(Apologies, of course, if you are a professional model or a professional athlete. If you are, you can stop reading here.)
I have two things I want you guys to read and think about today. The first is pulled from a transcript of The Paleo Solution Podcast, number 167. A listener asked Robb Wolf and Greg Everett whether they thought a person’s body had some ideal composition point beyond which it could not improve. Greg replied, in part:
And the last one I would add to that is make sure when you’re doing your evaluations you’re comparing yourself to yourself. If you try to evaluate your worth as a human being by comparing yourself to elite athletes especially to their body composition, you’re going to be in for a really long miserable life because not only are these guys the cream of the crop genetically speaking and I know this is bursting a lot of people’s bubbles. Most of them are on drugs of some kind so you gotta just relax.
Greg Everett is a USA Weightlifting Senior Coach, NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, RKC Kettlebell Instructor, Level III CrossFit Trainer, and CSUH Certified Personal Trainer. Everett is a co-founder of the athletic performance journal, The Performance Menu, and author of “the best book available on Olympic weightlifting”, Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches.Greg is the head coach of the Catalyst Athletics weightlifting program and director of training at Catalyst Athletics.
Someone posted on our Twitter it was like Lance Armstrong proved you can use steroids and still be healthy. No, what he proved is how naïve the general public is about PED’s. That’s what proves is people were actually surprised about that?
These studies all have their limitations, but the general pattern seems to suggest that a slightly higher BMI with a higher proportion of lean mass is associated with better mortality outcomes for both men and women. For women specifically, healthily distributed body fat is actually protective against mortality, even at higher levels. There are several explanations for this finding, including a greater caloric reserve during catabolic illness, overall greater muscle strength, and possibly a more adequate food intake, particularly for older adults.
The added emphasis is mine. He goes on to say:
It’s important to remember that a person’s body fat may increase for a variety of reasons, and that BMI is a poor indicator of overall health in most cases. As a clinician, I believe certain indicators of health such as insulin sensitivity, markers of inflammation, and overall digestive function are far more important predictors of health than BMI or total body weight. If you’re a metabolically healthy person with a few extra pounds that just won’t budge, current evidence suggests that getting to your “perfect” weight may not increase your lifespan. In fact, if you’re a woman, it may even be counterproductive. This casts doubt – at least from a scientific perspective — on our culture’s (pathological?) obsession with skinniness. It also suggests that maintaining adequate lean body mass by eating a nutrient-dense diet and doing regular weight-bearing exercise may be more important than shaving off those final few pounds of fat.
Again, the added emphasis is mine.
These comments from Everett and Kresser really crystallized some thoughts I have had around the issue of social and personal expectation when it comes to “wellness” and what it means to be healthy.
Because here’s the thing. Just like Greg says, “you’re going to be in for a long and miserable life” if you compare yourself to either a professional athlete or a professional model. The dirty little secret is that models – even the ones featured in magazines dedicated to health and fitness – go to great extremes to be skinny and their editors go to great extremes to cover up the negative consequences of their extreme thinness. Think drugs, drinking, eating disorders, tobacco, acne, amenorrhea, sparse hair, etc. And professional athletes often wreck their bodies (and brains) for their chosen sport. At the very least, they dedicate all of their professional time to cultivating their body and skills for the sport they play. The “average Joe” or weekend warrior cannot – and I would argue should not – even attempt to be in the same league.
But this all leads me to a deeper question, and that’s why we feel so compelled to think of ourselves as “athletes?” Why can’t we just go out there, move our bodies, and have fun? Similarly, why do we think we need to be rail-thin and spend our lives in deprivation because we are women of a certain age?
I keep coming to the same answer, and it’s one that plagues me more and more the older I get.
It’s all just marketing.
Somewhere along the way, as I deconstructed media campaigns for my little kids, explaining to them why toy manufacturers would try to sell them the toys they were seeing in the ads, it dawned on me that I had fallen into the same clutches many times. We all have, and sometimes I wonder if we are in so deep we have no idea that we’re even there.
My friend Carmen of Mindful Health and Wellness asked on her Facebook page the other day what obstacles people felt they faced that kept them from eating a real food diet. Not surprisingly, the common refrain was lack of time. But here’s the thing … are we really too pressed for time to serve ourselves and our families real, whole food? Or, have the food manufacturers, fast food outlets and marketers just convinced us that we are?
I’m going to keep thinking on all this. Let me know what you think.