If you follow my blog at all, you know that I am okay with people not looking like fitness models. I don’t think that everyone in the world needs to have a freaky lean physique and six pack abs. The image that the media has portrayed as the perfect body for the past few decades is just that – the guy with muscles and 6% body fat and the skinny girl with just enough fat to have a little bit of curves. And a lot of people, including me, are saying, “To hell with that!” You don’t need to be ripped to be healthy. From that mindset, we are beginning to see a new mentality and message.
Here is the new message:
“Be happy with who you are.”
“Be comfortable in your own skin.”
“You are beautiful, no matter what size you are.”
I agree with that to some degree. Yes, even as a fitness professional, I agree. Someone who is overweight or obese does is not any less of a person or any less beautiful than someone who maintains a “normal” weight. There is more to life than being super lean.
The “big is beautiful” mantra that once seemed reserved for fat advocacy groups is seemingly becoming a little more mainstream. From plus-sized models to songs on the radio like Meghan Trainor’s “It’s all about that Bass,” we are essentially being told:
IT’S OKAY TO BE FAT or even IT’S COOL TO BE FAT
And from there we are even being told IT’S HEALTHY TO BE OVERWEIGHT
A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association made headlines in recent years when the analytical study of 97 other studies concluded that people with a BMI higher than normal had a lower risk of death than those in the normal category. The study, however, found that individuals with level 2 or level 3 obesity have greater risk of death. Nonetheless, the headlines read, “Overweight People Live Longer.”
Is it really healthy to be overweight?
The problem with studies like the one mentioned above, is that they use body mass index (BMI) to determine if someone is overweight. In fact, according to the BMI scale, I am overweight. Below is my current picture at the time of writing this article.
I am hardly a bodybuilder, but I do carry some muscle mass. I carry a little bit of fat on my frame too, but as you can see, I am far from what most would consider to be fat.
- A BMI of 18.5 to 24.99 means you are of normal weight.
- A BMI of 25 to 29.99 means you are overweight.
- A BMI of 30+ means you are obese.
My current BMI, puts me in the overweight category. Really that puts anyone close to my height, weight, and body fat percentage in that category. Could that be why studies show people with a slightly higher BMI than “normal” might be healthier than those with less muscle mass and therefore less weight?
I guess there could be some debate there. One thing that is hardly debatable is the fact that when BMI reaches levels of obese, a slough of health risks arise: heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, reproductive issues, sleep apnea, and mortality (to name a few).
Even though the BMI scale is flawed, when BMI levels are greater than 30, it is likely that a person’s body fat percentage is high too. Translation = high body fat percentages are not healthy.
So how much fat is healthy?
According to the American Council on Exercise, the following represents categories of fat percentages based on gender.
Essential fat – 2-5%
Fitness – 14-17%
Acceptable – 18-24%
Obese – >25%
Essential fat – 10-13%
Athlete – 14-20%
Fitness – 21-24%
Acceptable – 25-31%
Obese – >32%
We can see that both men and women can live an active lifestyle and still have a little fat on their frame while being healthy.
Is it okay to be fat?
When addressing whether or not being fat is okay, we have to define what “fat” is. Like I said earlier, according to BMI I am fat. If we go by ACE’s body fat percentages, then I am not. If we go by ACE’s percentages, then anyone with a body fat percentage above 25% for men and above 32% for women could be considered fat.
Now, is that level of fat okay? Well, it is certainly not ideal for optimum health and wellness.
Being financially poor does not make you less of a person, but life is a lot more comfortable with financial stability. It’s okay to be poor, but it would probably serve you better to do everything in your power to improve your financial situation.
The same can be said for being fat. Fat is not the measure of a person’s worth, but several aspects of life can be improved with a lower body fat percentage. If you find yourself in the category of obese, your very life might depend on your ability to lose weight. You will greatly reduce your risk of disease and death with an improvement in body composition, so it might be in your best interest to do everything in your power to improve your health by reducing your body fat.
I am going to refer back to one of the lines earlier in this post:
Be comfortable in your own skin.
I hear that phrase a lot from people looking to lose weight. “I just want to be comfortable in my own skin” is about as common as, “I want to lose (X number) of pounds” or “I want to tone up.”
Well, if you are fat and comfortable in your skin, it might be time to get uncomfortable. I don’t mean get uncomfortable in a negative self image sort of way. I am talking about breaking out of your comfort zone.
If working out at least 3 times per week is uncomfortable, then it is time to get uncomfortable.
If eating veggies at every meal is uncomfortable, then it is time to get uncomfortable.
If limiting sweets to just once or twice per week is uncomfortable, then it is time to get uncomfortable.
If eating whole foods instead of processed foods is uncomfortable, then it is time to get uncomfortable.
What the heck do you know? You’re a fitness guy that works out all the time and has good genetics.
Yeah, I know. How can I challenge fat people to get in shape, when I’m already in shape? Aren’t I insensitive for calling people “fat?”
I am coming to you as someone who was fat – about 50 pounds fatter than I am now. It turns out that reasonably good genetics are no match for lots of beer, sausage, candy, chips, and inactivity. I found this out between the years 2001 and 2008. I was a super busy, fat dad with no time to work out and no time to cook healthy meals before I broke out of my comfort zone and started living a healthy lifestyle. Less beer, more protein shakes. Less sausage, more whole food meat sources. Less candy and chips, more fruit and vegetables. More working out, less sitting on my butt. Doing that, brought me from fat to fit, and it has kept me there. If I can do it, so can anyone else.
Let’s not glorify being fat.
Again, being fat is not the worst thing on Earth, but let’s not glorify it. In the same way, let’s not glorify being skinny. Let’s glorify healthy. Let’s glorify consistent exercise. Let’s glorify eating nutritious whole foods. Let’s glorify living a healthy lifestyle which includes being active and eating good things. And if doing those things gets you to 10 percent body fat as a man or 18 percent as a woman, cool. If it gets you to 20 percent body fat (men) or 30 percent body fat (women), that’s cool too (if you are cool with it.) You most likely won’t be getting calls from fitness magazines to be the cover girl or guy with double-digit body fat, but you can be a pretty darn healthy mom, dad, student – a healthy specimen within your speck of society. Health is always worth celebrating, in my book.
Flegal, Katherine M., Brian K. Kit, Heather Orpana, and Barry I. Graubard. “Association of All-Cause Mortality With Overweight and Obesity Using Standard Body Mass Index Categories.” Jama 309.1 (2013): 71. Web.
“Percent Body Fat Norms for Men and Women.” ACE. American Council on Exercise, 2015. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. <http://www.acefitness.org/acefit/healthy_living_tools_content.aspx?id=2>.
“About BMI for Adults.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23 Feb. 2015. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. <http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/index.html>.