Weight Loss Advice Myths

You don't have to look far for weight loss advice.  Wight loss is apparently the cure-all for health and a long life. But the biggest weight loss myth might be that overweight people need to lose weight in the first place.   There is a very prevalent belief that thinness = health and longevity.  But I was interested to hear Dr. Mario Martinez say recently that some of the Centenarians he's interviewed (he's interviewed over 500 of them) are quite 'hefty.'  

In addition the thin = health and ageless living belief is being questioned by some serious researchers looking at massive amounts of data over time. And the surprising conclusion is that you can have health at every size barring extremes of thinness and obesity. And I'm going to let you into another longevity secret:  you could be healthier if you simply valued yourself, no matter what your size.  I know that goes against almost everything you're told, but read on....

The current Body Mass Index classifications (BMI - weight in kgs divided by height in meters squared) used by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as well as the World Health Organization (WHO)are:

“normal weight” is BMI 18.5- 25;

“overweight” equals BMI 25- 30; and

“obese” individuals have BMIs ≥ 30.

An increasing number of studies are finding that the 'normal' BMI range is not the range that is predictive of those who live the longest as people who fall in the overweight and even moderately obese live as long and even longer than ’normal’ weight people.  It's for that reason that I use the word ’normal’ or even 'ideal' with great reluctance.

Large studies provide evidence of this
Weight Loss Advice Myth

In the USA where people have been getting fatter, longevity has increased, not decreased.  See that sudden jump in obesity stats in June 1998?  Now THAT's something you need to know about!

longevity and obesity
  • In the 90+ study done at UC Irvine - researchers found that whether people watched what they ate or took nutritional supplements made no difference and overweight people lived longer.  What did make a difference was whether people felt socially connected and as if their life had purpose. (1)
  • The largest group of US adults ever done by the National Health and Nutrition Examination surveys (from 1975 - 2002) found that the group that lived the longest was in the so-called ‘overweight’ category.  (maybe this is really the ‘normal’ weight category). (2)
  • In the most comprehensive review of pooled research that looked at 388 000 people from 26 different studies - again, people categorized as ‘overweight’ in our thin-obsessed culture, were found to live longer than even ‘normal’ weight people.(3) 
  • And in one study that controlled for socioeconomic and behavior factors, researchers actually found that the mortality rate adults older than 55 who were overweight were actually reduced.  (4)

This increasing body of research shows that continual diet efforts in order to lose weight in order to reach what is deemed a 'normal' weight is yet another weight loss advice myth. And there are good reasons for why this may be so.

Weight Loss Advice Myths worldwide

But it’s not just US research that has evidence against this weight loss advice myth:  

  • Research in 2006 with 154 736 adult Chinese divided them into BMI ranges and found that normal’ and ‘overweight’ people lived longer than those on the thin or obese extremes. (5)
  • In this article  you will find other examples from around the globe (Denmark, Japan, Sweden, Greenland, South Africa and Italy) 

Weight Loss Advice Myth 
losing weight reduces mortality

In one study of 6117 people older than 50 researchers concluded:  "Weight loss of 15% or more from maximum body weight is associated with increased risk of death from all causes among overweight men and among women regardless of maximum BMI.” (6a)

Weight Loss Advice Myth
Losing weight always improves health

It’s often not known whether short term improvements in health can actually be attributed to the weight loss itself or whether it’s because of actual changes in behavior. In one case where participants lost an average of 10.5kgs after lipo-suction but did not change their behavior in any way - they saw no improvements in blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol or insulin sensitivity.(7)

Studies in type 2 diabetes often show improvement in glycemic control even before any significant weight loss , or even when weight loss was maintained diabetics did not see any improvement in glycemic control. (8)  And even when weight loss was accompanied by improvements in glycemic control, and that weight loss was maintained - the glycemic control deteriorated back to baseline. (9)

Weight Loss Advice Myth
Dieting reduces Obesity

In reality what is a bigger weight loss myth is that dieting reduces obesity. There are good reason to believe that obese people have dieted themselves fatter with all those lose weight quick miracle cures by changing their body composition.  And we can often see that all those weight loss success stories are weight loss myth stories too because what they show you the before and after pictures, but what they don’t show you is the after after pictures when the weight has been gained back. Just look at all the controversy about ‘The biggest loser’ as previous contestants spill the beans and gain their weight back.  

If you’re asking ‘which diets work’ -  the answer is simple - diets have the illusion of working because in the short term your lose weight, but in the long term restriction and deprivation don’t work unless it’s to make you fatter.  But appreciating that you can have Health at every Size and eating in a body-wise manner, the side effect might be that reach your natural size.  And be prepared for that size is likely to be something different than what our thin-obsessed culture thinks it should be.  

For the full journal article (and a ton more references than I included here) that informs all these weight loss advice myths please read:  Weight Science: Evaluation the Evidence for a Paradigm shift. Bacon and Aphramor.  Nutrition Journal 2011.

http://www.mind.uci.edu/research/90plus-study/ (1) http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=200731(2) http://www.annalsofepidemiology.org/article/S1047-2797(04)00093-6/abstract (3) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20226579 (4) http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=202377 (5) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20212495 (6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20212495 (6a) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15201411 (7) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9632125 (8) http://www.crd.york.ac.uk/CRDWeb/ShowRecord.asp?ID=11997005275#.VQnuTlyJlHg (9)

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