Looking Healthy vs. Being Healthy
Do 6-pack abs automatically equal health? Despite how it may appear on social media, you can’t judge someone’s health by their appearance. On this episode of The Sitch, we’re breaking down the science on looking healthy versus being healthy.
Today, I want to talk about a topic that’s become increasingly important due to the rise of influencers and insta-models and their influence on wellness culture – the difference between looking healthy and being healthy.
Looking healthy and being healthy are not the same.
Too often we see people on social media flashing their 6-pack abs or showing off their toned bods in size zero leggings, and we automatically assume that because they’re fit, their diet must be ideal. This is so far from the case.
Being thin – or even physically fit – doesn’t always reflect what’s going on on the inside. We all had that college friend who literally couldn’t tell you how to get to the gym and spent most evenings chugging beers and scarfing pizza – yet never gained the freshman 15 like the rest of us. That’s not an endorsement for the pizza-brewski diet, that’s called good genes.
So, just like you wouldn’t follow the dietary advice of your fast-food loving thin friend, why would you trust the recommendations of someone online trying to convince you that their diet is good for your health simply because they have a six-pack? Let’s talk science…
Metabolically Healthy Obesity
Just like there are thin people who aren’t healthy on the inside, there are overweight people who don’t present with clinical signs of poor health. This is known as metabolically healthy obesity. One systematic review found that about 35% of obese adults show no markers of abnormal metabolism. However, they are still at a higher risk of future problems.
Now, I am not saying that obesity is without health risks – clearly, it isn’t – as 65% of the people in that systematic review did have metabolic issues – this is simply an example of the fact that you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Dieting and Weight Gain
Dieting of any type is likely to make you look healthy – at least at first. Most diets result in weight loss initially by cutting out the main culprits of weight gain – excessive calories from refined carbs, fried food, and processed junk food.
So in that regard, I will say that eating a whole foods paleo or keto diet is strides better than the Standard American Diet. But better doesn’t mean good. Due to weight loss, most diets will result in improvements of some health biomarkers, but that’s still not proof that said diet is ideal.
As I said before, most diets produce initial weight loss, and weight loss does usually improves metabolic health. But what I’m talking about is how dietary choices can promote aspects of health and longevity that can’t be measured.
There are many processes that are constantly going on in our bodies that we can’t see or measure objectively, that determine our longterm health and our chance of developing chronic diseases. They’re happening at a molecular level.
Indiscernible Measures of Health
There’s no routine blood test to measure the transcription of antioxidant enzymes that are upregulated by a plant-based diet.
There’s currently no feasible way to measure autophagy – the body’s cellular recycling process that is increased during exercise and fasting and inhibited by IGF-1, a hormone increased with high animal protein intake.
There’s no cheek swab to show if your dietary choices result in increased DNA damage due to a high intake of harmful compounds like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, advanced glycation end products, and nitrates – commonly found in meat.
For that, we must rely on the large body of research indicating which dietary patterns contribute to health and longevity.
Plant-Based Diets and Health
We look at animal research showing increases in lifespan with decreases in certain amino acids mainly found in meat. We look at observational studies linking predominantly plant-based diets like the Mediterranean diet to reduced rates of chronic disease. And we turn to studies of centenarians in the blue zones showing that the majority of their diets came from unprocessed plant foods.
So basically, don’t look to someone’s bikini photo for signs of credibility. Being skinny, or buff, or in shape doesn’t automatically mean you’re healthy on the inside. Look at someone’s credentials and whether or not they provide evidence-based nutrition recommendations.
Not sure how to tell if someone is the real deal? Check out my video How to Spot a Quack!
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Weigh-in: Have you seen uncredentialed influencers making health claims? Do you now think you’re better able to identify looking healthy and being healthy?