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Focusing on Health

August 24, 2012

The media is full of headlines about “The Obesity Crisis”, the associated risks to personal health and the cost to taxpayers. The latest headline is that obesity has been linked to cognitive decline (see this BBC News article). We’re told that we should maintain a healthy weight, eat well and exercise in order to avoid all sorts of health problems including heart disease, cancer, stroke, and liver disease.

Yet I can’t help feeling that the magazine cover stories promising to help you to lose 10 pounds in two weeks, get a flat tummy or ripped arms having little to do with health and everything to do with marketing to a largely female audience that want to be told that there’s a quick fix to lose weight. Most of the blogs I read promote “healthy living” and I think there are some genuinely great role models, but there’s also an undercurrent of losing weight and working out to look good in ways that aren’t always healthy.

I’m not saying that there’s necessarily anything wrong with wanting to look good. When I decided to lose weight health was quite low on my list of priorities even though I had high blood pressure. I was fed up of not being able to find fashionable clothes and feeling uncomfortable in everything I wore. I was also ashamed that I had lost control of my weight and I felt judged by other people. I still want to look good now. I’m far from being a fashion guru, but I appreciate being able to pick up nice clothes straight off the rail.

The trouble with “The Obesity Crisis” is that it doesn’t feel very personal. It seems like it’s happening to other people, an abstract concept that sounds scary, but doesn’t really affect me. I was obese as a child and again in my early 20s, but I thought that I wasn’t that bad compared to other people so it wasn’t a problem from a health point of view.

However, over the past year I’ve realised how important it is to do my part to stay healthy. It’s no guarantee because plenty of people with healthy lifestyles become ill, but I can definitely cut my risk. A few months ago my Mum had angioplasty to open a narrowed artery behind her heart. It was completely undramatic, with the surgery scheduled a couple of months in advance and she didn’t have to stay overnight. The strange thing was that she has normal blood pressure, normal cholesterol levels and a normal ECG reading. During a routine appointment the doctor asked if she had any shortness of breath or chest pain and she answered yes, although she thought it was caused by asthma and chronic heartburn. The doctor sent her to be screened for heart problems because there is a family history of heart disease, and it turns out she has angina.

As I’m getting a bit older and I see the problems my parents have, I want to do what I can to ensure that I stay active into middle and old age and stay reasonably free of health issues. This has become an important motivation for me to maintain my weight, eat healthily and stay fit for the long term, not just a quick fix to look good in a swimsuit.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2012 8:04 pm

    I’m totally with you on this one (even down to mom having angioplasty a few years ago) But wanted to add that staying healthy is important in recovery; as everyone can fall ill (or be involved in an accident) I believe that being healthy in body can dramatically improve your recovery ability … a well looked after body will try fix itself quicker and better.

    • August 25, 2012 1:47 pm

      That’s a really good point. There’s so many benefits to staying active. I wish that everyone would focus on them more than it always being about the way you look

  2. August 24, 2012 8:06 pm

    Good to see you back blogging, Sarah!
    I can definiely empathise with this; my mother took up an exercise regime after retirement, within 6 months she had reduced her blood pressure to the point where she no longer needs medication to control it. She feels so much better for it and you can see in her skin tone, movements etc she is healthier – I’ve found it really inspiring!

  3. August 24, 2012 11:27 pm

    I love reading posts which approach things from this angle, it’s such a positive, healthy and inspiring way to view things. I have to admit that I would like to lose a few kilos just to get back to my ‘happier’ weight but my main reason for eating well and exercising is definitely health. Because of my condition it is obviously really important to try to minimise the effects and living healthily is definitely key! Thanks for writing this Sarah, it was really interesting and I admire your outlook 🙂

    • August 25, 2012 2:39 pm

      Thank you 🙂 There are times that I would like to lose some “vanity weight”, but it’s good to have a reality check sometimes

  4. August 25, 2012 5:24 am

    Great post! Unfortunately my family riddled with heart disease, diabetes and cance and I believe that having a lifestyle can really help with the onset and sometimes the recovery of such things. So I am definitely all about committing to being healthy as a lifetime goal and not just a quick fix..

  5. August 25, 2012 8:13 am

    I think the problem with the obesity crisis is that a lot of people who are overweight are in denial, and believe themselves perfectly healthy until they get a scare.

    I also wish the women’s magazines’ attitude to health was more preventative than reactive, ie more articles about how to be healthy and slim, and less about quick-fix diets that lose you ten pounds in a short period of time. But then the media would have to stop preying on people’s insecurities, and we all know that isn’t going to happen.

    • August 25, 2012 2:45 pm

      I was certainly in denial for a ling long. I knew I needed to lose weight, but I didn’t want to face up to the problem

  6. August 25, 2012 10:56 am

    I think that something that perhaps gets overlooked is not physical health but mental health.

    People are more motivated in general by something like weight loss which can be more tangible than health, which is a bit ephemeral and improvements tend to be more incremental. Everyone (including me) loves a ‘quick fix.’

    However, it’s not just some superficial looks-based issue that makes me so very weight-loss focused. For my mental wellbeing I need to feel comfortable and at home in my body – at larger sizes, let alone being overweight (the prospect of becoming obese absolutely terrifies me) the sense of dissociation I feel from my physical self is immense, and distressing. And I think losing weight has always lessened my anxiety – where appropriate I am sure it can improve mental health…for me I am never sure how much I eat because I’m unhappy, and how much I am unhappy because I eat. To quote Fat Bastard from Austin Powers, clearly the source of all wisdom.

    • August 25, 2012 2:49 pm

      Thank you for your perspective Jess. I felt better about myself when I lost weight, but it certainly didn’t solve all of my problems. I do think that eating well & exercising is good for mental wellbeing as well as physical

  7. August 25, 2012 11:25 am

    Its such a hugely complex subject to tackle, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading up on the ‘obesity crisis’ with work as essentially I’m starting a social enterprise with the aim of helping people around this, but its a mine field. Yes, people need to take responsibility but its so difficult when processed food are marketed to them and their kids, healthier food is more expensive, they’ve been brought up with no idea of how to cook and a lot of people have mental health and self esteem issues which make losing weight a vicious circle. Then factor in the media and body image and ‘lose 10 pounds’ articles on top of that. As you say a lot of people don’t connect it with themselves or their health and that’s where better education needs to come in I think – but its no good just teaching the kids because its the parents that buy the groceries! Sorry I could go on and on around this, it frustrates me so much! Anyhoo, what I did want to say was moving from the looking good to health thing has taken me ages, but part of that has actually been the process of stopping listening to what I should or shouldn’t be eating and just starting to listen to my body. For me to be healthy – i.e. have a properly functioning female body, I clearly need to be at the top of the healthy BMI scale – not this perfectly healthy size 10 that is touted about on the bloody WW adverts!

    • August 25, 2012 2:51 pm

      I totally agree! One reason that I stepped away from blogging was because I was fed up of being influenced by what everyone else thought and wanted to figure out what was best for me

  8. August 26, 2012 7:51 am

    I totally agree- I am not massively bothered by what I look like, but being healthy is so important. I know a lot of skinnier people but I prefer to be active and as healthy as I can. My Mum has diabetes, and has been having issues with her heart since last summer (they are still trying to find out what exactly so poor her she has had loads of horrible tests and exploratory things)- I feel so much better when I am active as opposed to when I have a leisurely day- I am not good at sitting on a sofa all day. I want to be strong and active and able to do things- I want my heart and lungs and brain to work well, so keeping active and eating healthily as much as possible is what I aim for.
    As for my blog, I don’t see myself as a “healthy living blog” or whatever they are called- mine is a diary more, mainly about running and baking, as they are my fave hobbies- and I don’t think I have all the answers.

  9. August 30, 2012 6:38 am

    Hello! I think I missed this post- just seen it linked back from your latest post. I agree that with you that women’s magazines that promise quick weight loss do seem to be more about vanity rather than health.

    Whilst these news stories that speak of the health risks with obesity are likely to be true. I think sometimes its scare-mongering, which people generally don’t respond too.

    I wonder if maybe a better approach to our nation’s rising body weight is too focus on food in moderation rather than diets. The non-specific “you need to eat healthy” doesn’t seem to be working poss because 1. people think healthy eating means a boring, strict diet that will make them miserable, and 2. people don’t know what diet to follow.

    These are just some thoughts! 🙂

    It’s funny because my blog has never been about weight loss or being super fit, which I think is why I’ve struggled to fit into a blog genre. Mine’s just about food! 🙂

    Glad your mum’s heart procedure went well- it’s amazing what they can do now, isn’t it. xxx

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