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We’re health experts – here’s what it means to be ‘fit but fat’ and why you could still have hidden health issues

CAN you be fit but fat?

Debate has raged this week after new research found that a quarter of middle-aged British women fall into that category.

Celebrities such as model Ashley Graham are proof you can be fit and curvy

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Celebrities such as model Ashley Graham are proof you can be fit and curvyCredit: Ashley Graham/Instagram
Ashley who struts down the catwalk at the Milan Fashion Show last week

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Ashley who struts down the catwalk at the Milan Fashion Show last weekCredit: Getty

Professor Matthias Bluher, an endocrinologist, shared the findings this week at the Annual Meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.

The researchers set out to examine the concept of ‘metabolically healthy obesity’ — where someone has a high body mass index but without the added health complications of being overweight.

Scientists found large regional differences over levels of MHO, which could be down to different diets or other lifestyle factors as well as ethnic and genetic differences.

And middle-aged British men were less likely to fall into this category, with only eight per cent passing the medical checks that could describe them the same way.

Writing in The Sun yesterday, Piers Morgan insisted: “The notion that you can be fat and fit, or obese and healthy, is a myth.

“A stupid, nonsensical, completely invented idea aggressively and self-servingly promoted by plus-size celebrities such as rapper Lizzo, supermodel Ashley Graham and so-called ‘Body Positive’ influencers like Tess Holliday.”

The trend of body positivity has empowered women everywhere to embrace fuller bodies.

Celebrities such as pop star Lizzo and model Ashley — who strutted down the catwalk at the recent Milan Fashion Show — are seen as proof you can be fit and curvy.

But for those carrying a few extra pounds, how do you know if you are at risk or not?

Sun on Sunday Health asked experts to explain what it means to be “fit but fat” and how to know if you’re healthily — or unhealthily — overweight.

Rob Hobson, consultant nutritionist at Healthspan Elite, said: “This shows us that you can be healthy even if you are bigger.

“‘Fit but fat’ would describe someone whose BMI suggests they are clinically obese.

“But they may have a healthier diet or exercise more so they have good strength, endurance and flexibility, great ­cardio- vascular fitness and all the markers of good metabolic health including normal blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.

Hidden issues

“This places them less at risk of disease than people often presume of those carrying extra weight.”

European scientists behind the study explained that while people considered “fit but fat” were still at higher risk of heart disease than those in the healthy range, other conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, associated with being overweight, were of less concern.

Rob said the “fit but fat” subjects may be more muscular than others classed as obese or have a higher number of fat cells, or larger fat cells, that make them appear bigger — despite living a healthy lifestyle.

The research also found that diet is a big factor.

Sas Parsad, nutritionist and founder of The Gut Co, said: “If you’re a ‘fit but fat’ person who eats a balanced diet and keeps sugar and junk in check, you’re likely in better shape than someone with the same extra pounds chowing down on burgers and fries.

“Diet can make a massive ­difference in whether you are healthy, even if you’re carrying some excess weight.”

But he warned those classed as ‘fit’ could still have hidden health issues.

He explained: “Whether you experience the health downsides of being overweight is a mix of genetics, life-style, gut health and how your body handles all that extra fluff.

“Some lucky folks can have more fat but still keep things in check. Even if you’re ‘fit but fat,’ you can still be at risk of heart ­disease.

“That sneaky internal fat can mess with your cholesterol levels and blood pressure which are big players in heart health.”

Sas added: “In the end, it’s about more than what the scales say. It’s about how you feel and what’s going on inside.

“So, stay active, eat well, and listen to your body — the key is being truly ‘fit and healthy’ instead of just ‘fit but fat.’”

‘A new way to define people like me’

SPORTY Rebs Halliwell-Coutts, 41, believes she is in the fit but fat category.

A BUSINESS analyst from Ascot, Berks, she is 15 stone and is a size 18.

Rebs Halliwell-Coutts is 15 stone and is a size 18, but believes she is in the fat but fit category

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Rebs Halliwell-Coutts is 15 stone and is a size 18, but believes she is in the fat but fit categoryCredit: Supplied

She says: “I’VE always been sporty and curvy. I ride horses almost every day and play competitive polo.

I work out three times a week and use apps to track my weight.
In the winter I ski and go on hikes. I enjoy an outdoorsy lifestyle and love keeping active.

I was always considered the biggest girl at school, and my weight fluctuated in my twenties and thirties.

Sometimes I gained pounds by over indulging but I also added muscle thanks to my exercise regime.

By any measurement, I’m extremely fit but my BMI is calculated at 31.8 – technically making me obese.

I feel I could well be metabolically healthy obese – the definition makes a lot of sense to me.

This term is a new way of defining people like myself, who live active lifestyles and don’t have the illnesses linked to being overweight.

I know that being overweight can increase your chance of getting conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

But I’ve never suffered from any of those. In fact, I rarely get sick7 and always have a lot of energy.”

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