What does it mean to be fit? Most of use the word fitness interchangeably with the word "healthy." We generally consider a fit person someone who works out, eats well, and cares for their body. But what if someone follows all those guidelines but is also overweight or obese? Would you still consider them a fit person? Can we be fit and fat?
First off, let me say that just typing the title of this article makes me uncomfortable, as did choosing the somewhat lighthearted (I hope) picture that accompanies it. I'm a fitness professional. I work with people all the time who are trying their best to change their bodies and lives for the better. And one of the most important messages I try to share is that no one is perfect and we're all beautiful. To call someone fat, or even say the word, is completely foreign to me. I try to always be uplifting, never negative. And I feel like saying someone is fat can be a terribly hurtful thing to say. Although not everyone feels this way, in our society, being fat is often considered unattractive, a health risk, and a liability.
The Hard Truth
I say that I value functionality over looks and the feeling and strength that being a very fit person gives me over how hot my butt is. But, you know, I think it's a little more complicated than that. I asked myself, what if there were no health risks, I could be just as healthy as I am now, but 40 lbs. heavier? Would I agree to it? No, of course not. And not just because I would be banned from the world of crop tops.
I've been 40 lbs. heavier than I am now and it was incredibly uncomfortable. Although I had no health problems, I felt ungainly and slow. Exercising was pure misery, just trying to move all that body weight around. My thighs chafed and my clothes pinched. And how I looked mattered to me as well. Finding flattering clothes was difficult. My confidence plummeted and I shied away from pictures. To this day, I'm so regretful that I don't have any pictures of myself holding my beautiful newborn second son because I was ashamed of how heavy I had allowed myself to become. Me. Someone who dealt in fitness for a living. Someone who other people would turn to to tell them how to lose weight and firm up. Someone who knew all about calories in versus calories out and how to work the most muscle groups using the least amount of time. I felt like a hypocrite and a failure and I was very unhappy.
So when I tell people that it doesn't matter if you don't look like a fitness model as long as you're healthy and happy, what do I really mean?
I recently came across an article in Runner's World that made me take a hard look at what I really thought about body image and fitness. The article tells the story of Mirna Valerio, a 250 lbs. woman who runs 25-35 miles a week and completes trail ultramarathons. It seems almost impossible that someone who burns that many calories could still be overweight, but she is. Significantly so. If you weigh 250 lbs. you can't possibly be fit, right? But Ms. Valerio can run 35 miles of trail in one day (here's a blog post she wrote about doing just that.) I can't. I don't have the endurance, strength, or stamina that Ms. Valerio has--tools that are essential to complete a gauntlet like that. And I promise you I'm pretty fit. So, how can we say that she isn't fit?
Ok, so let's call her fit. But a 5'7" woman who weighs 250 lbs is undeniably obese. And that's unhealthy, right? And if you're unhealthy, you can't be fit...right?
We've all heard of the risks that accompany being overweight. The unpleasant list goes on and on, but basically boils down a reduced quality of life and high risk of serious diseases and health conditions.
So, what does it mean to be obese, exactly? The CDC defines obesity, "Weight that is higher than what is considered as a healthy weight for a given height is described as overweight or obese." And how do we know what a healthy weight is? We use a BMI calculator, which uses height and weight to give you a sort of a fatness rating. Body Mass Index, or BMI, is one of the tools that doctors and health professionals use to determine whether or not you're at a healthy weight. Ms. Valerio has a BMI of 39.2 (if you want to calculate your own, here's a BMI Calculator), 14.3 points over the highest BMI that is considered normal for a woman her height. But BMI isn't always a true measure of health. In fact, the CDC also says, "At an individual level, BMI can be used as a screening tool but is not diagnostic of the body fatness or the health of an individual. A trained healthcare provider should perform appropriate health assessments in order to evaluate an individual's health status and risks."
In other words, body mass doesn't always equal fat. Imagine what Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock's, BMI is. I'm pretty sure if you put his weight and height into that BMI calculator it would say that he's obese. But he's not really. His body fat is obviously pretty low. He's lean and extremely fit. And although the pictures of Ms. Valerio don't really show a body builder's physique, we can't be sure what Ms. Valerio's doctors would say about her health.
So, here we are in a quagmire again. What does fitness mean exactly?
The Meat of the Matter
I started to type up a list of bullet points about what defines a truly fit person. I typed things like, body functionality, blood pressure readings, eating habits, etc. But while reading them over it occurred to me that those were just the particular things that mattered to me. Those were the things that made me feel like I was in the best health I could be. And I think that's the answer.
Fitness is being the best version of yourself that you can be. It doesn't have anything to do with being able to running 35 miles or completing one of those mud races where they shock you in a putrid pool of muddy water that you KNOW someone peed in, or having a certain body fat percentage. It's having the tools that you need to feel your personal best.
And actually it's not even about where you are or what you've gained so far. Because as long as you're striving to be the best version of yourself you can be, that's the truest definition of fitness that comes to mind.
I like reading about Mirna Valerio because she reminds me of what's important. It's not about what you have, but more about working towards goals, and making good decisions. It's not about having smooth thighs or being able to do 2o pull-ups. It's about going out there every day and working as hard as you can. Maybe Ms. Valerio is fat, but who cares? She's out there every single day working it, working on being the best version of herself she can be. And I bet she's running that muddy trail right now, right this very second, heading in the exact right direction for herself.
I can't think of anything else more inspiring.
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