The human body comes in all shapes and sizes. Some of us are petite and some of us are built like linebackers or basketball point guards. All of us require food to fuel our body. Some people think humanity comes in a variety of shapes and sizes to ensure that we won’t all be susceptible to the same diseases (this could be infection or famine). I tend to think variety keeps life interesting, helps us have empathy and acceptance, and provides us with the opportunity to learn from the strengths of others. March is national nutrition month, so this week let’s cover an up and coming topic in nutrition: the idea that healthy people can come in all shapes and sizes.
The Healthy at Every Size movement supports the idea that not everyone will be shaped the same and everyone’s nutritional needs are different. The central theme of this movement is that health requires a balance of regular physical activity and appropriate food choices (eating regular meals and snacks with good varieties of foods) but even with the best eating and exercise habits, people will still have bodies that are shaped differently and this is absolutely OK. The goal of living an active lifestyle is not to be skinny, but to ensure good health.
This past summer, I was on maternity leave so had the opportunity to watch the Olympic games. The athletes embodied the idea of ‘healthy at every size.’ The gymnasts were muscular and petite, the swimmers tall, the track and field sprinters had thick muscular thighs, and the heavy weight lifters were solid and more stocky. All were elite athletes and all had completely different body types. The women’s water polo teams were especially unique, with athletes that encompassed a variety of shapes and sizes (including some who would be considered ‘plus size models’ in our typical magazine layouts).
In clinical practice, I treat teens who are underweight, overweight, or have lost weight too quickly or gained weight too rapidly. All can have medical complications. The teens who are healthy are exercising for fun regularly and eating enough to support their body’s energy needs. For teens good health also means having the energy and stamina to participate in the activities they enjoy (like organized sports, going for a hike, or even being able to climb the stairs at school without feeling short of breath). It also includes having a normal blood pressure and heart rate, having normal blood sugar and cholesterol as well as good self esteem and mental health. For females, this includes having regular menstrual periods too.
I personally support the concept that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes. As parents, we should encourage our kids to be active, and at the same time encourage them to eat regular meals and snacks. Limit sugary drinks and eating out to the rare treat and try to consume a variety of foods, including fruits, veggies, proteins, and yes carbohydrates! Try to have meals at home together if possible. Remember that teens aren’t the same as adults and may need to consume more food to support their developing bodies and active lifestyles.
If you’re concerned about your teen’s weight or health, seek advice from a medical provider. They can look at laboratory tests, blood pressure and other signs of health (physical, mental, and emotional). They may refer you and your teen to a nutritionist or other provider for input on how to be as healthy as possible.