Because it is summer, the media is full of stories about losing weight, "getting in shape for summer," and other such stuff. The same stories keep cycling in over and over again. One that I've seen multiple times from 2008 to now is "can a person be both fit and fat?"
It would be nice to think that as long as you "feel healthy," overweight doesn't matter. Unfortunately, fat does a lot more than make your clothes tight. Fat is metabolically active tissue and changes your body chemistry, including your immune system and your endocrine system, as well as affecting your body mechanics.
The more I read about the science of overweight, the more clear it seems that any significant degree of overweight poses serious long-term health hazards. The most thoroughly-discussed is what's called "metabolic syndrome," a group of borderline disorders including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes). This commonly occurs in people with visceral fat - aka hard belly.
Subcutaneous fat is the jiggly, dimply stuff right under the skin. Visceral fat is fat tissue that grows in the abdomen, around the visceral organs, underneath the superficial abdominal muscles. This is what causes the firm, rounded potbelly type of configuration.
If you have some belly fat that you can actually pinch a roll of, that's subcutaneous fat. If you have a potbelly that is firm or hard, and you are not pregnant, you have visceral fat. Visceral fat, all by itself, changes the way your internal organs work - and not for the better.
Of course, most people with visceral fat also have subcutaneous fat. The combination aggravates the body's inflammatory response and increases the likelihood of autoimmune disorders, including type 2 diabetes. People with significant overweight are more likely to develop asthma, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis, all of which can be characterized as inflammatory disorders, than people of a healthy weight.
As doctors Mehmet Oz and Michael Roizen concluded in 2009, there really isn't such a thing as "fat but fit." If you've been telling yourself everything's fine because all your numbers are in the "normal range," you might want to look at some different numbers.
One number frequently stated is, women should try to keep their waist measurement under 32 inches, and men should try to keep theirs under 35. Here's a reality check on that. I am five feet and just-under-six-inches tall. I wear a size 8 and my optimal waist measurement is 28 inches. Being a muscular woman, I weigh about 135. (If I had the same measurements but less muscle, I'd probably weigh about ten pounds less.)
If my waist measurement were 32 inches, I would have to wear a size 12, and I'd weigh at least 150. All of the difference would be fat. I would have to be six feet tall for a waist measurement of 32 inches to be proportionate and healthy.
Maybe a better guesstimation is the suggestion that one's waist measurement should be no larger than one's inseam. My inseam is 31. But what about the normally-proportioned woman who happens to be only five foot two? Her inseam might be 26 or 27 inches. A long-bodied woman of that height? Her inseam might be 24, or less.
And actually, that makes the inseam not a bad guideline. A woman who keeps her waist measurement less than her inseam could be fairly confident she is not carrying too much fat. And by "too much" I mean "an unhealthy amount."
NBC's "The Biggest Loser" and other shows, up to and including "Dance Your Ass Off," are doing their bit to tell people what a difference overweight makes when it comes to health and fitness - how those extra pounds don't just change the way you look, or how you feel: they can kill you. The doctors come right out and say it; some of the contestants admit that's the only reason they're finally motivated to do what it takes to lose the weight.
Losing just 10% of body weight can, in many cases, reverse Type II diabetes - and also can put PCOS into remission, reduce inflammatory disorders, reduce blood pressure, improve sleep, and consequently greatly improve health.
It's easier to keep it off than to lose it. But if you've already got it, don't just choose to look at the numbers that make you feel better about it.