We owe it to our children to keep them from being over-fat. The risk of just about every disease increases in proportion to the extra fat the body has to lug around, especially the big three killers: cancer, heart disease, and stroke. The plain fact is: lean people are healthier and live longer. You will notice that we prefer to use the terms “fat control” and “over-fat” rather than “weight control” or “overweight.” Fat is the real issue. Many healthy, large-boned, muscular people are “overweight” according to charts and scales, yet they are lean. Muscle and bone weigh more than fat, but being overfat is what harms your health. We don’t want you and your family to have the goal of being thin, but rather we want you to be lean.
Scales and charts do not paint a true picture of health, which is why we don’t stress the concept of weight control, especially in growing children who naturally must get heavier. Concerning weight control (oops, fat control), here is the master verse:
Lean is the most important health word you will learn.
“Lean” means having the right percentage of body fat for your individual body type. It is feeling just a pinch of fat under your chin or seeing just a bit of pudginess around your middle. Scales tell you little about your leanness, and you can lower that figure on the scale with a crash diet that causes you to lose water and muscle weight rather than fat. You may weigh less, at least for a while, but you won’t be any leaner.
Lean is not to be confused with being skinny or scrawny, which implies an unattractively low or even unhealthy percentage of body fat due to undernourishment. Nor does lean mean lanky, which describes a person’s bones and muscles, a body build influenced more by genes than diet. Leans means trim, a goal which can be accomplished by anyone, regardless of genetic makeup. (Admittedly, though, some genes make it easier to stay lean than others.)
The five lean factors. Five factors will determine how easy or difficult it is for you to be and stay lean.
- Lean genes. Kids, look at your parents, and parents look at your grandparents. If they are (or at least in their youth were) trim, you’ve got a slimmer chance of ever becoming over-fat. If one or both parents or your grandparents were over-fat you can still be lean, but you’ll have to work harder at it.
- Body build. Some body types stay lean more easily than others. Lean and tall (also known as ectomorph) body types are longer and lighter than the average on the growth chart. Ectomorph babies, children, and adults are recognized (even at birth) by spindly “piano fingers” and long, slender feet. Ectomorphs seem to put more calories into height than weight. Persons with ectomorph body types are hyper-metabolizers; they seem to burn off calories more easily and can better adjust their food intake to their activity level. They eat a lot, yet don’t gain weight, which is likely to make them the envy of their calorie-watching friends. Stocky children and adults (mesomorphs) have average height and weight, and both height and weight are near the same percentile on the growth chart. These square-shaped bodies have a greater tendency toward being over-fat than their rectangular ectomorph friends. Short and wide persons (endomorphs) have the greatest chance of becoming and staying over-fat. Few persons are pure body types; many have a combination of features.
- Metabolism. Some people are born with fast metabolisms. We call them burners. They burn fat easily. Others have slower metabolisms and burn fat slowly. We call them storers. Whether you are a fat-burner or fat-storer is, like body build, an inherited tendency. On occasion I will see two children in the same family, one is trim, the other isn’t, yet both eat similar diets. “No fair” says Susie Overweight, “My sister gobbles banana-splits, yet I’m a size 16 and she’s a size 8.”
- Temperament. Active people with lots of energy burn energy. Couch-sitters store fat. You can spot these tendencies in infancy. A lanky, wiry, very active baby, especially one with active parents, has a slim chance of becoming fat. Mellower, rounder, quieter babies tend to burn fewer calories and are at increased risk of becoming fat.
- Eating habits. Persons who eat nutrient-dense foods in proportion to their individual energy needs are more likely to stay lean. Persons who eat too much of high-fat, empty calories are less likely to be lean. Any fat control program needs to take into consideration not only the quantity, but the quality of the food.The three important facts of fat control are:
- Why you get fat. You eat more calories than you burn.
- How you get lean. You burn more calories than you eat.
- How you stay lean. You program your body toward leaner eating habits and set your metabolism higher to promote fat-burning. You can stay lean by eating differently, exercising more, or a bit of both.
For 90 percent of children and adults, fat control is as simple as these three principles. For around 10 percent of people it’s not that simple because of their metabolic quirks that don’t follow these rules.