Thursday, December 21, 2006

fit and/or fat?

Lori and I were having an online conversation about whether you can be fit and fat. This is a topic that is going to crop up on most weight-loss blogs eventually, so I thought it was about time for me to tackle it.

Covert Bailey has a bunch pretty well-known books that are variations on the "Fit or Fat" theme. Despite highly judgemental title and the accompanying attitude that creeps in from time to time, he has some pretty sensible advice on how to take yourself from fitness to fatness. His premise is that fitness is really more important than weight, so if you focus on becoming more fit, your weight will start to take care of itself. He basically assumes that you cannot be fat and fit, that if you are truly fit, you won't be fat.

I can't say much about Sally Edwards's book Fit and Fat, because I haven't read it. But there are a lot of people who talk about being fat and fit, who exercise a lot and yet still are larger than most people might think they should be. They would say that they aren't fat people on their way to becoming fit, they are fit people who are fat, whether or not they eventually plan to get thinner.

I really don't see this as an either-or question myself. Though of course there's some relationship between fitness and fatness, it's definitely not linear. A lot of people use "healthy" as a code for "thin," but that is obviously not true. Though I would agree there aren't a lot of 500-pound marathoners out there, there also aren't a lot of 98-pound ones either. You can be too thin to be healthy, though you'd never think it from paying attention to our media.

I think that being fit is much more important than your weight -- I would never try to argue with that. When I decided, around the time that I turned 30, that I wanted to lose weight, I did the opposite of what a lot of people do -- I started exercising first. I lost my first 20 or so pounds mostly because of exercise alone while training for my first triathlon, but I couldn't get to my weight goal that way, and when I backed off even a little from a triathete's training schedule, the weight started to creep back on, mostly because I was still eating whatever I wanted, though I tried to "watch it" a little.

If you watch NBC's "The Biggest Loser," you see very fat people who are exercising very intensely. I think that people are starting to realize that you don't have to wait until you are skinny to be able to do some pretty serious workouts. Exercise can also help you feel better and sleep better, so you might not find yourself munching out of boredom, stress, or exhaustion. But, just like on the show, exercise alone never did it for me. If I were a natural, intuitive eater, I could probably just follow my body's hunger signals, eat exactly what my body needed and stop. Guess what? I'm not, and neither are most people I know. According to Brian Wansink, almost no one is. So I need to follow some kind of a food plan if I want to lose weight, which I do.

And that last sentence brings me back around to what I think is most important in all of this. We really have to think about what we want most. If what we want is to be thinner, but we don't care about how healthy or fit we are, there are plenty of ways to do that: Extreme diets, chain-smoking and drinking coffee instead of eating, diet pills, heroin... If what we want is to be fit and healthy, no matter what our size, we can exercise daily and try to eat healthy foods but not worry too much about how much of them we eat. If what we want is to do what we want and we don't care about our weight or our health, that's our choice too. Unfortunately, there is a lot of judgement that goes on about what people should want, which is where a lot of the nastiness in the comments on weight-related blogs seems to come from.

Aside from all the judgements is the reality: If we what we really, truly, deeply want is to be thinner and fitter, we have to do the things it takes to be thin and fit. This means a sensible food plan and a sensible exercise plan. That might mean consulting a coach, a nutritionist, a weight-loss or twelve-step group, or reading books that help guide us in the right direction. A lot of people have the idea that we need to be extreme about things in order to be successful, and if people think they have to eat less than 1,000 calories and exercise for five hours a day to reach their weight goals, no wonder a lot of people give up. We also have to accept that while we're getting fit, we still might be fat for a while. I would still put my money on the middle-of-the-season Pam from "The Biggest Loser" in a cage match against your average chain-smoking supermodel.


  1. Wow. Good stuff again here, Jen. It fits with what the Jan. 2007 issue of Oprah is about - not just talking about exercise and diet, but asking yourself what it is that you really want and what is stopping you from getting it.

    I shy away from those hard questions. It's easier to complain about a food plan or having to exercise when it's completely my choice whether I do it or not. But I do have to decide what I want and then take the steps to make that happen. I want to give myself permission for it to take whatever time it takes as long as I don't forget the destination.

    Good post, as always. Very thought provoking.

  2. I have read two blog archives of women that were quite heavy and just starting out -

    both swam for exercise - happened to both have been high school swim team members - so they REALLY swam (at their 300+ starting weights) - flip/turns at end - diving in, goggles, timing their laps - the whole thing.

    These blogs were just amazing to read - because they didn't feel that they had to wait until they got back to their HS swim team level weight (or anywhere near it) to START - they started at 300+.

    I too started with exercise before I started watching what I ate. MY exercise level was truly pitiful (especially in comparison to these two women) because I was in SUCH bad shape - at a starting weight level that was much lower than these amazing women.

    One of them biked too - no impact!

    One factor that I have really watched is where my blood work, chol, sugar, bood pressure etc WAS - I think all of that is a really good indicator too.

  3. Though, I am just out of the "obese BMI" and in the "overweight BMI" I still consider myself fit. When I started walking on Treadmill last spring I couldn't walk faster than 3.4 mph. Today I can jog almost a mile at 4.4 mph. I also watched my blood pressure drop 42 points on the top number/ and 16 points bottom number in just a little less than 3 months. . . some would say I am fat, but I know I am FIT and getting FITTER by the week.

    Merry Christmas to you Jen.

  4. Merry Christmas!!!!!!


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07