Heart-healthy weight: secrets of the always-slim

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

By middle age,  65% of women and 52% of men in Canada are considered overweight. And we know that being overweight has a direct result on our heart health. But an enviable minority stay slim throughout their whole lives. We hate those people . . . 

Are these types just genetically blessed? Or do they, too, have to work at keeping down their weight? To find out, the Consumer Reports National Research Center surveyed over 21,000 subscribers to Consumer Reports about their lifetime weight history and their eating, dieting and exercising habits.

Turns out that people who have never been overweight are not sitting around  in their La-Z-Boys scarfing down gooey Tim Hortons maple dips like I always imagined they could do if they felt like it.  Here’s what Consumer Reports did find out about how their always-slim respondents compared to people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off: 

  • a mere 3% of the always-slim group reported that they never exercised and that they ate whatever they pleased
  • the eating and exercise habits of the vast majority of the always-slim group look surprisingly like those of people who have maintained their weight loss
  • both groups eat healthful foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains and avoid excessive dietary fat
  • both groups practice portion control
  •  both groups exercise vigorously and regularly
  • the only advantage the always-slim have over the successful dieters is that those habits seem to come a bit more naturally to them

Dr. Suzanne Phelan is an assistant professor of kinesiology at California Polytechnic State University and co-investigator of the National Weight Control Registry, which tracks people who have successfully maintained a weight loss over time. She explains:

“When we’ve compared people maintaining a weight loss with controls who’ve always had a normal weight, we’ve found that both groups are working hard at it; the maintainers are just working a little harder.

“For our respondents, that meant exercising a little more and eating with a bit more restraint than an always-slim person, plus using more monitoring strategies such as weighing themselves or keeping a food diary.”

The always-slim, who had never been overweight, comprised 16% of the Consumer Reports  sample. Successful weight losers made up an additional 15%. That group was defined as people who, at the time of the survey, weighed at least 10% less than they did at their heaviest, and had been at that lower weight for at least three years.

Failed dieters (those who said they would like to slim down yet still weighed at or near their lifetime high) made up the largest group: 42%. (The remaining 27% of respondents, such as people who had lost weight more recently, didn’t fit into any of the categories.)

An encouraging note from the survey results:

“More than half of our successful losers reported shedding the weight themselves, without aid of a commercial diet program, a medical treatment, a book or diet pills. That confirms what we found in our last large diet survey, in 2002, in which 83% of superlosers – people who’d lost at least 10% of their starting weight and kept it off for five years or more – had done it entirely on their own.”

Are you overweight?

One commonly-used calculation to tell if you’re overweight (other than observing that none of your clothes fit properly anymore) is called Body Mass Index. A BMI under 25 is considered normal weight; from 25 to 29, overweight; and 30 or above, obese. Here’s how to calculate your BMI.

Although BMI has been considered an accurate indicator of obesity, it doesn’t differentiate between weight gained by pumping iron or weight gained by eating too many Tim Hortons maple dips. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, had a BMI of 33 at the peak of his elite body-building career – a number that would have inappropriately slotted him into the “obese” category.

A few months ago, slightly alarmed at the direction my bathroom scale numbers seemed to be insidiously heading (and with two of my daily meds listing ‘weight gain’ as a common side effect), I made a decision to avoid becoming one of those 65% of Canadian middle-aged women who are overweight. I beefed up my daily exercise regimen, and became far more conscious about what I was eating.

The result:  I’m now down 18 19 21 24 27 pounds so far!  

♥    ♥    ♥

See also:

10 thoughts on “Heart-healthy weight: secrets of the always-slim

  1. Interesting. Thanks for this. It helps to know that only three percent of people who are slim are in the “never think about it” category. 97% of us are in the same boat –whether fat or thin.


    1. Yes you are 100% correct. Getting fit and losing weight is not only possible, but as you point out… anyone with the determination and a good plan will succeed.

      Great post. I will be back and will send my friends to this awesome site as well.


  2. Keep up the good work.

    The thing which worked the best for me for weight loss is high intense cardio like sprints.

    Melts away the fat if you keep at it


  3. Hi Carolyn,
    Please tell me how you do it. I exercise three days a week for at least an hour and a half each day sometimes two hours, and I walk every day. My BMI went from 18 to 21 and I feel really fat because nothing seems to bring it back down. My diet is down to one meal a day and still nothing. 21 seems to be the stable number, But I still like wearing my size 2.


    1. BMI is often out of kilter for fit people because it is a calculation based on a certain percent of body muscle weight. Find a place where you can get a percent body fat test and that will give you a better sense of whether or not you are ‘healthy.’


  4. Hey, congrats on your successful weight loss, Carolyn – 21 lbs? Are you serious? That’s so awesome, considering your meds side effects – just shows that this can be done despite our cardiac meds. You are walking the talk, honey.
    Your ‘heart sister’


    1. I’ve been thin all my life but I still work hard every day at staying FIT. I don’t eat whatever I like – in fact, I’m very careful about the food I choose to put into my mouth, and always have been. My family history is THIN, and many of my relatives are certainly UNfit and out of shape but to the outside world, they look “healthy” which they are believe me – NOT! Thanks so much for this reminder to overweight people that we ALL have to do regular excercise and eat right.


  5. Love your blog! Thanks for this thoughtful post. It helps to put into perspective the simple fact that no matter whether we are naturally slim or not, the human body still needs to be treated with respect and care – and that means at bare minimum two important things: healthy food and regular exercise.


  6. Thanks for these important reminders. I’ve had a hard time maintaining my weight before. And I gained 5 kilos again!


  7. Good Morning, Carolyn, thank you for this. This article was a bit of a surprise to me – to think that the naturally thin people we envy still have to work as hard as the rest of us do to stay that way. I’m going out for a long bike ride now!


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