body image · weight loss

Lower death risk for the overweight, go us!

From the New York Times: “The report on nearly three million people found that those whose B.M.I. ranked them as overweight had less risk of dying than people of normal weight. And while obese people had a greater mortality risk over all, those at the lowest obesity level (B.M.I. of 30 to 34.9) were not more likely to die than normal-weight people. The report, although not the first to suggest this relationship between B.M.I. and mortality, is by far the largest and most carefully done, analyzing nearly 100 studies, experts said.”

This is in keeping with a declaration made by The New York Times in 1912 when they declared Elsie Scheel, “the perfect woman” at 171 lbs.

Read more here: The ‘Perfect Woman’ In 1912, Elsie Scheel, Was 171 Pounds And Loved Beefsteaks

Blogger Kate Harding described Scheel in these terms: “Miss Elsie Scheel’s BMI would have been 26.8, placing her squarely in today’s dreaded “overweight” category. At Banana Republic, to pick a random contemporary store, she would wear a size 8 top, a 12/14 bottom, and probably a 12 dress with the bust taken in.” (Kate Harding is the author of the BMI Project.)

I’ve written a bit about the so-called obesity paradox, Obesity, health, and fitness: some odd connections.

That’s okay. I’m not worried. I’ve been in the overweight category all of my adult life, even at my thinnest. Given my 122 lb base of muscle and bone, I’ll always be overweight. Which is, I’ve argued here, part of the problem with weight and BMI as measures of anything meaningful.

I often wonder about the effect of news like this on the naturally lean. One of thing that interests me is that it seems it just doesn’t matter how big the health benefits of being overweight are, no one would suggest that underweight people try to gain weight. It’s just too tough. Why doesn’t this work the other way?

sports nutrition · weight loss

Great reading for the fitness geek on your gift list

Timothy Caulfield’s new book The Cure for Everything: Untangling the Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness and Happiness aims to set the record straight on what the latest research in food and fitness does and doesn’t show. Caufield is sick of all of the myths and hype surrounding food and fitness trends.

For the most part The Cure for Everything is a fun, fact filled exercise in debunking. I like a good debunking as much as the next philosopher. What science minded academic doesn’t?

Here are some highlights from the self described science nerd and health nut:

  • When it comes to weight loss, exercise is just a tiny part of the story. 90% or more of it is diet. Caulfield thinks there is a reason so much funding for sports and exercise programs comes from food manufacturers. They’re anxious to redirect attention.
  • That said, we should all exercise more than we do. It’s incredibly good for us, even if we don’t lose weight. What sort of exercise? Heavy weights and intensity. Forget “moderate” exercise, intensity is where it’s at and what makes a difference. Governments encourage “moderate” exercise because that’s where there’s the biggest bang for health improvement buck but really, it’s intense exercise that offers the most individual benefits. Governments rightly worry that if they shared this message we’d all give up, go home, and watch yet more television.
  • There’s no such thing as toning and the best way to visible abs is low body fat. (That’s why heroin addicts look ripped.)
  • Stretch if you want to but there’s no evidence to say it’s good for you and some evidence to show it hurts performance. (Yes! Thank you.)
  • The food industry touts the ‘everything in moderation’ ideal but the truth is that some foods have no place in a healthy diet. Rather by the time you eat all the foods you need to eat, there’s no room for them in the daily calorie count.
  • Don’t bother with vitamins and supplements. Eat real food.
  • And there’s nothing particularly good to say about detox and cleansing diets.
  • Most surprisingly (for me) was his critique of yoga. I wasn’t shocked that homeopathy isn’t medicine but I was taken aback by his claim that yoga is not very good as exercise though it is probably good for stress relief. I’ll worry less now that I’m not very good at yoga but I still enjoy it anyway. Hot yoga on a cold winter day feels wonderful. And I’ll be curious to hear what yoga buffs make of Caulfield’s claims. (Hi Tracy!)

You can read the short version here on Huffington Post, 9 Health Myths Debunked by Timothy Caulfield.

Caulfield leads the Faculty of Law’s Health Law and Science Policy Group at the University of Alberta and is a Canada Research Chair  in Health Law and Policy. He is also a pretty serious track cyclist (a former Canadian master’s champion in sprint cycling) and the same age as me, 48. Oh, and he’s got cool glasses.

What counts as fitness, according to Caulfied? In an interview with Healthzone he says:

In our society, fitness is about looking good, about esthetics. My definition is not tied to sexy abs. It’s tied to feeling strong and vigorous. It’s about biological markers, such as blood pressure and cholesterol. You get all that from working out. If your goal is to look in the mirror for drastic changes, you’re going to be disappointed.

Some of this will be familiar to readers of Gretchen Reynolds’ The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer which I talked about here.

Both books cover lots of the same ground although I found Caulfield’s conclusions a little gloomier. Reynolds tends to sprinkle the bad news with the good. She’s also a health reporter and he’s an academic and the difference in background shows. Though both aim to be popular books sharing research in a field many of us care deeply about, if you actually want the science and some details about the studies Caulfield will be a better read.

Both books also make clear that the truth doesn’t provide much fodder for catchy motivational slogans: Exercise intensely for long periods of time and you might just stay the same! Both cite the same study showing women who exercise a lot, and regularly, still gain weight as they age. They just gain less. That’s good health news but won’t exactly make for a very good poster at the gym.

The bit that I found hard to take, though I don’t doubt he’s right, was Caulfield’s assessment of what’s required for long term weight loss and maintenance. People who lose weight and keep weight off in the long run have some traits in common. And this group, because they’re rare, have been studied closely.  First, constant vigilance. They remain as focused and determined as they were when losing weight and they log and track just as carefully as when they started. Second, they exercise a lot. Third, they also don’t eat very much. Yikes.

During the course of writing the book, Caulfied himself dropped 25 lbs and went into the very lean category in terms of body fat. He did with some simple rules: no junk food, very limited quantities (he only ordered starters not entrees) and half of everything he ate had to be fruits and vegetables. He speaks in frank terms about hard this was, about hunger and resisting temptation. He’s kept the weight off but still finds it a struggle.

In the end I like ‘s assessment of the book. On his blog Weighty Matters he calls it an “evidence based romp.” Three words he says he’d never thought he’d string together.

You can hear Caulfield interviewed on the ABC here and his book is also reviewed  in the National Post

weight loss

Oh no, skinny face!

Because of my size, I have to lose a lot of weight before I get compliments on my changing shape.

The complications that follow from dealing with the well meaning noters of weight loss is a whole other post. Needless to say it’s overwhelming, dispiriting, and a big mess. More about this later.

But inevitably, without fail, the first thing people do notice is wrinkles. They don’t say that. No one ever says, “Wow you look wrinkly.” (Okay, teenagers might.)

Friends say, “You look tired.”

“Have you been working out too much?”

“Getting enough sleep?”

But I know that what they are noticing (since I notice them too) are new lines on my face.

It fascinates me that people don’t associate this change with weight loss. Since all weight loss is positive, on mainstream accounts of beauty, any bad effects must be due to something else, like sudden onset aging or lack of sleep.

When I lose weight I lose first and fastest from my face and then my waist.

And a sad fact about my age: it’s either thin body or smooth skin. Take your pick. You can’t have both.

My mother and I share this, plump faces and smooth skin.

So many people compliment me on looking young, but they don’t even consider that it’s a side effect of being overweight.

Writing about fasting, Krista Scott Dixon sounds like she actually likes her skinny face but she’s younger than me, fewer wrinkles.

“I loved the way my face looked as my bodyfat dwindled. Leonine, I said to myself, looking at my chiseled jaw. Androfemme. I enjoyed the feel of both of these words in my mouth. My father had other words for it. You look like you just got out of a prison camp, he said. (Actually he said Auschwitz. But he has a flair for inappropriate hyperbole. Please excuse him. As you can see, the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. Love you dad!)

Your face! So skinny! said the coffee shop barista. (Yes, the barista.) Drink more milk.

You have your thin wrinkles, said my quasi-Aspie friend with no internal editor. You know, the wrinkles you get when you’re too thin. Right there, around your mouth.”

http://www.stumptuous.com/rant-66-december-2012-the-first-rule-of-fast-club

It sounds like the dreaded skinny face only happens to Krista when she’s at her very leanest.  The sad part for me is that it happens first. Luckily I can live with the wrinkles if I get to go up hills faster and keep my hips, knees, and ankles happy for another thirty years or more. That’s the reason why I’d like to be leaner even though it’s clear to me that being fat and fit are perfectly consistent.

I’m typically not bothered much by traditional standards of beauty and whether or not I match them. Life’s too short. We all die in the end. The people who care about mainstream beauty don’t much interest me much anyway so why should I be concerned with what they think?

“We all die in the end anyway” might strike you as a gloomy thing to think or say. But really once you adjust to that big piece of bad news everything is small potatoes. It’s quite liberating. The joys of philosophy.

But as you might imagine there’s lots of angsty ink spilled in women’s magazines about this conundrum. Here’s a snippet:

There’s an old saying that, as you get older, you need to choose between your face and your rear end. In other words, if you’re skinny you’ll look good from behind, but your face will suffer.

Depressing as it may seem, there is some truth to the saying. A couple of studies have found that women with a low body mass index (BMI) have increased skin aging — including one study of identical twins. When the twins were under age 40, the heavier twin looked older. But after age 40, it was the thinner twin who looked older

Do skinny women just look older, or do they actually have more wrinkles? Actually, both are true. “In general what happens is, as your BMI goes lower you lose some volume of soft tissue, particularly over the age of 40,” explains Robert Weiss, MD, Dermatologist at the Maryland Laser Skin and Vein Institute, Associate Professor of Dermatology at Johns Hopkins University, and Fellow with the American Academy of Dermatology. “When you lose that volume of soft tissue, the wrinkles do either become deeper or more noticeable.”

from Do skinny people get more wrinkles? on Discovery Fit & Health.

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 · gender policing · health · weight loss

Three Amazing Rants about Food, Nutrition, and Weight Loss

Must be something in the air…

  • Krista Scott Dixon at Stumptuous in Rant 66 December 2012: The First Rule of Fast Club rants about and aims fury and righteous rage in the direction of lots of things including the following: why intermittent fasting may not be the cure all for women’s weight woes, why in general what works for young men won’t work for women, and why women shouldn’t listen to young, thin, male personal trainers.

Most lean young guys giving fitness and nutrition advice are basing that advice — in part — on their own bodily experience. Which won’t match yours. (See above.)

Most lean young guys giving fitness and nutrition advice have not seen a sufficiently diverse client base. Hey, that’s what happens when you’re young. It’s not bad. It’s just the math of reality. In a few decades, then they’ll be Dave Draper and have some awesome yarns to spin. And then maybe I’ll take their advice.

Food Villain Mythology is usually supported by a handful of (cherry picked) scientific studies and an elaborate and sophisticated web of logical fallacy. The resultant construct usually holds that the Food Villain in question is the root cause of either modern society’s obesity and diabetes epidemic, or the root cause of an individual’s obesity and illness. There is usually some kernel of truth in the claim. Take wheat for instance: it is true that wheat can be problematic for some individuals who have an allergy or intolerance, and for anyone who consumes it in excess or to the exclusion of other foods that would provide a more well rounded nutritional foundation. There are other issues with wheat too, involving its cultivation, processing, ubiquitousness and nutrient profile. But Food Villain Mythology has taken those issues and created what amounts to mass hysteria in some circles, with an entire mythology centering on wheat’s Magical Ability to single-handedly drive obesity and disease. Scary stuff.

Points, at first, were a fun game to follow, and they did make me more aware of the amount of vegetables and healthy foods I was consuming. Just like in my middle-school WW years, I carefully controlled my caloric intake, I joined Jazzercise (which, to this day, I love — fit is it!), and I ate Weight Watchers-sanctioned aspartame gummies (1 point, entire package, ingredients unpronounceable) nearly constantly. Fuck an apple, those fools were two points, and points were valuable, like precious gold. Or something even better because you can’t eat gold.

I’m working on my own Weight Watchers rant and will post it here in the near future. Til then, enjoy these.

fitness · racing · running · training · triathalon · weight loss

Fittest by Fifty? Who’s the Competition? She is!

If it’s my goal to be my personal fittest by fifty, then I need to know where the bar is set. Who do I have to beat?

As Tracy and I have mentioned neither of us had particularly athletic childhoods. We have no sports trophies gathering dust or teenage personal bests to conquer. Thank God.

For me, there are two possible candidates for my competition.

Here’s contender number 1. Meet the me that resulted from my last fitness run-up to a significant decade. It’s me at 40. Say hello to Sam, circa 2004, photos below.  She’s in the yellow tank, wearing a number on her chest, no shoulder tattoo yet. She’s thinner and fitter than I am now, if we use running as a measure of fitness. I think she’s probably slower on the bike. She’s certainly not as strong nor as muscular. Shhh. But either way she’s not as fit as I will be at 50.

No thinness goals this time round. From 2002 to 2004,  I went from 230 to 160 lbs but while I stayed reasonably fit I didn’t manage the keep all the weight off. This time my focus is fitness. Though like Tracy, I’d also like to have a better fat-muscle ratio. (Read why here.)

I love these photos because it was such a happy day. I came 14th out of the 40 women in my age group at the Waterloo duathlon. What a terrific race. 5 km run, 40 km bike, 3 km run. Much better than the one I’d done before which ended with a 5 km run. Like all duathletes who turn out to be really be cyclists, I loathe the 2nd run.

A few other things about that day stand out.

I competed with my good friend Martin with whom I’d trained for the race. We actually sort of cheated, just a little bit. He was in the wave ahead of me and so when he’d finished he came back and ran the last run again, with me, for moral support.

You are not supposed to do that, no outside help allowed, and it’s true his nagging– “See that girl ahead in the blue shorts, you can pass her”–helped. If it makes you doubt my ethics, and I’m an ethics professor (geesh), it might help to know that I had no idea this was breaking a rule at the time. It was my second duathlon and it was all new to me.

The hills were also my kind of hills, rolling, steep and short. I could power up and over them without much need to change gears and I’m happy to aggressively pedal down them.

But I’m not sure running is a good way for to measure fitness now, two stress fractures later. That said, in a combined run/bike/run event, I think I could take her by 2014.

Contender number 2 is cycling me, me after 10 months of training with the Vikings Cycling Club in Canberra, Australia and a lot of racing: road races, time trials, and criteriums. She’s below in the blue and white bike jersey, looking very happy just having finished a race. I use a photo from that era as main image on this sight for inspiration. Those were very happy, and very fit, times. I miss the Stromlo Crit course and the weekly club level racing. Miss all the women cyclists and all of my friends on bikes, both there in New Zealand. Need to get more women riding here and I wish we had more recreational racing but that’s a  problem and a post for another time. I was very bike fit by July 2008 when I came home from Australia and I’ve got loads of good data to use in a comparison.

Maybe I’ll need to beat them both but we’ll see how my running holds out. This project would be seriously setback by another stress fracture.

 

fat · fitness · health · sports nutrition · weight loss

Fat, fit, and why I want to be leaner anyway

As you’ll know from reading my posts on our blog, I’m fat and fit, aiming to be fitter and to be the fittest I’ve ever been, at 50. (In some moods I prefer big and fit, read why here.)

Weight loss isn’t a direct goal for me in this project. That’s partly because I’m a supporter of the Healthy At Every Size movement, partly because I don’t think there’s a fatness-fitness connection, and partly because for me, personally, there aren’t health related reasons to lose weight. So I take it as a starting point that it’s possible to be the fittest I’ve ever been and not weigh the least I’ve ever weighed. Indeed, although I wouldn’t like it, I might be the fittest I’ve ever been and weigh more than I do now, though I’d much rather that not be the outcome I get.

As I detailed in Fat, Fat, and What’s Wrong with BMI I’m a bit of a healthy living rock star. Yes, I’m significantly overweight but I have excellent blood pressure and heart rate, excellent good-bad cholesterol ratios, and excellent blood sugar levels. I’m also an over-achiever in the bone density department but that’s from years of living large and lifting heavy weights.

(An aside: Bone density is a great reason to lift weights, especially for you small, thin women whose frames aren’t much challenged by the mass you carry around. Weight lifting works to build bones unlike endurance sports such as swimming, cycling, and running which in volume can actually hurt bone density. Read “Training to Improve Bone Density in Adults: A Review and Recommendation here.)

I’m also not sure about the wisdom of picking a goal–long term weight loss–that defeats almost all the people who aim for it. (Read Gina Kolata’s Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss—and the Myths and Realities of Dieting for some of my reasons.)

Oh, and I already eat very well. I’m a vegetarian, aspiring vegan, non-drinker, who stays well away from fast food. I have a bit of a sweet tooth and sometimes I eat too much of  good thing but there’s not a lot of room for nutrition improvement.

But I really would like to improve my ratio of lean to fat, by building more muscle and losing some fat, even if I think that’s got zero to do with fitness or being fittest by fifty.

Why?

That’s a question that in our culture hardly seems worth asking. Everyone I know, pretty much, wants to shrink. The size 4s want to get back to size 0, the 10s back to 4, and so on. It’s a cultural obsession and mega money making industry. I try to stay clear.

Most people assume weight loss is why I exercise. But really, if that were my goal I would have quit long ago. Indeed I worry that lots of fat people quit working out because they aren’t getting thinner and why else would they go to gym? The fat but fit person looks like she’s doing all the work and not getting the rewards. Nevermind that the real rewards are health related and have nothing to do with weight.

So again, why do I want to be leaner?

My main reason I want to get leaner is sports performance. An awful lot of what I do depends on a power to weight ratio. For an explanation of power to weight ratio and its importance when it comes to cycling, read The Pursuit of Leanness over at Australia’s Cycling Tips blog.

I’ll never be a hill climber. I’m a reasonably powerful sprinter and time trialer (for a recreational cyclist in her midlife years!). I know my place in the cycling world. But I’m sick of getting dropped on hills.

My second motivation for the pursuit of lean is wear and tear on joints. I love sports and physical activity. Hard to imagine life without it. But you don’t see many overweight runners in their 70s. Cyclists either. I worry about stress on my knees and hips and think there’s got to be an advantage to weighing less. Or at least if I want to play with people lots younger than me, as seems to be the case with every sport that I do, I want to even the playing field.

Evening the playing field is one of the reasons I feel great being a non-drinker on multi-day cycling events. Stay up, you 19 year olds and 25 year olds. Have another beer. I’ll be asleep, sober, and well hydrated by 10 pm. Not fun now but fun when I see you suffering tomorrow.

Finally, there’s  bad motivation, one of which I try to be wary. And no, it’s not looking good naked. Like Tracy, I’m pretty comfortable in that department. I don’t have a lot of body image issues. I’ve often wondered about why that’s so. I’ve got some thoughts about my resilience in that department, fodder for a later post, I think. (Short answer: Thanks spouse, thanks feminism, thanks queer community.)

Sometimes I want to look like the very fit person I am. There are days when I’m weary of fighting the good fight, challenging our notions of the size and shape fitness takes. Sometimes I want people to look at me and see who I am and what I do.

For example, I’ve got incredible abs. You can’t see them as they are under a layer of fat but they do amazing things. I’m very strong in my core but it’s like they’re a secret super power, my invisible abs.

Not being seen for who I am is a bit of a struggle on my life on a few fronts. (You can read some of my work on bisexual invisibility here and here.)

So sometimes I’m sick of it all and want to be seen as the athlete I am.

But I’m hoping to keep those motivations at bay and focus on the hills and the climbing.