Slimmer Doesn’t Always Mean Fitter

I was kind of a skinny kid. All my jeans had “slim” on the label. I wasn’t scrawny, but let’s just say that had I worn the “husky” size, I would’ve been a pioneer in the now familiar trend of wearing trousers that fall well below the waistline.

I was a natural on the soccer field, too. Because soccer involves a lot of running followed by additional running, I was able to burn a lot of calories. And that was a good thing, because as I grew into the quasi independence of high school and college, I didn’t always eat healthy meals. Left to my own devices, a burger, fries and Coke was typical.

My metabolism ran high—or at least I thought it did. Even into my 30s, I seemed to be able to eat anything and not put on weight or suffer any health problems. Now more than 10 years later I know better.

Dr. John Joseph II, a Family Physician at Scott & White whose favorite subjects of primary care include fitness, nutrition and preventive medicine, explains it this way: “Slim individuals can be lured into a false sense of security. If the individual has a high metabolism, he may think that foods high in fat and cholesterol will not cause him any harm. But that’s not the case; even slim individuals can have high cholesterol if their diet is rich in saturated fats. And high cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.”

Flashback to Fast Food Nation

I was indoctrinated into the Fast Food Nation at a young age. My second grade teacher rounded up the class one day for a “field trip” to [insert the name of an internationally recognized fast food chain here]. When we arrived in our big orange school bus, we were ushered inside and down a flight of stairs into a large, brightly decorated meeting room below the restaurant—already an intriguing twist to a 7-year-old boy expecting to stay topside.

The host of the event invited us to take a seat around a series of rectangular tables. The tables were pushed together one after the other and covered with several white table clothes. This created the illusion of sitting at one very large, very important table.

The host and his happy helpers treated us like little kings and queens, serving not only free food and drink, but also plenty of branded hats, toys and trinkets. And for our entertainment, a movie was shown on a portable screen at the head of the table. Are you shocked to learn that the movie featured the restaurant’s “spokescharacter” in an imaginary town filled with colorfully imaginary characters all caught up in a mystery only a second grader could appreciate?

Sorry, rhetorical question.

As the light of the projector travelled across the table tops and onto the screen, nothing less than euphoria washed over my brain. With the delicious food now digesting its way into my bloodstream, I subconsciously surrendered my palate to the brand. To this day, its familiar signage causes a Pavlovian response to steer my SUV through its entrance.

High Cholesterol in Cubicle Land

As my years of working behind a computer increased, my metabolism seemed to proportionately decrease. So did my athletic endeavors. I traded running around a soccer field for less vigorous outings on the golf course. And to make matters worse, I continued my eating habits of old. And not just fast food. I used to be able to munch down a sleeve of crackers and burn it off just breathing. Twenty-five pounds later: “goodbye high metabolism, hello jelly belly.”

Hello high cholesterol, too.

My last physical exam and blood screening woke me up. My total blood cholesterol level had reached 225 — not horrible, but it did put me on the borderline for high risk of heart disease. Less than 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter of blood) is desirable.

My doctor explained that while genetics can have an impact, changes in my diet and exercise routines were in order. I haven’t sworn off fast food. There are healthier fast food options out there and resources like Eat This, Not That! are making it easier to choose. However, I’ve made fast food much less of a habit and am more aware of eating a heart-healthy diet and exercising regularly. I’ve lost 15 pounds and expect to see a similar drop in my cholesterol after my next annual physical and blood screening.

Lessons Learned

Individuals who develop the right eating habits and engage in regular physical activity early on in life have a greater chance of continuing to live a healthy lifestyle. “A healthy lifestyle, which includes eating foods low in fat and high in carbohydrates and protein, exercising regularly, and avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol, must become a way of life, not a fad,” explains Dr. Joseph.

If you haven’t had a routine physical and blood work done in the last year, schedule an appointment with your family doctor. Discuss your personal and family medical history, your diet and exercise routine, and ask for the doctor’s recommendations.

Even if you feel fine now, a different story could be writing itself on your artery walls.

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Slimmer Doesn’t Always Mean Fitter