Can You Be Fat But Fit?
No, according to research1 that followed 5,005 American men and women for more than 12 years. The authors found that nearly one-half of those who began the study as fat but fit (termed “metabolically healthy obesity”) developed the metabolic syndrome.
What Is the Metabolic Syndrome?
The metabolic syndrome is a pre-diabetic condition that greatly increases the risk of cardiovascular dangers like heart attacks and strokes.
In the past three decades, the rates of metabolic syndrome have skyrocketed in America. More than a third of all U.S. adults now meet the criteria for the syndrome.
You have the metabolic syndrome if you have at least three of the following five conditions:
- A resting blood pressure of 130/85 or higher (either number), or you’re currently taking blood-pressure-lowering medications.
- A waist circumference of greater than 35 inches in women and 40 inches in men.
- An HDL “good” cholesterol less than 40 mg/dL in men and less than 50 mg/dL in women, or you’re currently taking HDL-raising medications.
- A fasting triglyceride level of 150 mg/dL or higher, or you’re currently taking triglyceride-lowering medications.
- A fasting blood sugar (glucose) of 100 mg/dL or higher.
Having the Metabolic Syndrome For Years | The Dangers
The authors of the study also found that the duration of having the syndrome was linked with cardiovascular disease in a linear fashion, meaning, the longer the participants had the metabolic syndrome, the greater their risk was of cardiovascular-related events and deaths.
This is not the first time scientists have learned that being fat but fit is tied with life-threatening problems like heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure. Similar findings have recently been reported in studies following large numbers of European2 and British3 populations.
What To Do If You’re Fat But Fit
Being fat but fit “signals an opportunity for weight reduction, and prevention and management of existing metabolic syndrome components should be prioritized,” recommended the study’s lead author Morgana Mongraw-Chaffin, PhD, of Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., and colleagues.
Priority #1: A Healthy Lifestyle
The best preventive strategy and treatment for metabolic syndrome is most likely healthy lifestyle change, not drugs.
That’s because there is no one pill that addresses the syndrome. Pharmaceutical treatment is handled in piecemeal fashion, and is largely ineffective.
Moreover, a growing body of research is finding that a healthy lifestyle like the Pritikin Program is remarkably effective at curtailing the metabolic syndrome.
“It’s really no surprise when you consider that the roots of metabolic syndrome are poor diet and excess body fat. When you remedy the roots, you often remedy the disease,” notes Dr. Danine Fruge, MD, Medical Director at the Pritikin Longevity Center. Since 1975, the Pritikin Center has helped thousands worldwide adopt heart-healthy living skills.
Best Treatment For Metabolic Syndrome
Concurs Prakash Deedwania, MD, of the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine, and Carl J. Lavie, Jr., MD, of the Ochsner Health System in New Orleans in an editorial4 accompanying the study: “The best treatment of metabolic syndrome may be vigorous nonpharmacologic therapy, including prevention of further weight gain with increasing physical activity/exercise training along with dietary restrictions.”
Results of the Pritikin Program
Research has shown that just two to three weeks of diet-and-exercise therapy at the Pritikin Longevity Center netted a phenomenal clinical response.
- In 60% of men studied, a three-week health retreat at the Pritikin Longevity Center reversed the diagnosis of the metabolic syndrome.5
- Among children studied, 100% experienced complete reversal of the syndrome within two weeks of starting the Pritikin Program.6
“It’s important to act…”
“I think the biggest takeaway from this research is, don’t be complacent,” sums up Dr. Fruge.
“If you’re putting on weight, especially belly fat, it’s important to act even if your blood test results are suggesting that everything’s okay. Chances are, everything will not be okay in the months and years to come.
“So the next vacation you take, consider making it a health vacation. Come to a health resort like Pritikin so that you can shed weight, get lean, and learn how to keep your numbers in good shape.”
The Joy of Living Well
“At Pritikin, you’ll also discover that living healthy is actually a lot of fun. We don’t see many sad faces around here,” smiles Kimberly Gomer, MS, RD, Director of Nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center.
“Instead, there’s a lot of, ‘Wow, I didn’t know healthy food could taste this good,’ and most importantly, ‘I didn’t know I could feel this good again.’”
Bottom Line | Can You Be Fat But Fit?
Likely not, according to more and more research.
What the bathroom scale says does matter. Losing weight is not only life-enhancing, it’s life-saving.
Just as important as losing weight – if not more so – is losing body fat.
Benefits of a Better Body Composition
“The new gold standard for a healthy body and heart is having a great body composition, meaning, a healthy percentage of our body that is lean muscle mass, and a healthy percentage that is fat,” explains Dr. Fruge.
“Ratcheting down body fat and increasing lean muscle mass means we’re not only looking leaner, we’re improving our overall health. Within two weeks at Pritikin, our guests lose some weight, and that’s great, but what’s really impressive is how much body fat they shed.
“They’re thrilled at what they see in the mirror,” he smiles.
- 1 Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2018; 71 (17): 1857.
- 2 European Heart Journal, 2018; 39 (5): 397.
- 3 Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2017; 70 (12): 1429.
- 4 Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2018; 71 (17): 1866.
- 5 Journal of Applied Physiology, 2006; 100: 1657.
- 6 Metabolism Clinical and Experimental, 2006; 55: 871.