It's time to start challenging the ingrained prejudice that just because someone is overweight, they can't be fit or healthy, says Andrew Shanahan.
One of the consequences of writing a book that advises others on how to lose weight and get healthy is that people assume you will be a winning physical specimen yourself.
In their mind a health author should have rippling abs, coconut-sized biceps and an arse that just won't quit. Conversely, I have an arse that won't stop rippling and the only abs I am ever likely to have is on my car. And yet, the fact remains that I have written a book about helping men to get healthy, so doesn't that make me a big, fat hypocrite?
Before you start tutting and accusing me of fudging the argument, I'm not saying that we should all be free to make up our own definition of healthy, because clearly following that logic leads us to a place where some people hold a choc-ice in both hands and argue that they're following a balanced diet. It's more that we often assume that just because someone isn't quite an Adonis that they're not healthy.
A sedentary lifestyle is twice as dangerous as being obese (Photo: Alamy)
Julie Creffield is someone who deals with this issue on a daily basis. As the eponymous fat girl from the Fat Girls Guide To Running she lives her life being judged as a plus-sized advocate for greater activity levels - what's her response when people ask why she doesn't lose weight?
"We all know how big an issue obesity is, but it's actually physical inactivity that is the biggest killer. We need people of all shapes and sizes who are prepared to stand up and encourage others to stand up and start moving! If we say that you need to be a healthy BMI before you even start running then that means that for a lot of people a valuable tool in weight loss has disappeared before they even begin."
Certainly, the results of a European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study, which looked at the health of over 334,000 people over 12 years suggests that your activity levels are more important than what you look like. The surprising result was that by far the biggest reduction in health risk was to be achieved by increasing activity levels. Simply moving yourself from the "inactive" to "moderately active" category reduced the risk of death by anything up to 30 per cent.
According to the study, having a sedentary lifestyle is twice as dangerous to your health as being obese. When you consider that this is the equivalent of a brisk 20-minute walk per day then you begin to see the value that having health role models who are bigger could bring to the population's health. If an obese PT could get you walking, or a chubby dance teacher could get you samba-ing, then it could save your life.
Changes are coming in the shape of #thisgirlcan style interventions but as yet the idea that you can be fat, fit and healthy is still something of an oddity in the world of men's health.
Marc Moreso, CEO of Leisurejobs, who recruit workers into the fitness industry, says that slowly employers are starting to see the value of a more diverse and diversely-shaped workforce. "It's taking time to challenge that expectation that someone like a personal trainer should be really buff, but ultimately we need to ensure that the people who are charged with the responsibility of leading others towards health are not judged solely on their appearance."
"After all, you might get someone who has a fantastic physique who is a terrible communicator - they will not get on in the fitness industry. Then what if you have someone who can inspire others to get healthier with a brilliant attitude, but they're overweight - isn't that more important than the way that they look? The industry is rife with twenty-something PTs who have completed a six-week course. A 50-year-old with 20 years' experience offers hard-won expertise and knowledge, so gyms need to have a diverse workforce to ensure they cater for every size, shape and age group."
An incorrect conclusion to this would be to assume that being overweight or obese is OK providing you're healthy. Weight still carries a heavy toll of risk factors and while some people are able to embrace and celebrate life in a plus-sized body - for me, it led to stress, ill-health and the destruction of my confidence. However, for greater physical and mental health we need to start challenging the ingrained prejudice that just because someone is fat it means that they can't be fit and healthy.
This article "Is it possible to be fit, healthy and fat?"originally published on telegraph.co.uk.
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