The Obesity Paradox and a gift guide!
Unrelated, but read on
Hello and happy December! I hope you had a great time last week with loved ones or by yourself binge watching Succession (we’ve all been there). I was glad to see a lot of the messaging from the health community move away from “how not to overeat” during the holidays to “just enjoy yourself”— a far cry from diet culture in the 90’s and early 2000s, as any millennial woman could tell you. After all, Thanksgiving is just one day and no one eats the most nutritious and “healthy” foods 100% of the time. Here was the vegan feast my sisters and I cooked up (Instagram saw it first):
Especially around the holidays, I always hear people complain that their friends can stay naturally thin while they always watch what they eat, lest they gain some weight. We all know people who live off fast food but stay lean. Maybe you’re one of them. I used to think about this a lot, as someone who was overweight for most of her life and tried just about every fad diet to lose weight. When I started studying nutrition, though, I shifted thinking about weight from an aesthetic perspective to a health perspective. Health is obviously more important than what society tells us is the ideal female body type at any given moment.
Low body fat is a trait of a healthy body. Does that mean that all people who maintain a low weight— even while downing cheeseburgers and soda— are healthy? As you probably guessed, no. Being thin does not necessarily equate to being healthy. Unfortunately, as visual creatures, we’re informed by outside appearances, and we can’t see health degeneration happening internally.
The Obesity Paradox
Carl Lavie, a cardiologist, was one of the first researchers to notice that among patients with cardiovascular disease, overweight patients usually had a better prognosis than patients who were not overweight. Since then, more studies, including ones on cancer, pneumonia, stroke, and hypertension, have come out in support of this conundrum, coined the obesity paradox; for certain chronic diseases, overweight patients fare better and live longer than other patients who are not overweight. A bit different from what we’ve been taught, right?
Katherine Flegal, an epidemiologist at the CDC, conducted a meta-analysis of studies including almost 3 million people. She found lower mortality rates were associated with those who were overweight or mildly obese. Of course, it’s important to note that being in the categories of overweight or mildly obese will increase chances of developing a chronic disease in the first place. Flegal’s research, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was controversial, as its findings don’t necessarily support the current narrative of thin = healthy.
We might not know as much about the relationship between disease and body weight as we previously thought.
Scientists don’t exactly understand why the obesity paradox exists. At the 2015 Dunham Lectures at Harvard Medical School, physician Stephen O’Rahilly offered the explanation of fat cells protecting the internal organs. He said that excess energy being stored in fat cells prevents it from being excreted internally to the liver and skeletal muscles, leading to the health issues. As O’Rahilly says, our fat cells might be our best friends!
Despite not knowing the mechanism behind the obesity paradox, the important concept to understand is that a person’s body type doesn’t necessarily give a good indication of their cellular health. Lavie concludes that being fit but overweight is probably better for health than just not being overweight. While exercise is important, the food we eat is ultimately the largest determinant of health. I’d like to see more research on what foods the patients in the studies were eating, especially those who were not overweight. Chances are it was probably cheeseburgers and soda.
Holiday Gift Guide
Give the gift of health this year! Here are some of my favorites to gift:
Seed Probiotics - Show someone you love their guts. Probiotics help balance our gut microbiome, which has cascading benefits for skin, digestion, and overall health. I like probiotics that don’t need to be refrigerated, like Seed, because it shows how strong and potent they are. Plus, you can get a subscription, so no forgetting to take your probis!
Juicer - Obviously. If you really want to help someone up their health game, get them a juicer! Juicing fruits and vegetables is a great way to get an abundance of nutrients and enzymes in. Brands I like are Breville and Omega.
Vitamix Blender - A strong, sexy blender makes you feel like a boss in the kitchen. Vitamix is hands down my favorite brand — their blenders are super powerful and resilient. While a Vitamix is definitely worth the investment, the refurbished ones are also a great and more affordable option.
Yoga mat - Start your yoga practice. Just start. Yoga mat brands I love are Alo, Liforme, and Manduka.
Amina Taha Method App subscription - Amina Taha, a NYC based yoga practitioner and teacher, released a yoga app containing videos covering flexibility, strength, inversions, and mindfulness. I tried a lot of video workout classes during quarantine, and this one definitely takes the cake! Amina is thorough and teaches effective techniques to help you improve no matter your starting level.
Higher Dose Infrared Sauna Blanket - This is definitely a big ticket item, but if you feel so inclined, an infrared sauna is AMAZING. I personally have a full size sauna in my apartment, but I’ve heard great things about this portable (and more affordable) infrared sauna blanket from Higher Dose. I like that it only has far infrared rays, instead of full spectrum, which hasn’t been researched as thoroughly.
Tongue scraper - This is a great stocking stuffer! Once you use a tongue scraper you’ll never go back. Tongue scrapers come from Ayurvedic tradition stemming thousands of years. You use one in the morning to scrape off the white coating on your tongue, which is comprised of dead cells, bacteria, and debris that your body has detoxed overnight (gross).
Food - For the foodie in your life.
The BAAL Project Olive Oil - Sustainable, small-batch, and delicious cold-pressed olive oil straight from the founders’ family farm in Lebanon. BAAL is small and Lebanese-owned, so it’s high quality and legit.
Artisana Nut Butters - I’m a huge proponent of eating raw nut butters instead of roasted ones. Roasted nuts may contain free radicals which can cause cancer. Artisana is my go-to brand because they use high quality ingredients and can be found at Whole Foods! I love their raw cashew nut butter.
Golde Superfood Blends - The yummiest powdered latte blends and supplements! I personally love the Original Turmeric Latte Blend and the Shroom Shield. Golde is also Black-owned!
Fine and Raw Chocolate Hazelnut Butter - Nutella, but better— hear me out. This chocolate hazelnut better actually tastes better than Nutella (confirmed by my non-vegan friends) and doesn’t contain any weird ingredients or refined sugar. Win-win.
Bonberi Mart gift card - If you live in NYC, a gift card to one of my all time faves— Bonberi Mart— is a must! Bonberi Mart has healthy and extremely delicious to-go salads and sides, vegan snacks, and properly vetted non-toxic beauty and household products.
Berkey water filter - My favorite water filter. It’s no wonder why the Berkey has a cult following. This water filter was designed for swamp water, so it’s heavy duty, and its filters only need to be replaced once every five years. Before you ask, yes, tap water is unhealthy. Yes, even in New York City.
A call with me *shameless plug* - If you or someone you know is ready to start their health journey, we can set up a one-off call, and I can answer any questions! A packaged program is also available. In my humble opinion, this is the best way to start working towards your health goals ahead of the new year! Send me an email at email@example.com to get things going.
I’m thinking of starting a community Q&A for the last section of this newsletter. So, reply to this newsletter with any questions you have or topics you want discussed!