The Mission at Hand

This message is for everyone who has felt ignored because they don’t see themselves fitting the typical “health & wellness” mold. It’s for everyone active who feels like maybe they’re not doing it correctly because they don’t see themselves reflected in others’ progress pictures. It’s for everyone who has thought about wanting to be more physically active but doesn’t feel as though anyone in the industry is talking to them, so the feeling of defeat is present before even beginning.

One thing I’m really passionate about is the fact that health and fitness have erroneously become synonymous with weight and “body goals.” I believe there are many people who want to live an active lifestyle, but don’t know how to go about doing it because the model they’ve been sold feels both vapid and unrealistic. I believe there are many currently active people who may be pushing harder than they truly want in order to reach physical goals as proof of being the “right” kind of fit person.

The reality is many people don’t have or want specific fitness goals, but they’ve been led to believe it has to be one or the other: you are either an ‘active-fitness-healthy-gym-running-etc. person’ with a ‘fit-person-sized body’ or… not. The in-between exists. In fact, it’s where almost everyone exists. As health/wellness professionals, I truly believe we should help people understand that being active is supposed to fit INTO your life, not define it.

There can be so much guilt and shame wrapped up in the expectations of what an active lifestyle is portrayed to be, which can make people feel like a failure before they’ve even begun. What’s the point in getting started if the goal is already overwhelming or you don’t feel like you fit into the classic “fit family” mold? The fitness/health industry would have us think that we have to do strenuous workouts and meticulously track food for general health and disease prevention… and that’s just not the case. Yes, if we have specific goals, we will have to make adjustments to reach those goals. And yes, physical activity has SO MANY unintended benefits. But the term “active lifestyle” has been re-designated by the industry to promote the idea that fitness itself has to be your life instead of part of your life, and it’s just not true for general health and disease prevention.

I read this really interesting article in Prevention magazine this month titled “Rethinking Fatness,” by Meryl Davids Landau*. There was some poignant information about how we have been programmed to associate fat/obesity with poor health, but rather it is the amount of physical activity and consistent nutrition choices that seemingly have the greater controllable impact on health than the weight itself.

Over 20 weight-loss studies were evaluated by researchers from UCLA and University of Minnesota, who found there to be no clear correlation between weight loss and health outcomes. To confirm their hypothesis, they reviewed data from over 40,000 participants in other studies finding almost 50% of those classified as “overweight” had normal cholesterol and glucose levels versus 70% of those within “normal” weight range. This would suggest weight itself is not an indicator of cardiometabolic health.

In another study comprised of around 43,000 participants across the weight spectrum, health stats were measured (blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol) and they were given a fitness test on a treadmill to determine fitness level. Their health outcomes were traced until death where they found similar mortality rates for fit people with normal health stats regardless of their weight; those who were overweight and unfit were more likely to die earlier. This would, again, suggest activity has the greater overall impact on health outcomes than weight as a number.

We have been so programmed to see weight ITSELF as both the goal and the problem, but perhaps it’s not. When someone is of normal weight range and has high blood pressure, we likely chalk it up to genetics, diet or stress, right? But when someone is overweight, the automatic assumption is the weight itself is the root cause of the issue.

Why? Weight itself is expensive to get rid of when aiming for the highly unrealistic, nearly-impossible-to-attain media-defined ideals. Think of all the products/social media/marketing devoted to physical change as a means to health, or all the medical appointments where it seems as though the automatic solution is to simply “lose weight.” Well guess what? You can lose fat by simply reducing caloric intake with nutrition-less food, but that alone will not improve health outcomes (another pesky truth pinpointed in this article). It is about quality nutrition and activity, not a “goal weight”. Your internal organs, muscles, and nervous system don’t care about a goal weight/body fat percentage; they care about what you’re doing to get there.

What if we were to reprogram ourselves to stop using weight itself as a gauge of health successes? What if we just focused on getting moving and being conscious of food choices with the purpose of health from the inside out? Most of us won’t look like fitness models without it being a full-time job; why is that what we’re being sold as the definition of health and active lifestyle? Why do we beat ourselves up for lack of physical progress while ignoring how amazing it made us feel otherwise? What if it doesn’t matter what kind of activity we’re doing, and it doesn’t have to be a “workout”? What if the entire focus is on how these small, consistent changes improve how we feel? The truth is physical changes will follow. The focus doesn’t have to be there for it to happen. It’s not very sexy or gimmicky, but much closer to the truth than most are willing to say.

I desperately want to help people redirect focus from weight itself to activity level, which is so hard because of the thousands and thousands of messages asserting otherwise. It doesn’t have to be “working out”. If you hate working out, there are so many ways to be active. You can run around with your kids/grandkids/students/pets for 15 minutes a couple times a day (make sure they’re yours though, okay?). You can take a hike or a walk. You can circle those Target aisles just a few more times pushing that fuller-than-intended cart. You can clean with some extra pep in your step to get the heart rate up. Yard work and gardening? Oh, they count! Just be intentional with your movement. This is why I’m so passionate about functional movement. Knowing the basics and moving properly allows you to turn almost anything into a “workout”. Again, not to lose weight, but to help reduce and/or prevent both pain and disease from the inside out. That’s what active lifestyle should be about.

Ultimately, let’s try to forget the scale and measurements. Forget progress pictures and what you see in the mirror. Forget feeling like you’re supposed to track your food every day, obsessing about calories, carbs, macros, keto, superfoods, anti-inflammatories, blah blah blah, to be part of the “health crowd”. No, stop. I want it all to stop. It’s so unrealistic. Real life for most people isn’t tracking your food in an app all the time; it’s periodically keeping a food journal to ensure we’re hitting appropriate nutritional ranges and to get an idea of where improvements can be made to help the body help itself. IF tracking helps you and it feels good, then please do it, but it’s not sustainable for a lot of people and there’s nothing less respectable about choosing not to do so. Routine tracking of macros, calories – all of that – again, usually pertains to expectations of physical change. Do you ever hear someone talk about their blood pressure numbers as a ‘before-and-after’? Reduced resting heart rate? Reduced stress levels? Increased sleep quality? Increased range of motion? No, but this is what we should be bragging about.

I do want to be clear: added weight can cause additional stress on joints., etc., so there are things shedding some extra pounds may help. Again, being physically active and focusing on the basics like mobility, stretching, and functional movement will usually help to counter some of these other potential stressors.

Also, I am not at all poo-pooing on the love of fitness. I LOVE more traditional forms of working out myself, but that’s just me, and I don’t expect everyone to feel the same. My version of health is no “better” than someone else’s because of the type of workouts I may choose. My health was relatively similar before I was working out regularly because my general activity level and food choices were also similar. Is my resting heart rate lower now than it was? Yes, but it was perfectly fine before so again, we’re talking about tweaking, not general health and disease prevention. There is also nothing wrong with wanting to see physical progress; my issue is using physical progress alone as a benchmark or allowing a lack of physical progress to negatively impact what would otherwise feel good.

Last, please note that individuals with existing diagnosed conditions like cardiovascular disease, arthritis, diabetes, etc., will require different levels of physical activity to maintain optimum health, which would be prescribed by a physician and likely enforced with a personal trainer. Nothing I have said above pertains to anyone that has been prescribed a specific physical regimen by a qualified individual nor should it ever supersede the advice from medical professionals. What I’m talking about is working to prevent such disease to the best of our abilities, and using activity/nutrition to help alleviate issues like high blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. The more we can heal our bodies by addressing root causes through small consistent changes, the less reliant we are on pharmaceuticals, and more likely we’ll be preventing subsequent issues down the road.

I want to talk more about energy expenditure (activity) versus energy in (food) soon, as well as the MULTITUDE of things that affect each person’s ability for physical change/weight loss, but there’s too much to add for this post. I want to talk about why it is that two people on the exact same workout and eating plans won’t automatically yield anywhere near the same physical results (why I dislike public progress photos). And how it doesn’t really matter how you break up periods of activity throughout the day even though we’ve often been led to believe you need to spend an hour/day at a time working on your body or whatever. Nope. Not unless, you know, you want to be an Instagram fitness model. Or some degrading term about women that “look good as they age”. We. Are. Done. With. That.

Stay tuned because I’m going to keep debunking this garbage we’ve been programmed to believe. I am on a mission to helps us reprogram ourselves… against all odds and billions of dollars of messaging. I am on a mission to empower us to take control of our healthy by saying “screw you” to industry standards and approaching things from the inside out. We are no longer allowing others to define our worth, beauty, and health based on our physicality. Can I get a “Shhh, you don’t know my bloodwork!” on a t-shirt, please!?

There is nothing more powerful than a group of authentic people on the same mission. I hope you’ll join me.

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*Landau, Meryl Davids. “Rethinking Fatness. Why everything you’ve been told about weight may be wrong.” Prevention, May 2021.

You can read the full article here.