Can you be obese and healthy?

I remember thinking so many times in years past “Well, I may be overweight, but I’m at least healthy”.  I didn’t think this because I had medical proof of my healthiness.  Instead I thought this because I had no proof that I was unhealthy.  I was in complete denial that my excess weight was contributing to health problems throughout my body because I never went to a doctor and I never paid attention to the signs and signals that my body was giving me.

For the longest time I was able to maintain this state of denial because I was young and the years of excess weight hadn’t begun to take their toll.  I was able to walk around without pain in my knees and hips.  I was able to climb a few flights of stairs and only be mildly winded.  I didn’t notice any of the other common physical complaints of obesity.

But a lifetime of obesity will catch up with you.  As I entered my late 20′s and continued to gain weight I started to notice my feet and legs hurting after walking.  My hips were often stiff and sore.  Stairs were becoming more and more challenging.  I was short of breath from just walking.  Physical movement became uncomfortable, so I did it as infrequently as possible.

When I decided to change my life and lose weight, I realized that I had been fooling myself for all these years.  I started paying attention to the signals my body was sending me and started noticing even more symptoms and problems.  With a completely lifestyle change these problems quickly started to disappear.  The months passed and I felt better and better.

My weight is still considered “obese” by BMI standards.  But recently I started to feel like I had actually become that mythical healthy obese person.  I eat a whole foods diet, exercise 4-5 times per week, integrate more physical activity into my daily life, drink plenty of water, control portions and calories, limit junk and bad foods, limit sodium and cholesterol in my diet, and more.  I don’t smoke and I drink maybe a single beer each week.  I am strong and athletic.  I walk, bike and run and have been improving my body’s conditioning each and every week.  I was certain that I was now healthy.

Then I went to my doctor.  My blood pressure is still considered high, despite living a lifestyle conducive to lowering blood pressure.  At my heaviest and unhealthiest, my blood pressure was likely dangerously high.  When discussing my history with my doctor, she frankly indicated to me that the results of the labs that she was ordering may indicate other problems such as high cholesterol or diabetes.  I was so unhealthy for so long that I have done damage to my body that will take longer to repair than a few months of weight loss.

So no, you cannot be obese and healthy.  If you have lived your life in a way that has allowed your body to balloon to obesity, you have been living an unhealthy lifestyle for long enough to create these problems that will take a long time for your body to fix.  The weight comes off easier and faster than these other problems will be repaired.

I may not be “healthy” yet, but I am certainly healthier than I was 6 months or a year ago and I continue to live the healthiest lifestyle I can.  My body WILL catch up to all the great choices I’m making now, just as it caught up to all those terrible ones I used to make.

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