Ever felt like Fiona in Shrek when walking through the streets of Paris? Ever had to mumble in a low voice to the immaculately dressed and perfectly made up assistant if they have the trousers in just a few sizes larger than the 36 which is currently on display? Ever wondered while consuming your irresistibly buttery croissant how the French manage to stay so slim?
Obesity on the rise in France
According to latest figures published by the OECD, obesity rates are rising in France, even though it still has one of the lowest obesity rates in Europe. An interesting study looked at whether French people were genetically simply less at risk of becoming over weight. While there might still be a unique anti-obesity gene for the Parisians (!), outside of Paris people are more “generously” sized. The French have traditionally had a much better comportement to food such as relishing la cuisine, avoiding fizzy drinks, eating their main meal at lunchtime, avoiding snacking… the list is endless, but sadly these traditional values are changing with the consumption of le fast food and lunch on the go.
There does seem to be more social pressure in the French capital to stay in shape, where being overweight is considered to be a manque de control with friends and family being fairly quick to highlight if you have gained weight, and not always in the kindest of ways.
Weight control is complicated
What the research does show is that weight control is complicated, and struggling to lose weight in a highly “obesogenic” environment is not always easy. The mantra “eat less, move more” is, in my opinion, over simplistic and unhelpful.
From a health perspective, being overweight is associated with an increased risk of health issues such as chronic inflammation, joint pain and diabetes type 2.
The most common measurement used to calculate whether a weight is healthy is the Body Mass Index (BMI), which is calculated by dividing the weight in kilograms by the square of the height in meters.
For example, a weight of 60 kg, and a height of 1.65m, gives a BMI of 60/1.65² = 22. The ideal reference range is a BMI between 18.5-25, with a BMI above 25 being considered overweight. This range applies to both women and men.
But you have big bones. This measurement takes into account bone structure, with smaller bone structures at the lower end of the scale and people with larger bone structures at the upper end of the scale.
But you have lots of muscle. Well, muscle weighs the same as fat, a kg is quite simply a kg, but muscle is denser than fat and takes up less volume, which is why when people change their body composition, keeping a stable weight but losing fat and gaining muscle, they can look slimmer.
If you are despairing of ever having a BMI within the reference range, the good news is that the research shows that having a BMI above 25 does not necessarily mean that you are unhealthy.
The risk to your health seems to creep in once your BMI is above 30 and stays above 30 for some time.
A final point to highlight is that the biggest risk for your health is where you store your fat. Fat stored around the abdomen which is known as visceral or “vicious” fat is more dangerous for our health, because it tends to increase the level of inflammation in our bodies.
Confused? Well. You could have a large bone structure, a BMI of 27, with your fat nicely distributed around your body, as opposed to around your stomach, and actually be at least risk of health issues than someone with a smaller bone structure, and a BMI of 23 who is carrying all their fat around their middle.
We are all fabulous and unique
My advice would be to recognize that we are all fabulous and unique individuals who can not necessarily be pigeon-holed into a certain range. Yes, it is important to be healthy, but spending most of your life on a permanent diet and stressing about your weight is not particularly healthy either.
Turn it around.
Find a weight which suits you and then find a way of eating which allows you to maintain this weight. It’s an infinitely more sensible and kinder way to exercise weight control.