Colorado: More experts say big and fit can coexist
The Denver Post
THORNTON, Colorado – Anxiety about an “obesity epidemic” continues to grow in response to almost weekly alarms and studies that report more than half of the U.S. adult population is now overweight or obese.
At the same time, the body-acceptance movement is surging, promoting the message of loving yourself and maintaining a positive self-image no matter your size, thin or heavy-set.
Caught in those contradictions are people like Jeannie Troy, who feels like she is treading water in both turbulent streams.
“I’m obese, but I’m absolutely fit,” says the 47-year-old Thornton resident, who at barely 5 feet tall and just under 200 pounds, still has healthy blood pressure, can swim for two hours, takes a three-hour dance class and enjoys biking and hiking.
“I’m not using up health care dollars; I don’t lose workdays; and all of my checkups say I’m healthy in spite of being fat. I’m living my life now, not 50 or 100 pounds from now.”
Are the scales tipping?
Can you be both fat and fit? Research continues to tip the scale in favor of “yes.”
There are many people living the “obesity paradox,” says Paul Campos, a University of Colorado law professor and author of “The Obesity Myth.” They are technically outside the government’s approved weight range but have bodies that are metabolically fit due to healthy eating and fitness routines. The notion that everyone can – and should – be thin is a product of political distortion and cultural panic over body diversity, he says.
“The biggest factor in terms of health risk for any person is age, not weight,” says Campos.
Widely held misconceptions that thin people are naturally healthy and fat people are unfit because of poor eating and workout habits are so pervasive that it took Troy decades to stop hating herself.
Considered overweight since grammar school, Troy found that the more diets she attempted, the more her weight increased. Even though she weighed 280 pounds in her late 30s, she felt invisible. Other times, her mind told her that everyone was staring at her, making her afraid to eat in restaurants.
“I was living in my head the whole time, and my life was very disconnected from my neck down,” says Troy, who has been in therapy the past year with Boulder psychotherapist Carmen Cool, who specializes in female clients dealing with weight issues. “Carmen is helping me realize how my thoughts impacted my body, how telling myself that I couldn’t do things because I was fat stopped me from doing them.”
With Cool’s recommendation, Troy spent a month in March at a women’s fitness and weight-loss retreat called Green Mountain at Fox Run in Vermont. The “transformative experience” helped bring her body and mind into accord.
“I remember the exact day when I said I loved my body,” she says. “I was swimming in a pool, and when I came up I was crying. I was amazed that I was able to swim and that my body really could do these amazing things. I loved it because it could.”
Troy has found that when she eats normally and naturally, paying attention to when her body is full or hungry, she has been able to lose weight without dieting. Her weight has leveled out at around 200 pounds.
“It’s been up and down, but when I treat myself kindly, and I move instead of being obsessed with counting calories, the weight comes off,” Troy says.
When individuals honor and feel good about themselves, they are motivated to make better choices for their health, says Linda Bacon, a researcher, professor and author based outside of Berkeley, Calif.
Bacon’s book, “Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight,” has been pushing a new movement that emphasizes healthy habits for well-being rather than weight control.
If the nation is really concerned about public health, the focus needs to be on getting people to engage in healthier habits, Bacon says.
Her 2005 study found that people who participated in a diet and exercise program lost weight early on and saw decreases in blood pressure, cholesterol and depression. But two years later, they gained the weight back and lost any health improvements. Meanwhile, members of a test group who practiced Health at Every Size tenets sustained their weight loss and continued to exercise.
“We can benefit both fat and thin people by shifting the focus from weight loss to healthy living,” Bacon says. “A lot of people say this is about giving up. When you accept yourself, it’s about moving on and making peace with it so you are empowered to make better choices.”
“The fatosphere,” a growing online community, has been pivotal in shifting awareness from size and self-hatred to health and acceptance, says Emme, a television personality, author, fashion designer and outspoken plus-size proponent.
“The reason this shift is happening is because women are using their voice online,” says Emme, the host of the new Fox reality dating show, “More to Love.”
“The truth of the matter is that we do come in different shapes, body types and bone structures. There is no one-size-fits-all, period – for shape, size or health.”
Leianne Hazen, 46, of Jamestown, credits therapy with Cool, support on the Internet and books such as “Lessons From the Fat-O-Sphere” for her mental and physical successes. While overweight and diabetic, Hazen has cut her blood-sugar level nearly in half over six months, and it is now in the normal range, thanks to regular activity.
Hazen says her doubters will get their just deserts when they learn that she was able to reap the health benefits of exercise and not lose any weight.
“It helps you know you are not alone, and that I’m not crazy to think that I can be this large and still do things to improve my health,” says Hazen, who enjoys lengthening and strengthening her 5-foot-10 1/2-inch frame with Qigong movements and swimming.
“The solutions are the same, no matter your size. You need to be active and eat nutritious foods.”