weight loss

Obesity, health, and fitness: some odd connections

The connection between obesity and health isn’t as straightforward as we might think.

Those of us who puzzle about the connection between obesity and health  ask whether it’s possible to be fat and healthy. I’d like to think that it is.

But until recently it didn’t ever occur to me that some people could be healthy because they’re fat and that for them not only is losing weight not necessary it might even be had for their health.

It does seem though that not only can fat people be healthy, in some people it seems losing weight increases a variety of disease risks. Researchers call this the “obesity paradox” though as they come to understand it it might be a misnamed phenomena. What matters, they think, is metabolic health, not obesity after all.

I find this fascinating but it does make me worry about weight loss in my case. I’m a clear case of a metabolically healthy, significantly overweight person.

See the following story from the Vancouver Sun, http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Obesity+some+healthy+others/7607904/story.html.

I’ve italicized the bits that make me nervous!

“According to a recent study funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research, people who are obese are less likely to die from pneumonia than people of normal or low weight. The study of patients at six Edmonton hospitals found that obese patients were 56-per-cent less likely to die, an example of what the researchers call “reverse epidemiology.”

It is far from the only example. The authors cite studies that reveal paradoxical outcomes for obese patients suffering from coronary artery disease, end-stage kidney disease and heart failure.

Other recent CIHR-funded studies have revealed that some obese people appear to be protected against the very illnesses most associated with obesity, specifically type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

These seemingly contradictory findings are fuelling research into the so-called Obesity Paradox, according to CIHR researcher Antony Karelis at the University of Quebec.

Karelis has found that about 30 per cent of obese people appear to display metabolic health indistinguishable from those of young lean individuals, including normal blood pressure, low levels of bad fats, high levels of healthy fats, high insulin sensitivity and low inflammation.

Metabolically healthy obese (MHO) adults also have less fat in their livers, muscles and around their vital organs, but more subcutaneous fat under their skin, he said.

“Some [obese] people collect fat under their skin where it is less likely to go into the liver and the heart or the pancreas and cause all kinds of trouble,” said Karelis. “Fat on their thighs is associated with health benefits, but abdominal fat is more associated with [poor health].”

Karelis argues that identifying people by their metabolic health, rather than their weight, is key for doctors making decisions about how to treat their patients.

“We know these people exist and that they have a lower risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” Karelis said. “They have a better inflammation profile, a better hormonal profile and they are physically stronger.”

There are signs that weight loss may be harmful to people who are metabolically healthy but obese.

MHO individuals who participated in a six-month weight-loss study showed deteriorated insulin sensitivity, a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. Metabolically abnormal obese study participants — those who display inflammation and unhealthy fat profiles usually associated with obesity — showed improved insulin sensitivity, suggesting their health could benefit from weight loss.

A 2009 study in the journal Epidemiology of middle- and older-aged obese adults found an increased risk of death associated with weight loss. Another CIHR study found that weight loss in obese post-menopausal women increased their risk of developing diabetes.”

Since diabetes seems to be the main risk caused by messing with a good thing, i.e. losing weight when you’re metabolically healthy to start, I think I’ll keep on eye on this in my case if I make progress to a leaner me by year 50. We’ve got a type 2 diabetic in the house so monitoring my blood sugar at least is easy.

body image · diets · fat · fitness · weight loss

I hate you Weight Watchers

Inspired by this recent anti-WW rant, Weight Watchers Probably Won’t Help You Lose Tons of Weight, So Maybe Stop Dieting?, I decided to write my own.

There aren’t many companies I have strong feelings about but WW is one of them. These are my feelings based solely on my experiences and your mileage may vary, yada yada yada. If it works/worked for you, great, though I suspect you are in a very small minority.

Like the author of the above post, I first went to Weight Watchers as a child, accompanied by a loving, well meaning parent. My mum has struggled with her weight all of my life and was at that point a regular attender of WW.

These days she’s also moved on from WW or “wrestling” as we dubbed it–you know a blend of fighting fat and WWF.

So when I first went to a WW meeting I was 12 or 13 years old. I have intense memories of this period of my life: my first diet. I was in Grade 6. I felt very grown up.

I did it part because I wanted shorter, grown up hair, but ‘friends’ thought I ought to lose weight first. Short hair was for svelte girls, not chubby awkward girls in knee socks.

I weighed 133 lbs when I first stepped on those scales and that number appalled me. The last I looked I wasn’t yet a 100 lbs. Where had those extra pounds come from? Keep in mind though that I was the tallest person in my class. I was probably 5’4 or so that weight shouldn’t have been as horrifying as it was.

I’m not sure I was even really overweight. When I look at pictures of me then I don’t see a fat kid. I see a slightly chubby almost teenage girl, on the verge of hips and breasts. I think she ought to have run more, played outside more but young me was a bookish, studious introvert, no lover of sports and games.

The people there were kind to me. No one thought joining was a bad idea. Indeed, I was called mature and told that it good to take care of this little problem now, before it got out of hand.

And in their defense I don’t think they knew then what we ought to know now about the dangers of dieting, especially setting up dieting habits in children. They really did think they were helping.

I remember coming home to find out there was lemon meringue pie for dessert (my parents were bakers) and that I couldn’t eat it, too many points. My mum gave me a one night reprieve for pie. I was to start the diet tomorrow.

I don’t remember how many weeks that first diet lasted. Not very many, I don’t think. I don’t think I lost any weight. It was the beginning though of a lifetime of weighing and shame associated with my size.

The good news was that even though I quit/stopped going, I did get my first real haircut anyway and it looked just fine. The world didn’t end.

Weight Watchers and I had an off and on relationship for about 30 years. A bad relationship but I kept going back, thinking they’d changed and that this time it would work.

Fast forward now to the last time I tried Weight Watchers.

Here are three things that I realized that will forever keep me away:

First, lots of the long term members and leaders seem to have seriously disordered eating habits. I actually heard an argument between a long term member, probably a life member, and a group leader about how many points you’d have to write down if you put a muffin in your mouth, chewed on it for a bit, and then read the label and spit it out.

Yes, gross. Disgusting. Ew.

The ‘chew and spew’ method never actually occurred to me as a method of sort of having your cake and not eating it too. Just yuck.

Maybe I’ve led a privileged life but the most messed up eating habits I’ve ever encountered were at WW. Life members boasted of still carrying their scales everywhere so they could measure and count every morsel they ate. They seemed thin but scarily obsessed with ever gaining the weight back.

Second, the WW approved weight for my height seems to me to be absurd. As absurd as it was to call 12 year old me overweight. I just laugh at their numbers. Even at a size 8, I’m not in their range for my height. I’m too muscular. I feel vindicated now after my visit to the Bod Pod which measures your per cent body fat. I’m almost out of the WW range for my height with 0% body fat!

My doctor offered to write me a note recommending a higher, more reasonable goal weight but the leaders refused to change my goal weight. They thought I should try it out first.

Third, they can’t handle people who actually exercise and do lots of physical activity. The leaders looked in disbelief when I told them how much I was riding my bike. Why would you want to do that? Clearly it’s not helping you with weight loss.

And yes, you get extra points for physical activity and you can spend those points on food, but you can spend them on whatever you like. Above the basic minimum for food groups, there’s no guidance at all how physically active people ought to supplement their diet. You want to spend them on all aspartame sweetened WW desserts, then go for it.

If you are biking, running, swimming….whatever, on a regular basis, then you need information about sports nutrition and WW isn’t set up at all to help with that. I ended up supplementing WW with advice from someone whose expertise was sports nutrition and then eventually, I just dropped out for good.

Good riddance Weight Watchers.

body image · fat

No more headless fatties, why not use images of active fat people complete with heads instead?

It’s time to expand our imagery of the obese.

Not at all fat people are unhappy. And some of us even have heads.

I’m interested in the politics of obesity, both as an ethicist with an interest in medical matters and the health care system, and as a significantly overweight person whose been obese off and on most of my adult life. And as readers of this blog know, I’m interested in the connections between being fat and being fit.

Sometimes I want to use different language–I’m big and strong, not obese (a medical term, based on BMI) but at other times I want people to realize that when they’re talking about obesity I’m part of the story. So too of course are all the Olympic athletes who count as obese.

I hate it when I try to share stories about obesity on social media, the image that almost inevitably appears is one of a headless fat torso. It’s as if there were no fat people, just fat torsos. Or as if no fat person would be willing to have their face associated with their body next to an article about fatness. But that’s just not true.

Along comes Stocky Bodies, a great new take (and pun) on stock photography. There’s loads of great images: fat people riding bikes, doing scuba, making crafts, using computers, and even (gasp) eating.

From their website:

The ‘Stocky Bodies’ image library was created in response to the stigmatised representations of overweight and obese people in the media and popular culture.

Such depictions tend to dehumanise by portraying subjects as headless, slovenly or vulnerable and reinforce stereotypes by presenting subjects as engaged in unhealthy eating practices or sedentary conduct.

Our library of stock photos was created to provide positive and diverse representations of the lived experience of fat that begin to break down the typecasting that heightens weight stigma. This is an important objective as research has strongly associated weight prejudice with widespread social and material inequalities, unfair treatment and heightened body esteem issues.

The photographs for the image library are the outcome of an interdisciplinary project between Dr Lauren Gurrieri of the Griffith Business School and Mr Isaac Brown of the Queensland College of Art. The participants are everyday people who are involved in fat-acceptance communities and keen to see change in the representation of fat bodies.

Our images challenge oversimplified and demeaning representations of weight prejudice by showing subjects engaged in everyday activities, such as bike riding, shopping for fashionable clothes and performing their jobs. The documentary imagery to be shown through the library is a non-stigmatising view of what it is to be fat and live an affirmative life.

‘Stocky Bodies’ is a free resource that can be used by the media, health professionals, social marketers, educators and others.

————–
Thanks KR!

body image · diets · fat · fitness · health · weight loss

Working Out While Fat

Just after I reposted my story of why I left Goodlife Fitness in 2006 two super posts appeared on the problems of working out in public while fat.

The wonderfully titled essay by Lindy West, Hello, Fellow Gym-Goers, Look at My Fat Butt, details how wonderful exercise is but also how awful it is be everyone’s idea of a ‘before’ picture:

The more I exercised, the more I loved it. I felt strong and lean, I had tons of energy, I slept like a brick. But my body didn’t look much different. You’d still see me on the street and read “fat person.” And as a fat person, going to the gym is doubly challenging. There’s the basic challenge we all face—of getting the fuck out of bed, finding a clean sports bra, physically moving your body toward a place where a man will yell at you until you do enough lunges (IT DEFIES ALL EVOLUTIONARY LOGIC)—but for fat people, there’s an even more intimidating challenge on top of that.

It’s entering a building where you know that every person inside is working toward the singular goal of not becoming you.

Do you know how hard it is to walk into a building devoted to not becoming you when you are you!? It’s the worst! I’m me literally every day! “Fat=bad/thin=good” is so seamlessly built into our culture that people I consider close friends don’t hesitate to lament their weight “problems” to me—not stopping to consider that what they’re saying, to my face, is “becoming you is my worst nightmare, and not becoming you is my top priority.”

And Emily Anderson published Fat Acceptance at the Gym Burns More Than Calories at Women’s E-News. It’s an excerpt from her contribution to the anthology “Hot and Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion.”

Being a fat woman at the gym is in itself an act of social disobedience. I shouldn’t be in there, taking up the space of the lithe-bodied, unless it’s with a face of sincere penance and shame. But I have claimed the gym as my own. I celebrate being visible and fat all over the gym–running and sweating and sometimes breaking into song, lifting dumbbells alongside muscle-laden men with uncompleted tribal band bicep tattoos, flinging my weight around in aerobics and finally cooling it poolside in my bright, non-apple-body-shape flattering tankini.

I smile and chat with women before yoga and mention how hungry I always am after class and can’t wait to eat. I want to be seen. I am fat and happy in places where I should be fat and shameful, and denying this stereotype is a political action in my eyes.

You should definitely go read Anderson’s essay to find out about her daring and transgressive act on the elliptical machine.

I loved what both writers had to say, despite my own ambivalence about the word ‘fat’ as it applies to me. Thanks Lindy West and Emily Anderson for your fat pride trail blazing ways. I too hate it when people assume I’m either new to the gym (ha ha ha) or that I must already have lost a lot of weight and then they express admiration that I’ve made it so far. I really do worry about putting fat people off exercise when they think they only reason to do it is to lose weight and then they meet me.

I’ve often thought I’d like to teach a fitness class for big people, one that doesn’t mention weight loss at all. No mention of calories burned or looking good in your skinny jeans. I’m cool with people trying to lose weight–I’m not without goals in that department myself–but my dream class would focus on fitness and moving for fun only. The Y’s fitness instructor certification classes look like they might be fun. And I think I’d have a blast teaching spin classes too. Perhaps I’ll get my certification as part of this ‘fittest at fifty’ project.

Clearly, there’s a need for a spaces without fat shaming. A gym in Vancouver, Body Exchange, set out to create a safe haven for plus size exercisers but it ran into controversy with its plans not accept skinny members.

The Province interviewed Tony Leyland, from Simon Fraser University’s department of biomedical physiology and kinesiology, about the plus sized gyms and he was adamant that people not downplay the social value of creating safe places for mothballed bodies.
Leyland also says some bodies are naturally resistant to being lean. Even slightly pudgy people can be terrific athletes, he says. “Fitness trumps a lot of things,” he says. “The evidence is clear that people are really going to benefit from getting fit whether they lose weight or not.”You can read more about it here, Canada’s only plus size fitness company: no skinnies need apply.
I’m still not sure of what I think of a plus size only gym–generally speaking I prefer inclusion to hiding out in safe spaces and I worry that then people would think that’s where you belong, “Get thee to the fat gym”–but I think plus size, healthy at every size inspired classes would be lovely.
fat · fitness · weight lifting · weight loss

Science, exercise, and weight loss: when our bodies scheme against us

I love it (okay, not really, need sarcasm font) when people suggest to me that to lose weight, I should get a bit of exercise, you know, walk more, or take the stairs instead of the elevator. When I tried Weight Watchers for the very last time they gave handy hints like getting off the bus one stop early and walking to your destination. (Um, I ride my bike to work most days. I ride hundreds of kilometers a week, in addition, for fun when the weather is good. How does that fit in?)

Of course, this advice is always from well-meaning people who don’t know me. Those who know me, know that I work out at a variety of sports and physical activities most days of the week, often twice a day. I run, ride my bike, play soccer, lift weights, practice Aikido, and most recently have taken up Crossfit. And yet, I’m very overweight. Fat, big, call it what you will.

How on earth can this be? Newcomers to cycling sometimes say “Oh keep riding the bike and you’ll lose weight,” thinking I’m new too. (I like passing those people, zoom!) Sometimes I’m aware I actually put other fat women off exercise because they are starting to exercise in order to lose weight and then they see me, and think it’s all pointless. But I don’t exercise to lose weight. My experience tells me that, on its own, it doesn’t do very much.

So why doesn’t exercise help with weight loss? (Or to put the question precisely, why doesn’t it help as much as it seems it ought to, when you consider the calories burned in our efforts at fitness?) Given my interests and personality type–geek, academic, fitness buff–I’ve read rather a  lot about this question.

There are a number of different answers.

The first answer is simple and it’s probably that first thing that came to your mind: when we exercise, we eat more. Indeed, if you care about performance and recovery, you need and ought to eat more. I was once told by a cycling coach that it’s foolish to try to lose weight during the racing season. Not eating enough–which is what you need to do to lose weight–cuts your speed and your recovery. Diet in the off season when you’re just riding for fun, he said. Don’t hurt your performance by dieting.

But there’s another answer that I find intriguing. Our bodies’ efforts at maintaining weight are ingenious. It turns out that when we exercise more, we also move less the rest of the day. This isn’t intentional. It isn’t anything we decide to do. The idea is that our bodies decide for us.

I’m interested, and fascinated by, the way our bodies undercut our best efforts. Heavy exercisers, it turns out, often move less the rest of the day and so burn not that many more calories than if they hadn’t exercised at all. When not exercising, they’re chronic sitters!

The study which sets out to prove this is cited in the Gretchen Reynolds’ book The First 20 Minutes  and she writes about it in her New York Times Phys Ed blog too. Following a group of young men assigned to a heavy exercise program, researchers were surprised at how little weight they lost. Yes, they ate more but more surprisingly, “They also were resolutely inactive in the hours outside of exercise, the motion sensors show. When they weren’t working out, they were, for the most part, sitting. “I think they were fatigued,” Mr. Rosenkilde says.”

Some people say we ought to “listen to our bodies.” But in my experience our bodies are sneaky experts at staying the same size. They need to be ready for feasts and famines and those women with extra body fat are more reproductively successful.

It’s another argument in favour of short, sharp, intense Crossfit style workouts since they don’t seem to have this effect. Once again, it’s High Intensity Interval Training (HIT) for the win. Thirty minutes, says Reynolds, is the sweet spot for exercise.

And it’s yet one more argument against sitting.

Some personal observations:

  • In the past I’ve been a big fan of the hard exercise followed by flopping! It’s when I write best, physically exhausted and mentally alert. Without exercise, I’m a big fidgeter and pacer in a career that rewards focus, concentration, and long bouts of sitting. Now I’m working at a standing desk (at home anyway) and I’m liking the change. I’m also trying to incorporate more movement throughout my day. 
  • This puts me in a mind of a discussion members of my bike club used to have about our long Saturday morning rides. Some of us thought we ought to have shorter routes, say 100 km rather than 150 km, not because we couldn’t ride 150 km but rather because we wanted to do things with our families afterwards. The extra kilometers tipped us past the point where much was possible after other than a nap, a bath, and lounging about the house. It seemed all wrong to come home and then tell the kids that I couldn’t go to the park, go for a bike ride (yikes!), or walk the dog because I was too tired from all the bike riding!
  • While exercising itself doesn’t make much difference, changing your body composition does. A body with more muscle burns more calories throughout the day and so there’s good reasons to lift heavy weights. I know lots of women do long, slow cardio to lose weight (you know, the “fat loss” button on the exercise machine at the gym) but science says they ought to be lifting weights instead to get lean.
  • In terms of appetite, I think HIT is right on. Long, slow runs and bike rides make me famished. I can control what I eat after but it takes tremendous effort. Endurance exercise makes me hungry, whereas intense efforts have just the opposite effect.
  • Of course, why listen to a big person talk about exercise and weight loss? The truth is I’m terrific at weight loss. I’ve lost 50-70 lbs quite a few times. I’m a failure at maintaining the new lower weight, but that’s a puzzle for another time.
competition · racing · running · triathalon

Why is the Athena category so useless?

tri2The Athena/Clydesdale categories are an attempt to equalize competition in non-elite running and multisport events between big and small people. For men, Clydesdale is anyone over 200 lbs and for women the minimum weight for an Athena division runner is either 140 lbs or 150 lbs. But there are at least two problems with the Athena category. First, you have to select to run in it. And almost no women do.

Hint: It’s a great way to get medals. I’ve “won” the Athena division twice in duathlon events by being the only woman in the class.

I’m not sure if that’s because most women object to the weigh-in (a routine part of lots of sports, all of them with weight categories) but I didn’t actually have to weigh in since I’m clearly over that weight limit, or because they don’t want to be identified as part of the heavier group.

Second, as I looked around it seemed to me that most of the women competing were over that weight. Is it just wrong as a category? Am I wrong to think that 200 lbs seems okay for men but 140/150 seems small for women? As I mentioned with my bodpod results, my lean mass is 122 lbs so assuming I can retain that, I’ll always be an Athena class runner/multisport athlete.

Any thoughts about the Athena category and how useful, or not, it is? I’m keen on the idea of encouraging larger people to race and making it fair. Is this the way? (For what it’s worth, I love the idea of a weight adjusted hill race on bike where it’s all power to weight ratio…)

body image · fat

Fat or big: What’s in a name?

Confession: I’ve got an ambivalent relationship with the label “fat.” I do often claim to be “fit and fat” but I’m never quite sure if “fat” is the word I want. This isn’t because the word makes me ashamed. I’m all about reclaiming labels and I’m a huge fan of some of the blogs that make up the “fatosphere.”

My favourite was Kate Harding’s now defunct Shapely Prose. (If you haven’t read it, it’s worth browsing the archive.) I’m also a tremendous fan of the Healthy at Every Size movement. A terrific recent defense of using the word “fat” is in an essay by Lesley at xojane called, “Fat: Using the Other F Word.” If you want to know why anyone would call themselves “fat,” read Lesley.

Or another favourite, Ragen Chastain, the blogger behind Dances with Fat.

I also recognize that by numbers on the scale/BMI I’m significantly overweight. And I know that some people see me as fat. Others don’t though. I’m most likely to claim the label when some well meaning person within ear shot starts equating being fat with being out of shape, thinking, what exactly, that I’ll agree with them? Sometimes they say “Oh, we don’t mean you. You’re not fat really.” Then I want to remind people that I’m part of the story too.  When we start talking about the statistics, I want in.

So why the ambivalence? Well, I wear size 12 clothes–well within the range of easily available sizes–and I don’t feel particularly fat. The bits of me that have clothes issues relate to muscles and women’s clothing styles: biceps, shoulders, and calves. So I sometimes use the label “fat” but I often feel squeamish about it, as if I don’t really belong in the club.

What’s the alternative? At Aikido the other day I started to notice the vocabulary we have to describe male bodies. We often joke about how much fun it is to throw the “big” guys. Someone commented that I should pay attention to how they roll because they have to do it with more finesse to avoid crashing into the mats. (A mistake I make from time to time. Ouch, sore shoulder.) And the big men are big in different ways. Some are overweight, others are tall, some are extremely muscular such as the power lifter in the club. One of the guys is a Clydesdale weight adventure runner. But there’s no angst in referring to them as “big.”

We have other positive words too. My favourite is “brawny.”  No need for further explanation or apology. They are fun to throw. I’d much rather play Aikido with one of them than with a frail person I’d worry about hurting. Their large bodies feel resilient and strong. Why can’t we feel the same way about big women?

And please don’t get me started on all the cutesy labels women use to avoid the word “fat”: fluffy, chunky, chubby…

So “fat,” I guess. But big suits me better.

By the way, I like “big” in the title of an academic essay on women, sport, and size, for which I was an interview subject. It’s a great article, by Krista Scott Dixon, well worth reading: “Big Girls Don’t Cry: Fitness, Fatness, and the Production of Feminist Knowledge”. Sociology of Sport Journal 25 (2007): 22-47.

Here’s the abstract:  Feminists have produced a number of important critiques of the way in which fat and fit are understood. While fitness provides opportunities for women’s personal and political empowerment, in practice, because fitness is so frequently viewed as a cosmetic project and connected to achieving thinness, such opportunities have generally failed to materialize despite rapid increases in women’s sports and exercise participation. I examine the experiences of larger female athletes in strength and power-based sports to examine how they negotiate their identities as athletes and women, and how they navigate “fitness” and “fatness.”

Photo by Chih Eric Li
(C) CANBERRA PICTORIAL
body image · fat · fitness · health

Fit, Fat, and What’s Wrong with BMI

I’d like us to ditch all talk of BMI as a meaningful measure when it comes to individuals. And please don’t say it’s better than weight because it’s just weight + height taken into account. So  insofar as weight is a problematic measure and BMI relies on weight, so too is BMI problematic. I’ve long loved Kate Harding’s project BMI Illustrated over at Shapely Prose. She describes it this way, “I put together a slideshow to demonstrate just how ridiculous the BMI standards are.” This isn’t to deny that BMI talk is useful about populations and big picture trends, it’s just that I think it’s misleading and harmful when it comes to individuals.

Lots of thin people are falsely reassured by their BMI, while lots of people with BMIs  in the overweight/obese categories might be worrying with no good reason. Fit and fat are linked but not in the ways most people think. I worry that lots of fat people don’t exercise because they worry what people will think especially if you exercise and don’t get any smaller. Yet fat and fit people can be very healthy.  “People can be obese yet physically healthy and fit and at no greater risk of heart disease or cancer than normal weight people, say researchers.The key is being “metabolically fit”, meaning no high blood pressure, cholesterol or raised blood sugar, and exercising, according to experts. Looking at data from over 43,000 US people they found that being overweight per se did not pose a big health risk.” reports the BBC.

I love my family doctor who cheered me up immensely when she looked at my chart and said, “This is the part of the visit when, given your weight, I should warn you about the health problems associated with overweight and obesity. However, given that you’ve got low to normal blood pressure, no sugar issues, and the best ratio of good to bad cholesterol we’ve ever seen at this clinic, I can’t in good conscience do that. You’re extremely healthy. Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.”

A few years ago I tried Weight Watchers–for probably the 6th time in my life, will I never learn?–and I was shocked at their weight range for my height. Weights I haven’t seen since Grade 6. And to give you some perspective they were also weights I never weighed even when at 5’7 I wore size 8 clothing.  The so called “healthy” or “normal” weight range for me has never seemed plausible. I had an interesting experience recently. This summer I was measured in the BodPod at the Fowler Kennedy Sports Medicine Clinic which tells you exactly how much of your body is fat and how much is muscle, bone etc. I was happy to see that to weigh what Weight Watchers thought of as my ideal, I’d be allowed a mere 20 lbs of body fat. I won’t discuss exact weights today but I will tell you that I’m 122 lbs not fat. It’s my goal as part of my ‘fittest at fifty’ plan to improve my ratio of lean body mass. You can read more about the difference between the BMI approach and the lean body mass approach here. I plan to both develop my muscles and lose some body fat. I’d also like to lose pounds in absolute numbers too, mostly though to make running easier on my joints and to make it easier to get up hills faster on the bike! Hill climbing on the bike is all about power to weight ratio and so I’ll never be a climber but I hate to get dropped on hills on a regular basis. According to BMI, I’ll likely always be overweight or obese and I’ve made my peace with that. (I’ll write more about my ambivalence around ‘fat’ as a label for me later.)

Marc Perry notes in Get Lean that according to BMI most American football players count as obese. So too do many Olympic athletes. There is list here of all of the Gold medal athletes from the 2004 Olympics in Athens who count as overweight or obese according to BMI. We need to change our image of what athletes look like. Usually they don’t look like fitness models. See Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein: The Different Body Types of Olympic Athletes.