5 Reasons “Thin” Doesn’t Mean “Healthy”


A few months ago, I had a conversation that stuck with me long after it was over.

After listening to a colleague detail his busy schedule, from four kids to a full time job and master’s program, I was curious.

My instant and honest response was to look at him seriously and ask, “But…how do you find time to work out?”

After all, I wondered, how could he possibly deal with the stress of his life without regular exercise? I know that during the periods when I can’t exercise as much as I’d like to, I feel like complete and utter garbage. I’m a better mom, wife, friend, and all-around person when I get out and boost those endorphins through exercise.

His answer came after an awkward laugh. “I don’t, really.”

He then explained why he figured he was healthy enough, even though he doesn’t work out. A year prior, his doctor had instructed him to lose 5 pounds. He did a crash workout plan for a few months and lost 10 pounds. He was relatively slim and had lost the extra weight—so, he reasoned, that means he’s healthy.

Unfortunately, my colleague’s misconceptions are pretty normal. Many people think that the way you look (thin, heavy) reflects how healthy you are. As someone both passionate about, and well-studied in, health and fitness, I knew his logic just doesn’t work. To be healthy, exercise must be part of a lifestyle built around wellness. People with larger frames can be as healthy or even healthier than people who simply appear healthy.

It’s all about lifestyle: what you eat, how often you exercise, how happy you are, and how much sleep you’re getting. How you look is probably the least important thing, yet it’s how our society measures who is healthy and who isn’t.

“Healthy” is about more than body size

See, the thing is, people are too focused on losing weight. I get the appeal. Looking better is a visible result of the hard work of radically changing your lifestyle.

But please, for the love of everything, let’s stop focusing on weight and start focusing on how we feel.

A healthy lifestyle is not about swimsuit season (which is rapidly approaching, by the way). It’s about changing your habits for good. Your entire life.

Now, being overweight is a top risk factor for a number of conditions, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and many other conditions. Don’t confuse what I’m saying: It’s really, really important to be within the “healthy range” for weight. But just because a person isn’t overweight, that doesn’t mean she’s healthy. Here are five reasons why.

#1 Being “skinny fat” can be dangerous.

Some people have genes that allow them to eat whatever they want, rarely exercise, and yet remain thin. But research shows that some people who appear thin can be metabolically obese—known as “skinny fat”—making them just as at risk for disease as people who are visibly overweight. Similarly, some people who have extra pounds can be healthy.

#2 A healthy lifestyle is about more than calories.

Many people believe that what counts in a diet is how many calories you eat. That’s kind of true, I guess, but there’s a bigger picture. It’s now just how many calories you eat but the foods from which you’re getting your calories. Processed foods often contain high levels of sugar and saturated and trans fats, which the body stores as visceral fat, a type of fat that increases the risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other medical conditions. You’re better off eating 100 calories from an apple than 100 calories from a processed snack bar.

#3 BMI is not the best measure of health.

Doctors often assess body mass index (BMI), a weight-to-height ratio used to determine if someone is overweight. However, the test doesn’t distinguish between lean tissue and fat. For example, before I was pregnant, I weighed close to the same amount as I did several years before when I was less active. But I was in marathon shape! I looked and feel much fitter because my weight was made up of more lean muscle mass. Body fat percentage or body composition (the percentages of fat, bone, water, and muscle) is a better measure of health.

#4 Thin people don’t tend to consider themselves unhealthy—and that can be a problem.

Like my colleague, many people who appear thin and healthy, even if they are metabolically obese, may be less likely to get routine screenings or regular checkups. Because of this, they may have a number of risk factors they aren’t aware of. They may also be less motivated to exercise or eat well because a fast metabolism will keep them from gaining weight.

#5 Real health isn’t about weight.

High energy levels, disease prevention, reduced stress, feeling rested and balanced, good relationships—these are the things vital lives are made of. These are what real health, for ourselves and our families, is all about. By focusing just on weight as a measure of wellness, you may miss out on all that a healthy lifestyle has to offer.


I’d love to see our society’s perception of health shift. It’s not about how much you weigh but rather how you live—all of the pieces and parts of healthy living, working together synergistically. Perhaps if we can shift our thinking to see the benefits of health beyond appearance and other superficial methods of measuring wellness, we’ll begin to embrace the wonderful benefits of vital living.

Tell me: How has weight impacted how you view yourself? What would you like to see change in how health is perceived?


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