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Focus on Fitness, Not Fatness

Critics and experts challenge the goal of thinness as unrealistic and unnecessary; they say fitness is better for health in the long run.

Getting Fit

Just because it's possible to be heavy and fit doesn't mean that gaining body fat is a good thing. It is not.

"To normalize being fat as healthy and appropriate is not the answer to the problem," Valone says. "To move away from obsessing with thinness to normalizing fatness is substituting one problem for another."

But telling everyone who's overweight or obese that they're bad unless they get thin isn't helpful.

"If shaming fat people about their bodies made people thin, there would be no fat people in America," Campos says. "If dieting made people thin, there would be no fat people in America."

Blair says we should face up to the facts.

"After all, we don't have very effective methods for weight loss," he says. "Let's focus on what people can do -- which is eat a healthy diet and improve fitness. If everybody took three 10-minute walks a day, ate better, and consumed no more than moderate amounts of alcohol, they would be healthier whether they lost weight or not."

Haskell stresses a balanced approach.

"Early on, if an individual has a tough time losing weight, I would suggest they not focus on weight loss but focus on 30 to 40 minutes of moderately intense activity on most days," he says. "If they focus on that, they may see some weight or body composition changes. You may not lose a lot of weight, but you may see a smaller belt size. But you have to eat fewer calories, too."

Take, for example, a man who weighs 220 pounds, consumes 3,000 calories a day, and gets no exercise.

"If that person increased his activity with a good walk every day after work and reduced to 2,500 calories intake, he will produce a 1,000-calorie-a-day negative balance -- that is two pounds a week," Haskell calculates. "He won't lose two pounds every week, but if he does it for 10 weeks he will lose 20 pounds. And that is hard to do by just activity or dieting alone. Doing each moderately can have a sustained effect."

And for heaven's sake, Campos says passionately, let us end what he calls our neurotic obsession with weight loss.

"If you got this nation to stop obsessing about weight, stop dieting, stop paying attention to BMI or these ridiculous definitions, people would be healthier, happier, and weigh less," he says. "Stop chasing this thing you are not going to catch. People say, 'If only I could be the same weight I was when I started dieting. People notice that when they diet they gain weight. The cure is right in front of our faces. ... The way to win is to stop fighting."

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