That Fit and Fat Thing

Surprisingly often, people incorrectly assume (often out loud or in comments)  that I “can’t climb a flight of stairs without being winded” because I’m fat. But, in the same breath, say that the only reason that I can leg press 1,000 pounds or do a standing heel stretch is because I’m fat. Huh?

Of course, this doesn’t make any sense – my strength, stamina and flexibility are the result of a combination of my genetics; my access to movement options, information and professional assistance; and my extremely hard work on strength, stamina and flexibility.

These statements are typically made by people being idiots and trying to diminish my accomplishments so that they can hold onto their stereotypes and sense of superiority at all costs.  I don’t care so much about it when comes at me but I do worry that other people, who may have not had the opportunities to understand health that I have, will believe the oft-repeated  false assertion that the only way to gain strength, stamina and flexibility is to lose weight.

We talk a lot on this blog about how intentional weight loss fails 95% of the time.  Today I want to talk about the areas where movement succeeds:

“Groundbreaking work on fitness and weight has been done by [epidemiologist Steven] Blair and colleagues at the Cooper Institute. They have shown that the advantages of being fit are striking and that people can be fit even if they are fat … and thus have lowered risk of disease. A remarkable finding is that heavy people who are fit have lower risk than thin people who are unfit.”
-Dr. Kelly Brownell, Director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, 2003

“We’ve studied this from many perspectives in women and in men and we get the same answer: It’s not the obesity—it’s the fitness.”
-Steven Blair, P.E.D., Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, 2004

“Active obese individuals actually have lower morbidity and mortality than normal weight individuals who are sedentary … the health risks of obesity are largely controlled if a person is physically active and physically fit.”
-The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, 2000

“This prospective follow-up study among middle-aged and elderly men and women indicates that obesity (as assessed by increased BMI) is not related to an increased risk of all-cause and CVD mortality, but low-level LTPA [leisure time physical activity] and a low level of perceived physical fitness and functional capability are … In conclusion, in contrast with our initial hypothesis, obesity was not found to be an independent predictor of mortality among middle-aged and elderly men and women. However, low-level LTPA seemed to predict and a low level of perceived physical fitness and functional capability predicted an increased risk of all-cause and CVD mortality among both men and women.”
-International Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorders, 2000

See the rest of this list of quotes here. (Warning, the list of quotes is good but this site may be triggering for some).

Why do we not hear about the vast benefits of exercise?  Maybe because it’s not proven to lead to weight loss.   In fact, while the diet industry spends billions of dollars on marketing and funding “scientific” studies to mislead the public into believing that its solution works, there’s nobody pouring billions of dollars into the message that movement is likely to make you healthier even though it probably won’t make you thinner.

When studies came out saying that exercise did not lead to weight loss, a litany of “news” sources published reports that overlooked the benefits of exercise entirely and told people that they might be better off NOT exercising since it didn’t help lose weight.  What with the who now?  The most egregious to me was  a Time Magazine article which lost any modicum of credibility as far as I’m concerned by writing: “after you work out hard enough to convert, say, 10 lb. of fat to muscle — a major achievement…”  A major achievement indeed since it’s physically frickin impossible.   I get that this is stated a lot and that many people believe it, but how does someone who wants us to trust him as a reporter make this mistake?

The ways in which this article gets science wrong are so numerous that they would require an entire blog post so I’ll just leave it for now with the thought that the reports all mention that study participants didn’t lose weight, but they fail to discuss what health benefits participants may have received.  Based on all the research available, we would expect to see improvements in one or more of the following:  blood glucose, blood pressure, triglycerides, insulin use by the body, cholesterol , strength, stamina, flexibility, and self-esteem. But I mean, if it’s not going to make my body smaller then why would I do it?  (sarcasm meter is a 10 out of 10 here)

Back to the point of my first paragraph.  Plenty of people who develop heroin habits lose weight but they don’t experience increases in their strength, stamina or flexibility as a result. I am ginormous but I have the strength, stamina and flexibility of a professional athlete.   I think that if you want to be healthier, it couldn’t hurt and might help to find some form of movement that you enjoy and do a little more of that than you are currently doing.  Garden, dance around your living room, take a walk, whatever. If you are going to work with a fitness professional, I highly recommend finding one who works from a Health at Every Size approach and who is not grossly incompetent.

Listen to your body.  If you are somebody who thinks of you and your body as two separate things,  then  consider the radical idea that your body is a friend and supporter rather than a limitation to be overcome through mental toughness.  Celebrate EVERY victory – did you switch from 10 to 12.5 pound weights? Were you able to lift your grand kid for the first time?  Booty shaking happy dance time!

If you’re struggling with this, or even just with the word exercise which, because of the way it’s used in our society can be really  triggering, you might check out this post for more specifics.

And finally, just to make sure that we understand each other: I am not trying to tell anyone how to live or what they “should” do.  My goal is, as always, to provide options and information while being very clear that:
  • Health and fitness are multi-dimensional and include things that are in our control and things that are out of our control
  • Health and fitness are not moral or social obligations
  • Your mileage may vary – bodies are different so what works for me, or anyone else, may not work for you
  • Everyone deserves to be treated with respect
Published in: on July 11, 2011 at 8:44 am  Comments (28)  

28 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks to you yet again Ragen.

  2. Typo alert: “heroine habits” where I think you meant “heroin”.

    I only bring it up because I think the phrase “heroine habits” is kind of awesome and that’s going to be the name of my imaginary future HAES self-help book.

    • Thank you! It’s been corrected but this may be my favorite typo ever in this blog :)

      ~Ragen

  3. Yes yes yes! And quadruple “yes” to your blog post about exorcising exercise, which I hadn’t read before.

    One of the things that most interests me about reading how other folks incorporate HAES into their lives is that we all seem to have slightly different stumbling blocks. As someone who has yo-yo dieted, binged, and restricted practically my whole life, I surprised myself by “getting” the eating thing way before I “got” the movement thing.

    Some of the things I’ve figured out that work for me are:

    1. Really thinking about what I’m doing to move my body, how much I’m enjoying it, and how it makes me feel. Otherwise, I find myself turning into an exercise robot, parroting the benefits of whatever I’m doing because I think I should. (I’ve been sitting here for a few minutes trying to figure out how to say that; hopefully I got the point across somewhat.)

    2. Not going to the gym. I sort of hope I get over this eventually, but for now gyms are too triggering for me. It makes movement feel like work.

    3. Along the same lines, I avoid any exercise-related activity that requires a monthly membership. I just tried subscribing to a yoga studio for a month, and the pressure of trying to go to as many classes as I could to “get my money’s worth” didn’t feel good to me.

    4. Not pushing myself. This is a tough one, because I was a competitive athlete throughout my childhood and I took dance in college. I have this idea that if my muscles aren’t screaming, I’m doing something wrong. But I know myself well enough to realize that making myself miserable is not going to motivate me to continue.

    5. The journey is the destination. Enjoy it.

    6. Specific activities I enjoy are: dancing (especially when my girlfriends and I put some tunes on the jukebox at my favorite dive bar), yoga, walking my dogs, splashing around in the pool, playing with my friends’ kids. I can’t say I really ENJOY housecleaning, but I appreciate how physical it can be and I appreciate how well my body can do it.

    Sorry this is so long! But this whole issue is something I’ve been thinking about a ton of late.

    • Brilliant comment! I absolutely agree with everything that you said (including and especially the housecleaning bit) and congratulations on doing the hard work to get to where you are!

      Thanks!

      ~Ragen

  4. “In fact, while the diet industry spends billions of dollars on marketing and funding “scientific” studies to mislead the public into believing that its solution works, there’s nobody pouring billions of dollars into the message that movement is likely to make you healthier even though it probably won’t make you thinner.”

    THIS.

    It’s amazing how much money is spent on such silly studies. The First Lady had every opportunity to fund healthy children, and instead chose to fund the impossible goal of smaller bodies. Nevermind that children are still growing. My brother was shorter than me and chubby until age 17. Now he’s 9 inches taller than me. Lucky for him my parents were too worried about MY weight to attempt to make him diet (even though HE’S the one with high blood pressure and bat cholesteral — genetic). Would he have ended up so tall and a star baseball player if my parents had restricted his diet? OK yes I’m a little bitter that my parents put me on a diet at age 5 and ignored him. Because little girls are suppose to be slim, and while I was fat, he was a bruiser or solid, or other masculine euphamisms for chubby.

    I LOVE your comment about small victories. I herniated a disc right around my CT junction in March and I’m just now finishing physical therapy. I was discouraged for a while because I had been getting into really good shape when I injured myself. I was getting toned, too (not losing weight, or maybe, I don’t know I don’t weigh myself, but I do like to look toned and strong). It took me a while to realize that I needed to cut my body some slack — thereby cutting myself some slack — and focus on recovery. I’m so exicted to finish physical therapy, not just because it means I’ve recovered, but because I’ve achieved so much since I started in April. I’m coming out with a stronger back, better posture, and a greater awareness of what I can and can’t do in the gym. I may be limited, but it means that I can avoid injury in the future. And doesn’t that say quite a bit about my level of fitness if I can prevent injuries while still enjoying rigorous exercise? Fat and all!

    • That’s “bad cholesterol”, not bat. Hehe…

      And let me clarify… RE looking “toned and strong”. I shouldn’t have said “and strong”. You can’t tell strength by looks alone! I just prefer to look toned. Just my preference, and it happens easily because my testosterone levels are slightly elevated and I build muscle really quickly.

  5. “But I mean, if it’s not going to make my body smaller then why would I do it? (sarcasm meter is a 10 out of 10 here)”

    So how many times has this idea stopped me (and others I’m sure) from giving something a try? Way too many.

    Actually I spent many years talking the good talk (talk you would like) but rarely walking the walk. You know what changed? I bought a pedometer. Seems silly that a small computer chipped device would be the key. But what I needed was a physical reminder that is was okay to move. Somewhere in the warped marketing I felt unworthy of moving my body because I wasn’t fit enough…how could I be at my size and/or shape ;).

    Now I move more and worry less. My size and shape are mine and I am damn comfortable with them…and I will be no matter how large or small I get because I feel good! And more importantly, I am actually fit!

  6. You are awesome.

  7. I frequently have to have a good laugh at people who claim that obese people can’t climb a flight of stairs without becoming winded… see, my husband and I live near Seven Falls in Colorado Springs (http://www.sevenfalls.com/home/index.cfm) — you can see how many stairs are required to get to the top of the falls in their header graphic there. The grand total is 224 steps to get to the trail heads at the top of the falls.

    I am 260lbs at just a quarter inch short of 6′. My husband is 180lbs at 5’11″ give or take 5lbs for both of us. So I am “morbidly obese” and he is just barely overweight (like… 25.1 or something like that).

    Going up those steps? He gets absolutely just as winded as I do.

    When we’ve been to Seven Falls, or a lot of the other hiking options around here, every single time we’ve seen people at the bottom of the steps bragging to all and sundry about how they’re in great shape so this is going to be a piece of cake. More than once my fat out of shape ass has passed them after they give up halfway. It isn’t always about weight — there are thin people who are more out of shape than they think.

    Not to mention the assumption that since I carry 260lbs around all day, naturally I’m going to get tired quicker from all the extra work. Never seems to occur to a lot of people that *I carry around 260lbs every day*. My leg muscles are USED to it, there is a reason my calves are so big around and when tensed could probably drive nails (ok not literally heh) — they get all that exercise carrying me around all the time, so naturally they’re going to be pretty big — muscle takes up space too you know.

  8. I like exercise. I do some form of it 6 days a week, for about 40 to 80 minutes, depending on the exercise and how much time I have. I just had my regular lab work done (I’ve got endocrine issues, genetic and autoimmune). My cholesterol, triglycerides, electrolytes, etc. all perfect. My blood pressure was 115/65.

    I’ve been to the cardiologist because I’m having some fatigue and shortness of breath and I was worried it had to do with my low resting pulse rate of about 53 (normal is 60-100). EKG perfect, echocardiogram perfect. The nice doctor says my resting heart rate is so low because I work out so much–it’s an athlete’s heart rate.

    The fatigue and shortness of breath may be a pulmonary issue; got to follow up with that doctor because my heart’s faaaaaabulous. Can’t be fit because you’re fat? Oh, hell no.

  9. Another great post!

    It seemed particularly pointed when I read another article this morning about a reality-show star who lost 115 lbs in a year with a lap band and a diet made up almost entirely of protein shakes. He sounded really excited about his ability to be more active (and he now exercises daily), but I wonder if he wouldn’t have felt as great by starting with movement and a healthy diet instead of having major surgery and living on nutritionally unsustainable, hyper-processed glop. Considering the likelihood that the weight will come back, I sure hope that if it does he keeps exercising and develops eating habits that give him pleasure and health.

  10. Ragan,

    Once again, I’m so darn grateful for your eloquence. And, as is generally the case, for the eloquence of the other posters. It’s like getting a two-for-one dose of body-positive goodness. I love it!

  11. Thank you so much for this!
    I am a Full Figured Belly Dancer and recently I shot a little impromptu video of me dancing in full costume in the park. Well for SOME reason some idiot trolls decided to attack that particular video (even though the other 4 were fine) saying I should kill myself and that they couldn’t stand to watch me for a second etc. This obviously hurt me, but over the years I have gotten quite a think skin, I fixed the problems monitor the comments (deleted the rude ones) etc. What REALLY got me was what people were say FOR my argument was almost worse!
    Like how “Sturdy I must be” or that “we know it;s not your fault you got that way, they are just jerks because they don’t understand YOU” No my friend YOU don;t understand me. I danced in a park where a block party was going on in what amounts to a bra and a skirt. it’s in Florida so about a billion degrees outside, and I did great. it is my favorite performance to date. You can be heavy and strong and healthy and beautiful and you can be think and weak and unhealthy. I love so much of what you say and I thank you as this particular topic hits close to home for me this time around.
    Here is the Video in case you would like to see. For as I said. I am proud of it. After 11 years of Belly dancing and training and practicing. I think I should be :)
    http://www.youtube.com/user/ravenxxx13?feature=mhee#p/a/u/0/RLwzBC6G0WY

    • That was some amazing stuff! Belly dancing totally wows me.

      • Aww thank you!
        As I said I have been doing it for 11 years, and the reason I started (back when I was 15) was that I was taking medication that was making me gain weight. But I am one of those lovely women who is just full figured to begin with. I think my optimum weight would be like 170-180? if I went any smaller I would not look right. I have WIDE hips and broad shoulders as well as an ample bust (despite having a breast reduction when I was 18) SO when I discovered Belly dance, it helped me learn to love my body for the way it is. It was hard being curvier younger AND having a large chest, so Belly dancing (and the WONDERFUL first teacher I had, though she was a VERY slim woman) showed me the joys of a dance that takes a LOT of strength and stamina and that strength has stayed with me. I had Brain surgery (2 of them) back in October and at my 6 month mark I started dancing again and it was like I never stopped. So there is another good piece of proof that not only am I full figured, but I was also strong enough after being in BED for 6 months to get up and dance just as hard and strong and gracefully as someone half my size. If you have never tried it, I would GREATLY advise doing so. It can do SO much for a person. Mentally, physically and emotionally. It was a life saver for me and no matter what no matter how many names I got called or that the studio I am part of won’t hire me out because of my size, I will still dance, and I will love myself while I do it :)

    • Wow I want to do that! I wish I had your confidence. I’m working on accepting my body and enjoying dancing. My belly is a tough place because I’ve experienced trauma there and it’s where we hold all our emotions. I have stretch marks on my tummy that I am really self conscious about – I don’t think I’d even mind that I have a big belly if it didn’t have the stretch marks on it. No matter what size I am or will be, I’ll always have hips and I love to shake them. Now I need to build my core, stamina, and confidence…

      • I understand about the stretchmarks, I actually have them as well. And have most of the time I have been dancing because the medications I was yo-yo ing back ind forth. I guarantee when you take that FIRST class you will not feel so bad. And with each time you dance and learn more, you will find you can roll up your shirt and expose your stomach and see that you won’t burst into flames, or get laughed at. That you will be JUST as strong and beautiful as anyone else.
        I have heard women before who want to start dancing and join a gym so that their stomachs can be flat to learn to belly dance. SO they are getting fit, in order to dance a dance where fitness isn’t really an issue. ALL dance teachers promote the dance NOT the figure. And encourage women of ANY shape and size to come and learn. Just something to consider. If you were near my area I could refer you to some studios around here. Either way I know about a couple of places around the US so if you are ever interested or ready to stark drop me a line, and I can maybe point you to a good place

  12. I hope this is not a triggiering comment in regards to working out. Regan, you mention how being physical, moving ones body, is a good thing. I did join a gym – I joined ” Curves” (last year). it is a strength resistance/aerobics program of 30 mins. I find it to be a great program mainly because the women who go to this gym look like me. Middle aged – and wanting to get fit and move. It is not an itimidating place and very welcoming of every body size. I’ve never been judged at this place and am only encouraged. it has helped me get my blood pressure under control.

  13. Hi, Ragen!
    I’m a relatively new reader, and i wanted to ask a question. How can I approach a doctor to get a full health check-up? I’m very very active, and i want to get an idea of where all my health is at. But how do I ask without sounding like I’m worried about being fat?
    Thanks!

  14. Love this post!

    I was one of those exercise-avoiders back in my dieting days. Exercise made me hungry. If I ate I gained weight, and my ‘willpower’ just couldn’t take it. Looking back, it seems awful that I denied my body what it needed!

    Nowadays I move my body pleasantly, strenuously and often, and eat what I like and feel great. I keep trying to convince people that movement will improve their health more than dieting, but it doesn’t stick.

    Exercising in public was a tough hurdle to get over (still is). It’s a vicious cycle that we feel like our bodies won’t be acceptable to move until we’re smaller. Nope! Our bodies are fabulous and acceptable right now.

  15. and a low level of perceived physical fitness and functional capability

    Now, by ‘perceived’ do they actually mean how fit you are by objective measurements (heart rate and what have you) or by how fit you and others see you as being? Because an awful lot of fat people, to go by the stories I hear, are conditioned from school PE onwards to see themselves as physically useless, and that belief must often persist into adult life, regardless of someone’s actual physical abilities.

    Me, I’m largely sedentary, feel I should be out there doing more but feel guilty about not wanting to – and yeah, I know that feeling you ‘should’ be doing something is an awful reason, and I’d feel happier if there were something I wanted to do. I used to like swimming, but rarely get to the pool these days, largely because of the logistics of finding an adult session (because when I swim in mixed-age sessions I always seem to attract the attention of the most vicious kind of teen girl) at a time I can get to.

    I do love dancing…I used to Morris dance, which is truly accepting of all varieties and sizes of bodies, but we moved a few years back and could no longer get to the side’s practice nights. And now, when I look around for any kind of dance classes, they all seem focused on ‘have fun and shape up, and for someone who just wants the ‘have fun’ bit, that makes me dubious. I like leaping around to something loud and trashy at home, but I want some kind of structure that isn’t about calorie burning. I live out in the sticks, and running or walking are OK, but they bore me after a while.

    And, yeah, I realize that to the enforced-exercise-for-weight-loss crew this would sound like a list of ‘excuses’, but hey, if you don’t like what you’re doing, or people make it hard for you, you’re not going to carry on with it. And there are other fat people (and thin ones, but nobody seems bothered about them) who have way more obstacles to movement than I do: issues of time, money, access, mobility, stigma…and I don’t think some people ever seriously think about that. Removing the barriers to people of all sizes finding movement they can enjoy regularly surely would not be a bad thing, But by all the money and effort going into weight loss, everyone is, in fact, losing out.

  16. They covered thin fat and healthy fat on a recent episode of Rachel. They had a very thin person who was very unhealthy and had detrimental fat around her organs and a large girl who was very healthy.

  17. “A major achievement indeed since it’s physically frickin impossible. I get that this is stated a lot and that many people believe it, but how does someone who wants us to trust him as a reporter make this mistake?”

    Bad sloppy writing?

    When I started a regular, serious, breathe-y Pilates program, at home and at studio, an hour a day, my BP dropped 12 systolic and 2 diastolic points after about 4 months. It was actually a little startling.

    I might actually get some core strength too one of these days, but that’s going to take some more time, I think.

  18. I understand about the stretchmarks, I actually have them as well. And have most of the time I have been dancing because the medications I was yo-yo ing back ind forth. I guarantee when you take that FIRST class you will not feel so bad. And with each time you dance and learn more, you will find you can roll up your shirt and expose your stomach and see that you won’t burst into flames, or get laughed at. That you will be JUST as strong and beautiful as anyone else.
    I have heard women before who want to start dancing and join a gym so that their stomachs can be flat to learn to belly dance. SO they are getting fit, in order to dance a dance where fitness isn’t really an issue. ALL dance teachers promote the dance NOT the figure. And encourage women of ANY shape and size to come and learn. Just something to consider. If you were near my area I could refer you to some studios around here. Either way I know about a couple of places around the US so if you are ever interested or ready to stark drop me a line, and I can maybe point you to a good place :)

    • IGNORE THIS IT WAS MEANT TO BE A REPLY TO A DIFFERENT COMMENT >>OOPS :(

    • Hi Lyssa this was for me right? :-) As for finding the right dance place, I live in Seattle WA so if you know anyone good here let me know, thanks! :-D

      • Sure thing! I think one of the instructors of one of the studios I am associated with was JUST in Seattle, so I will ask her and get back to you :)


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