It’s Complicated

Is any area of health more controversial than fat loss? Just how much of our weight is genetic, and how much of it can we control? Which advice should we listen to among all the doctors, scientists and random people on the internet?

The basic advice for losing weight stays pretty much the same wherever you go. Eat a balanced diet, with everything in proportion. Consume lots of fruit and vegetables. Try not to overdo the salt, sugar and saturated fat, but a little bit won’t hurt. The point of healthy nutrition isn’t to be miserable eating only bland things. You can enjoy treats as long as you don’t live on them.

Then there’s exercise. Exercise is very important if you’re aiming for fat loss, but if you exercise a lot, that doesn’t mean you’re going to end up really skinny. Muscle can weigh more than fat, so if you’re doing lots of strength training, you may end up larger. You will be healthier, however.

How important is fat loss to overall health? We know some conditions, like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, are more likely in the obese. It’s not great for your overall longevity. The extra strain it puts on your joints can also cause mobility issues. Where experts disagree is how much of it is due to weight specifically and how much can be attributed to the underlying causes, such as a poor diet. What about people who eat right, exercise well and still can’t lose weight? Just how much at risk are they?

That’s especially true when we measure fatness through the body mass index, or BMI. This is a pretty simple way to calculate whether someone is obese or a healthy weight on a specific scale, but in recent years, scientists have started acknowledging that it’s a very poor measure of overall wellbeing. It doesn’t account for muscle mass or the distribution of different fat cells around the body. A high BMI isn’t the same as being unhealthy.

So, if you’re struggling with fat loss, don’t panic. It’s not a moral failing on your part. Weight is just a tiny part of your overall health and should only be considered alongside other aspects of your physical and mental condition. Meanwhile, scientists will continue trying to figure out how it all fits together.

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