As a culture, we fall into a pattern of focusing on the dangers of being overweight. Supplement companies and exercise brands play on heartstrings as they dangle images of lean, fit individuals in trendy fitness apparel racing down the street or pleasantly sipping a shake. Many people (women AND men) quest after that “fit” look and think the skinnier, the better. But this is a delusion. There are some major pitfalls of being really skinny, both for people who have achieved this through diet and exercise and for people who are naturally slender.
When a woman’s BMI is less than 18.5 she is at a heightened risk for numerous ailments and chronic conditions…we’re even talking death. Skinny isn’t always healthy! So think again the next time you’re feeling envy monsters growling and baring their teeth inside you when your super skinny friend constantly eats junk food or skips the gym “without consequence.” I’m telling you, there’s more to the story underneath. It will eventually show up.
Oh – another kind-of-crazy note is that those friends of yours who can eat a ton and never exercise (while staying rail thin) might have a genetic deviation from the general population that makes it harder for them to absorb nutrients. In other words, they’re eating a ton and their body isn’t gleaning the stuff it needs from all that food, putting them in a position of greater susceptibility to internal health problems. Suddenly, those friends aren’t as enviable. Am I right?
Here are the top (very serious) risks of being too thin:
Low-calorie diets are associated with bone loss because of a lack of nutrients to support estrogen. When estrogen takes a major dive, bones can become brittle and experience density loss. Also, if someone is on a low-calorie diet because of the desire to be skinny then they’re less likely to be incorporating healthy weight training out of the misplaced fear of being “bulky.” Weight training can help prevent some bone less plus it won’t make women bulky.
Women at a low BMI are more prone to amenorrhea or irregular cycles which means they’re either not ovulating regularly or may have trouble with their uterine lining. Additionally, they may be more likely to experience miscarriage. Science Daily says, “Women who have a low body mass index before they become pregnant are 72 percent more likely to suffer a miscarriage in the first three months of pregnancy, but can reduce their risk significantly by taking supplements and eating fresh fruit and vegetables.”
This is pretty upsetting stuff. As a woman who has one child and in the process of trying for a second has suffered a miscarriage, I wouldn’t wish this loss on anyone. It’s extremely devastating even though the vast majority of cases of early pregnancy loss are for reasons that can’t be identified. One doctor explains, “The majority of the time miscarriage is a random, isolated event and we can’t pinpoint a cause.” That said, if you know that you have a risk factor while TTC (including low BMI, an immunologic disorder, uterine or cervix abnormalities, current smoker and/or PCOS, to name a few), it’s worth speaking to a health professional about how you can help your body and reduce your risks.
If you think fertility at a low BMI is only a female challenge then you’re mistaken – men with low BMIs are 22x more likely to have a sexual dysfuntion than their healthy-weight peers. Eeerr…you can read here about more of those details.
When someone isn’t consuming enough nutrients they become more susceptible to anemia, a condition of red blood cell and/or hemoglobin deficiency. When the red blood cells don’t have enough iron, B-12 and folate to do their thing (i.e., support oxygen transport throughout the body and carbon dioxide transport to the lungs), a person’s entire body suffers. For obvious reasons. Anemia is marked by low energy and fatigue and routinely goes hand in hand with amenhorrea. Making sure your body is getting REAL nutrition is key no matter what weight you are.
Lowered Immune System
A lack of nutrients due to low-calorie diets and/or inadequate absorption means that a person is more likely to become immune compromised. A steady, strong supply of nutrients helps support gut health and immune function. People with lowered immune systems are more likely to contract seasonal viruses and bacteria and may also be at a heightened risk for serious illnesses such as cancer.
NOTE: People can also overeat but still have poor nutrient density in their diets – so lowered immune function isn’t just a consequence for people who are too skinny. This applies to everyone making poor dietary choices. Our bodies need fresh, nutritious, quality foods to thrive!
Heart Disease & Diabetes
Kind of surprising that the risk for heart disease and diabetes is high for really skinny people in addition to obese individuals, right? The tricky thing about being thin is that it can give people a false sense of confidence in their health, especially in cases where they’re not taking care of themselves through a healthy lifestyle. Some skinny people may assume they’re healthy thanks to their weight and continue to eat unhealthy foods, skip medical checkups and opt out of the gym. All of this can make for a silent, raging storm under the surface.
Also, there’s a genetic variant that causes some lean people to store more fat directly around their organs, giving them the appearance of being healthy while hiding their heightened risk for heart and organ issues:
“A new study hints that being lean doesn’t get you entirely off the health hook either. In a genetic analysis involving more than 75,000 people, an international group of scientists led by Ruth Loos at the Medical Research Council in the U.K. found that lean people with a specific genetic variant were at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease despite their lower body fat.”
As you can see, being too skinny can carry some risks with it. What’s important is that we’re tuned into our internal health instead of relying on our external health as the only indicator of what’s going on in our bodies. Our weight is only a piece of the puzzle. Only a fraction of what makes us truly healthy.
Yours in health and wellness,