate that sweetness is also a sign of abundance. Hence, when we eat something sweet, the pleasure receptors in our brain are activated, releasing dopamine. In fact, the effect of sugar is linked to drugs like heroin.
Salty Foods
Chips and crisps are high in salt, but many preserved meats and packaged foods also contain excess salt. If you read the label, you will find that even things which have a sweet taste have some amount of salt in them.

Chips, Crisps, Packaged Nuts, Crackers, Fries, Pretzels, Salty Biscuits, Popcorn, Salami and Cured Meats, Cheese, Pickles

The reason we like salt –
It was not available like how easily it is now. Salt is the best source of sodium, a mineral essential for the muscles and nerve cells to work. Besides table salt, sodium is only found in small quantities in animal blood, meat, and eggs. Hence, it was prized, and actively craved for. Some scientists also speculate that it releases dopamine in the brain, much like sugar.
The Psychology Behind Our Love of Unhealthy Foods
Kids often get treats – sugary or fatty foods, as a reward for being ‘good’. This gets fed to our brains again and again, until we finally associate these foods as something coveted and prized. We often see this happen in adults too – when under stress or emotional distress, a lot many people find comfort in food, and more often than not, food that is tasty and unhealthy.
And, Why Do We Hate Greens?
Most green vegetables – broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, etc., are bitter. Again, the unpalatability of these foods is based on the food available to our ancestors. Most poisonous plants are bitter in taste, and hence, evolution made sure that our brains are simply hardwired to dislike them.
Besides these, there are also processed foods. These are rendered bland in the processing, and hence, manufacturers add all kinds of flavors and taste enhancers to make them palatable again. But, processing also destroys vital nutrients – all you get from processed foods are empty calories. For this reason, many processed food items are also considered unhealthy.
Many of the ‘bad’ foods, might in fact be full of vital nutrients. Take the example of salt. But what makes food really unhealthy is the quantity we consume them in. Anything in excess is bad for us, but our modern amenities make it so easy to have a variety of different treats, that it becomes difficult for us to resist them.