running · training

Fit and fat revisited (ultra running doesn’t make everyone thin and lean)

One of Mirna Valerio's selfies, used to prove that she showed up and did it! From http://fatgirlrunning-fatrunner.blogspot.ca/2015/07/thoughts-of-fatultrarunner.html
One of Mirna Valerio’s selfies, used to prove that she showed up and did it! From http://fatgirlrunning-fatrunner.blogspot.ca/2015/07/thoughts-of-fatultrarunner.html
You’ve heard it, I’ve heard it.  Running is supposed to be the “best cardio” for weight loss. Have you seen the people who win marathons? They’re lean sometimes to the point of being barely there.

If marathoners are that thin, ultra runners must be even more so. Except that, no, it doesn’t work that way.  I’ve already talked about how endurance training won’t make you lean any more than basketball will make you tall and lanky. I found this out first hand when I trained for Olympic distance triathlons and then a half marathon and then a 30K and then a marathon. I lost no weight at all. Not one gram. My weight fluctuated by about 2 pounds over the entire 2 year period.

And so what? Here at Fit Is a Feminist Issue, we like to challenge the idea that fit and fat don’t go together, and also that being thin is a sign of fitness. It’s not. There are plenty of thin people who could use a regular fitness routine. Sam has a great post that muddies the waters around the so-called connection between inactivity and obesity.

This week, Runner’s World profiled a 250 pound ultra distance runner named Mirna Valerio. Valerio blogs about her running at Fat Girl Running. Mirna runs about 25 miles a week unless she’s training for an event, in which case she ups it to 35. Right now, she’s training for a 50K trail race.

Here’s what people say to her:

“People always say to me, ‘Anyone who runs as much as you do deserves to be skinny.’ Of course, what they’re really saying: ‘If you do all this running, why are you still so fat?’”

Mirna provides a powerful counterexample to the idea that being “overweight” by the lights of the charts is automatically a negative comment on your fitness and health. Recent science bears this out. The RW article states:

“The scientific evidence has become quite powerful to suggest that a healthful lifestyle dramatically mitigates the risks associated with mild levels of obesity,” says Yoni Freedhoff, M.D., author of The Diet Fix and a professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine in Canada. “Scales don’t measure the presence or absence of health. A woman with obesity running marathons makes a superb role model.”

Mirna’s training is a huge source of enjoyment in her life too. Part of her regular ritual is that each time she goes out she takes a selfie.

Every run, every race, every traverse of a mountain trail, every gym workout, Valerio begins by taking a photo. “To prove that I was out here,” she explains. “To document the fact that I achieved something today.”

She makes it fun. And she keeps it light. On her blog, she has a page “how to be a fat runner.” She explains it in ten simple steps, including “embrace the name” and “look in the mirror and smile even if it doesn’t feel genuine” and “look in the mirror again and admire yourself for being a fatrunner.”

So here we have an ultra runner who is not thin and lean. But we’re not going to challenge her fitness, right? Imagine how much joy she would have robbed herself of if, after running for a few weeks or months without losing weight, she decided it wasn’t “worth it”?

This is what happens when we focus on one goal only: the goal of weight loss.  When our activities are a means to that sole end, and we don’t achieve that end, we sometimes forgo perfectly good, health-promoting, and enjoyable forms of activity because they don’t “work.” But there are so many other ways that getting more active does “work.”

What an impoverished idea of any kind of training we would have if its only function was to help us drop fat and lose weight. If that’s the only reason I ran, I would have given it up long ago. And so would Mirna Valerio and countless others who found that actually, they didn’t end up looking like elite marathoners when they took up endurance training.

Check out the entire RW article about Mirna Valerio here.  And visit her Fat Girl Running blog here.

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.

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Thanks KR!

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.