If you’re older than 25, you’ll remember seeing supermodels in most print ads and commercials during much of the ’90s. We saw a lot of Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Heidi Klum, and they didn’t have the figures they have now. They were very thin!
Dieting and losing weight have long been on many people’s minds. I remember friends’ moms being obsessed with meeting a certain goal number. It felt unhealthy to me even at a young age. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that being too thin can cause some serious health issues too.
The Complications of Being Too Thin
The body mass index (BMI) calculator is a tool. Registered dietitian Katherine Basbaum shares, “It’s a jumping-off point to determine a healthy weight, but definitely not one-size-fits-all of healthy body factors."
To get a rough idea, if your BMI is less than 18.5, you’re considered underweight. This calculator doesn’t factor in your age, percentage of muscle mass, and health status, which can skew whether it indicates a healthy weight for you.
If you’re too thin or underweight, you may experience complications such as:
- Weakness or lack of lean muscle tissue
- Low energy
- Sub-optimal bone health (osteoporosis)
- Higher risk of slow-healing fractures
- Amenorrhea (the loss of your menstrual period)
- Damaged skin, hair, and teeth
- Taking longer to heal from wounds or surgery
- Less effective immune system
If you’re losing too much weight, you may not notice that you have little energy throughout the day. You may get sick more often or take longer to get better from the cold or flu. This could be a warning sign that you have lost too much weight and need to find a healthier balance for your body.
You may have heard the term “skinny fat.” This refers to a physically thin person who possesses a high percentage of body fat and a low percentage of muscle mass. So from a weight or BMI standpoint, they’re in the normal range. But this imbalance of their weight puts them at a higher risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
How Not to Obsess Over Pounds
The media (and now social media) plays a lot into how we obsess about our weight. The image of a healthy, attractive weight, especially for women, has changed many times over the past couple hundred years. Here’s a timeline of how the “ideal woman’s body weight” has changed over the years:
- 1920s: thin and shapeless
- 1950s: curvier hips and bust like Marilyn Monroe
- 1980s: slim but fit body as aerobics were gaining popularity like Olivia Newton-John
- 1990s: heroin chic with very thin supermodel bodies
As we see more celebrities and influencers like the Kardashians, Lizzo, Chrissy Teigen, and Ashley Graham promoting body positivity, the “ideal body image” changes again, moving away from the skinny look.
“We often hear people say, ‘age is just a number,’ and to some degree, the same can be said for body weight,” Basbaum explains.
Basbaum continues to share, “You should be paying more attention to what you’re eating and how much physical exercise you’re getting. If you have energy and strength throughout your day and a normal range for blood work and vital signs, you’re most likely at a healthy weight for your body.”
Skinny Doesn’t Automatically Equal Healthy
A “skinny” person may not need to count calories or worry about the quantity of food they eat. But no matter your size, it’s about the quality of your food. “And the same goes for exercise. The cardiovascular and mental health benefits are extremely important no matter your weight,” Basbaum shares.
Having Healthy Relationship with Your Weight
Basbaum shares this is one of the reasons why being a registered dietitian can be challenging. There’s so many emotions and history that goes into creating an unhealthy relationship with food. So Basbaum and her team work hard at “unpacking” with patients to get them to a healthier place when thinking about food.
“The best advice I can offer is to think of food as fuel and follow the 80/20 Rule. 80% of the time, eat foods that nourish your body with vitamins, minerals, good carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Then the other 20% of the time, loosen the reins and enjoy the small indulgences.”
Being overly restrictive, the all-or-nothing approach, is not healthy or sustainable. It causes unnecessary stress and anxiety that can lead to chronic medical issues down the road.
What Do I Eat?
With so much conflicting internet "advice," it can be hard to determine what to eat. We can help with nutrition classes & counseling.
My Experience with Being Skinny & Having High Cholesterol
I've always teetered between being underweight and normal my entire life. It wasn't until college that I saw over 100 pounds. So when most people see me, they always assume I'm super healthy. Growing up, it was most likely due to genetics and fast metabolism. I also played a lot of sports.
As I've gotten older, my diet has gotten more colorful and nourishing. But I'm quick to share with people that after my freshmen year of college, I had high cholesterol. Cue the shocked faces. Dorm food was gross, and I had the freedom to enjoy a lot of fast food. It caught up to me quickly.
It may be an unpopular opinion on this other side of the fence, but I promise that you and I have similar feelings when I look in the mirror. I know that feeling of being unhappy because someone else has pushed what I should look like, and I don't fit the bill. I try to follow the 80/20 rule and exercise when my schedule allows it.
So, I encourage others to do the same. Don't worry about the number. It's about getting your beautiful body healthy.