Fatness & Fitness

I’m doing my intermittent roving of the Internet (okay, checking out of a few select sources) and came across “Getting Fat But Staying Fit?” by Gretchen Reynolds at The New York Times. Basically, it’s a study that measured levels of fat and fit in people over time (which is apparently a novelty in this type of research) to find that people who gain or retain fitness levels — even if they gain or retain body fat — have a lower risk for health problems than people who gain fat while becoming less fit.

I know. This is not surprising. What is surprising — pleasantly so — is the wrap-up quote at the end of the article:

“The message is simple,” Dr. Lee concludes. “So much attention gets focused on weight reduction, but reducing body fat is very difficult for most people. Our study suggests that,” in terms of heart health, “maintaining your fitness over your lifetime is just as important, and for most people is probably more achievable.”

It’s heartbreakingly validating to see a research doctor, let alone in a news article, acknowledge that losing body fat is difficult — maybe to the point of not being very achievable — for many people.

I’m not going to sit here and type that my lifestyle perfectly prioritizes my physical health or that I couldn’t lose weight under any circumstances. However, I do know that I’m making the best of everything available to me to balance my physical, mental, emotional, social, and sexual health — and that focusing on body composition (specifically, losing fat) would hurt rather than help my overall well-being. To put it simply, I’m doing the best with what I’ve got, and worrying about my body fat is both unhealthy and unreasonable for me.

And while I think the advice about maintaining fitness is not an ideal substitute (there are, for example, who have or will develop progressive conditions that affect their abilities to maintain fitness levels), I can at least appreciate that it’s applicable to a much broader segment of the population.

Strength Training During Albany Waterfront Loop Run

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6 comments on “Fatness & Fitness
  1. Caitlin says:

    Thanks for bringing that link to my attention. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how placing emphasis on fat/weight loss as THE benefit of physical activity is ultimately a detrimental thing, precisely because it is so difficult for most people. As a result, people feel like there is no benefit out of physical activity (because they haven’t lost weight) and so they give up, therefore forfeiting the benefits for the heart, mood, brain, etc. The narrow focus on weight causes so many issues and I’m glad serious research is being done that looks at that.

  2. This makes me think of a funny line in “40 Year Old Virgin.” She calls a girl “skinny fat.”
    I remember the days of wanting to get down to the lowest number I could, and if I wasn’t there, it would dictate how I felt for that day. “The number” itself, now meaning nothing to me…
    Thank God we get this! Many don’t.
    The Cockroach

    • Tori says:

      I haven’t seen 40 Year Old Virgin, but Caitlin has a link to a great post about the term “skinnyfat” on her blog. Ultimately, I think that even for people who aren’t focused on losing weight themselves, a lot of people use “skinnyfat” to mean “thin but unfit.” Which is still placing “fat” in as an equal substitute for someone’s level of fitness, which… they’re just two totally different things. :)

  3. Hey, I wrote about this too!

    I did like that they looked at changes over time within the same individual. It avoids the problem of comparing fat people to never-fat people, then basing recommendations to lose weight off of that when formerly-fat people are not the same as never-fat people.

    I think that the quote you posted above highlights how in many cases, the differences of opinion between FA and the medical establishment aren’t disagreements about facts, but disagreements about what conclusions to draw from those facts. Too often, the conclusion will be, “Diets don’t usually work, at least long term, but we don’t have any better ideas, so do it anyway! Your time, happiness, and mental health are not valuable to us, just your physical health! Also, we will ignore the physical health consequences of weight cycling!”

    • Tori says:

      I saw your post too! I appreciated all the analysis (especially, as you can see, when i was lazy enough to base my reaction almost solely to the NYT write up). ;)

  4. Very interesting study! And it’s true, skinny does not always mean healthy! You have to determine the right fitness level for your own body, and that won’t be the same as another person’s.

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