It is very common for us to look at people who are ‘skinny’, and assume they are the picture of health, however, this is not always the case. Low body weight is quite an inaccurate measure of health.
One of the best predictors of health is an adequate balanced diet. It can be quite alarming to know what some people do to keep low body weight, and it is just that, body weight. The scales do not indicate muscle mass or bone density, two highly important factors which predict positive aging. However, there two ends of the scale when referring to poor eating habits. It is not just underweight people who can be malnourished. In fact, you just cannot guess how healthy someone is from looking at them.
It is possible to be overweight and malnourished. It’s possible to be a little overweight and still be relatively healthier than someone of lower body weight who eats a poor diet. It’s also possible to be of normal body weight and not be feeding your body what it needs to be functioning optimally.
Feeding the body with empty poor quality calories to the point of excess will leave your body starving for the nutrients it needs to function properly. Running your body on the bare minimum for extended periods of time leaves you open for poor health too. Both groups in the end are at risk of being what we call ‘malnourished’- their bodies are starving. Malnutrition is basically an imbalance of nutrition. This could be from too much of the wrong stuff, or not enough of the right stuff. Either way, you end up with a body in need and how it reacts to these deficiencies is pretty nasty.
Malnutrition affects your body, your mind, your immune system and everything in between. Not feeding your body with proper nutrition from varied sources results in decreases in strength, lung function, heart function and fitness, increases depression, decreases immunity and ability to heal and even affects your body’s ability to regulate temperature. And it’s a slippery slope down into disease.
If you don’t eat right, your body can’t absorb what you do eat properly and is forced to take from your stores, so the longer the poor diet/lifestyle choices go on, the more health debt you’re getting yourself into. It’s just as much about what you do eat as what you don’t eat. So why is there still resistance to a moderate approach to eating well? Probably because we don’t like moderate…it’s boring.
Then there is body composition change versus changes to scale weight. If you really put your mind to it, you could lose 10% of your body weight before the start of next week. And people take this blind approach to weight loss on the regular, searching for any way that gets the numbers on the scale down. But you know what you get when you undertake extreme weight loss? Disappointment. You get a big fat dose of disappointment. This is because not only is that drop on the scale probably just a reduction in total body water and stomach content, from abusing whatever weight loss tea, cleansing juice or very low calorie/carb diet you chose, but it is also likely to come right back and then some the minute you crack and dive face-first into a burger and fries.
And if ‘toning’ is what you are looking for, I am sorry to say that there is no amount of curtsey lunges on the stair climber, 1kg dumbbell bicep curls or long bouts of low-intensity steady-state training that will build the lean muscle that is the real cause of appearing toned. Lean muscle minus excess body fat is what is commonly referred to as ‘tone’ and is goal number 1 on many people fitness wish list. And if lean muscle is what we are after, then excessive calorie deficits and diets devoid of quality protein are not going to cut it. A well planned out training program, a diet that emphasises whole foods and 20-30g of protein at least 4 meals each day coupled with good sleep and regular doses of enjoyment are what will get you that look.
The thing is, we can get away with a lot more in our younger years. Up until the age of about 30-35, our body does a really good job at buffering the abuse we throw at it. Be it inactivity, poor diet choices, chronic stress, drug and alcohol abuse or lack of sleep, our body will do the best it can to keep you going. But the issue is, disease progression starts long before you get the diagnosis. Meaning the behaviours which got you through your 20’s are not likely to cut it as you get older, so it serves you well to know how to properly feed yourself BEFORE you get the warning bells ringing in your ears.
The key point in all this is that, unless you are trained to know what to look for, what you see on the outside is unlikely to give you the full story on what’s happening inside, so it pays to invest in your health earlier and to learn what your body needs and not just make changes at the last minute when such changes are harder to make.
Being ‘healthy’ is as hard or as easy as you make it. There are a thousand choices we make each day and even if a handful of these are geared towards improving your health, you are a bit closer to good health and a bit further away from all the crappiness that poor health brings. Even just starting to think about the impact that each mouthful can make is a start. Is it adding to your overall health or is it taking away? Simple questions which may bring big results!