The annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition hit newsstands with the usual fanfare, with headlines highlighting its first-ever “plus size” model. At six-foot-two and size 12, Robyn Lawley looks healthy, curvy… and a lot like the women typically featured in SI.

Lawley doesn’t eagerly adopt the plus size label, the media certainly does—reminding all of us that size 12 is big, though the average American woman wears at least that. We know that labels and magazine covers are hardly a healthy way to gauge our own health and weight, but sometimes it’s hard to know where else to look.

Trainers tell us not to worry about the number on the scale, since muscle weighs more than fat. News reports cast doubt on the body mass index (BMI) as a measure. Clothing sizes are “just a number,” varying from brand to brand and fluctuating over time. Plus, our bodies naturally change and look different as we grow, give birth, and age. So what do we do? Try to pinch an inch? Scrutinize our cellulite? Ignore the 15 pounds that have crept up on us over the past couple years?

Carrying too much weight, as study after study shows, can contribute to a range of illnesses and even lead to early death. However, too often our attempts at living a healthy lifestyle go overboard, leading us to police what we eat and criticize our bodies. As a family physician, recognizing the reasons for weight gain and effective interventions for weight loss are crucial for how I treat my patients—especially as the number of overweight and obese Americans continues to grow.

As a Christian and someone who has been overweight since my childbearing years, I confront many of the same questions my patients do as ...

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