How many of us tack our weight on a weekly or monthly basis; have scales in the bathroom or under the bed; give in to the guilty pleasure of jumping on to see if we have lost a few pounds so we can feel good about ourselves or to be wholly disappointed when the scales show more than we want and beat ourselves up for days?

But does the odd fluctuation in weight really matter? Is it a barometer for health? Are you healthier at say 9.5st than at 10st or 9st?

This is an issue which I am quite passionate about, probably because I have spent years and years of my life living on this roller-coaster (thankfully no longer).  Why is everyone always talking about losing weight?  Is this really the magic formula for health?  In my opinion NO… I would go as far as to say I think the focus on weight is detrimental to overall health and well-being, especially mental health.  I think it is all a bit of a smoke screen!

The reality is that people’s obsession with weight is not about health at all it is about body image. This was confirmed by the teenagers currently filling my kitchen who said “It is all about body image…..slim (not skinny!) means beautiful, health is not a priority!!” They were very clear that their aspiration for body image came from the media and their favourite celebrities. 

Wikipedia says…. Body image is a person’s perception of the aesthetics or sexual attractiveness of their own body. It involves how a person sees themself, compared to the standards that have been set by society. Body image consists of the ways people view themselves; their memories, experiences, assumptions, and comparisons about their own appearances; and their overall attitudes towards their own respective heights, shapes, and weights….all of which are shaped by prevalent social and cultural ideals.

This is not a new phenomenon it has been prevalent in society throughout history…. An article published in 1997 by SRIC (Social Issues Research Centre) states …

In the 19th Century being beautiful meant wearing a corset – causing breathing and digestive problems. Now we try to diet and exercise ourselves into the fashionable shape – often with even more serious consequences.

Most women are trying to achieve the impossible: standards of female beauty have in fact become progressively more unrealistic during the 20th century. In 1917, the physically perfect woman was about 5ft 4in tall and weighed nearly 10 stone. Even 25 years ago, top models and beauty queens weighed only 8% less than the average woman, now they weigh 23% less. The current media ideal for women is achievable by less than 5% of the female population – and that’s just in terms of weight and size. If you want the ideal shape, face etc., it’s probably more like 1%.

Are we hiding our preoccupation with body image behind the more acceptable aspiration of better health?

The ever-growing obesity epidemic and current Covid19 pandemic with its frequently talked about connection between metabolic conditions and poor outcomes have only compounded the connection between weight and health.

We cannot ignore that obesity is not good for our health.  Society has latched onto this because it is the only obvious physical sign of health and individuals come up with their own idea of what their ‘healthy weight’ should be.

Better health markers, which are not so easy to identify or track without tests and professional help, include: good gut health; healthy blood pressure; balanced blood sugars; correct triglycerides; low HDL cholesterol and so on. 

Although these markers are much more important, because they are unseen, weight has become the focus.   However if these markers were all good and the body was working effectively and efficiently then you can pretty much guarantee your body will have found its own equilibrium of healthy weight, even if this does not fit in with our own or societies standard for body image.

The next issue is we feel we have control over our weight (and so in our minds our health). After all it is an easy formula, right? Have a calorie deficit and we lose weight and become healthy ….EASY!!!???

So we exercise more to burn more calories to become more healthy??!!  Reality is you can’t out-train a bad diet.  Exercise and movement are an incredibly important part of the health puzzle, but not as a calorie burner (that is a whole different article).

Whether overweight or underweight or ideal weight, we can still be under nourished or even malnourished.

So what is the key to good health and ‘healthy weight’?

We need to focus on NOURISHMENT.  The incredibly complex biochemical creation that our body is needs nutrient dense, wholefoods to function effectively and efficiently and the quest for better health relies on this alone.

Let’s stop talking about our weight and let’s make NOURISHMENT the new narrative.