Being Fat Doesn't Hurt Hearts. Yo-Yo Dieting Does.

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Everything I know about anti-fat bias and health care regarding people in larger bodies is from the Maintenance Phase podcast. Hosted by activist and author Aubrey Gordon and journalist Michael Hobbes, the research they prompted me to do as a result of their reporting has been astounding. In the episode Is Being Fat Bad for You, they broke down the myths surrounding a well-cushioned body and health, citing many peer-reviewed and newly updated sources. Note that I’m not saying “overweight” or “obese.” That’s because these are antiquated terms that indicate someone should be a certain weight to be healthy, which is not the case, according to research

One of the main myths that researchers are debunking is that being in a larger body causes heart problems. In what researchers are calling “the obesity paradox,” they have discovered that people with higher BMIs are more likely to survive heart attacks than patients with lower BMIs. 

A study titled “Does Being Overweight Really Reduce Mortality” states, “Overweight individuals (BMI 25.0–29.9) had a significantly lower mortality risk” and, more specifically, “Obesity has been associated with improved survival in patients with existing chronic diseases, including congestive heart failure (CHF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic kidney disease, and other wasting conditions.” Note that the measure of BMI is no longer an indicator of health (another topic in a Maintenance Phase episode), but it does, in this case, show a range used for measurement. 

So, you might ask, why do larger people still have heart attacks? First of all, think about whether or not your question is coming from bias or fact. Thin people also have heart attacks. Heart attacks are not caused by high body fat but are often correlated with it, meaning that people who have conditions that lead to heart issues also have higher body weights as a result of those conditions. Correlation is not causation. 

Yes, bigger people have heart problems, but it’s not because of the fat on their bodies. It’s because of the stress their bodies have gone through, both because of bias (which causes emotional stress) and because of physical stress. The physical stress a body endures during yo-yo dieting contributes to heart conditions, as detailed in several research studies such as this one about crash dieting. This research says it’s the actions of dieting, not the fat that was there in the first place, that causes deterioration in heart function.

Yes, you are more likely to have heart issues than if you never dieted, but taking steps to be healthy now and in the future can only help your overall health. Stop dieting. Stop treating yourself poorly because of the size or shape of your body. Stop judging your own or someone else’s health by the way they look. 

Check in with your primary care doctor. Note that many primary care doctors have been trained to see "fluff" as bad, so you may need to switch and find a doctor who is up to date on the latest research. Seek out a Health at Every Size physician. Get a full physical with a blood panel and see what’s going on with your thyroid, cholesterol, glucose, blood pressure, and other indicators of health. 

If you have struggled with disordered eating or body image issues in the past, consider seeing a therapist or dietitian who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders. If you don’t identify as someone with a disorder, be kind to yourself. Do some research on things like intuitive eating and reject the diet mentality. It’s killing you.

The path out of diet culture is full of people who are accepting, loving, and able to help you live your healthiest life, no matter the number on the scale.  

Tags: Body Image, Body Positivity, Healthy Eating, healthy living, Self Care

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Written By

Laura Wheatman Hill

Laura Wheatman Hill lives in Oregon with her two children. She has been published by CNN, Real Simple, Parents, and others. See Full Bio

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