Looking “Fit” Doesn’t Mean Being Healthy
What is healthy?
The word “healthy” is a lofty one. Ask 10 people what being healthy means to them, and I can guarantee that you’ll get 10 different answers, ranging anywhere from blood work data, to inflammation, to the ability to run a mile in under 8 minutes. So what exactly does healthy mean? Spoiler: I’m not entirely sure either, and my definition admittedly changes frequently. However, I am certain of one thing: Looking fit doesn’t always mean that you are healthy, and being healthy doesn’t always mean that you will look fit.
Never Judge a Book by it’s (Pretty) Cover
A few years ago I prepped for my first Figure show. When I started out, I was sort of skinny-fat. Nothing extreme, but not lean by any stretch of the imagination. However, I was a pretty happy camper. I was always laughing (anybody that knows me can attest that I am a gigglebox) and bouncing off the walls. Once I embarked on an 18 week show diet, that all changed. Granted, my body had never looked better and it got more ridiculous with every day that passed. People kept commenting on how amazing I looked, asking what I was doing to make such great progress, and could I help them do that, too?
But what they didn’t know was that I felt like total shit. Day in and day out, I was miserable. I was so tired that I could barely handle life. I was the grumpiest chick on the planet, and I still feel bad to this day for some of the people that had to endure my mood swings for those 4+ months. I was weak, tired, and irritable. My skin was dry, I was always freezing, and simply put, I never felt good. My digestive system was in shambles and I was an emotional wreck, however I persevered, chalking it all up to the “prep experience” and telling myself that these are sacrifices we have to make in order to get to our goals.
So yes, my body? Bangin’. But I am pretty sure that no matter what your definition of “healthy” is, what I listed above sure as hell ain’t it.
Careful What You Wish For
One day a friend of mine was talking about a Figure competitor that trained at our gym, and she said, “Whoa. I’m so jealous! I wish I could be as healthy as she is.” What this girl didn’t know was that I happened to be friends with the Figure competitor and the extremes she went to for dieting for her shows were insane and typically involved huge rebounds and battles with severe depression after each show. My girlfriend deemed the Figure competitor healthy based only on physical appearance and was envious, even though she had no idea what was going on under the surface, which I dare bet was a deluge of hormonal and metabolic issues that were only exacerbated with each prep. Nevertheless, the competitor’s smoking hot body had women flocking to her for dietary and training advice, saying that they’d give anything for that body.
Healthy > Super Lean.
What about the people that train consistently, eat a balanced diet, and are genuinely happy, but don’t possess the genetics that allow them to get really lean (for the sake of this post, lets say sub 15% for a woman, and sub 8% for a man) without going to extreme dieting and supplementation measures? They aren’t ripped, shredded, diced, or any other silly word that evokes visible abdominal definition or muscle striations, but they feel good – move well, sleep well, enjoy life, strong, happy – and I dare say are healthy.
I believe the majority of the population that trains hard and eats right falls into this group. While getting insanely lean isn’t impossible, the lengths that most of us (including yours truly) have to go to in order to get there are pretty hairball, and they most certainly are not maintainable unless we choose to live, eat, and breathe our diet/training/supplement routine.
Healthy Isn’t Always Lean, and Lean Isn’t Always Healthy
When do we come to peace with the fact that being healthy doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be really lean, and being really lean doesn’t mean we’re healthy? The majority of the people that love to train and work hard to eat right seem to be forever chasing the dream of being really lean when in reality, it’s typically not conducive with a healthy body for most of us (myself included). And even if your body is able to stay really lean, a lot of people become a mess mentally (again, myself included), obsessing over everything we eat or don’t eat, and end up developing some downright spooky self-esteem issues, even though we’ve never looked better. Is it worth it to chase that unicorn? My friend JC Deen wrote about this topic today in, “When is it Ever Enough?” and it really spoke to me. Been there, done all of that!
I get emails from women all the time that state their goals are to “have visible abs”. Visible abs may be gorgeous – though I’m more of a legs girl myself 😉 – but they are downright unattainable by most females. My girl Molly Galbraith explains why perfectly in this post, and I will tell you that Molly is an anomaly in this regard. Most women, in my experience, have to be rockin’ a really low bodyfat percentage in order to show any abdominal definition, while Molly has said her abs show even when her bodyfat sits around 20%.
As a nutrition coach, trainer, and health & fitness writer, this industry is a crazy world to play in. It’s a place where, unfortunately, most people’s expertise on nutrition and training isn’t based on how many clients we’ve worked with or the experiences that we’ve had, but rather on that person’s outward appearance.
I will be the first person to admit that I feel the pressure to look a certain way, because people put so much stock in our physical appearance, and I admittedly struggle with this topic. As Basilio just told me yesterday on Twitter:
Basilio Montilla @BMquietPK@JenComasKeck It’s becoming all too common to rely on aesthetics to judge a person’s level of fitness.
If you knew you could be really lean, but knew there was a good chance that you’d feel awful and potentially cause some health problems, would you still be willing to do it?
Drop me a comment below and lets discuss!
Watch for my next post: Do You Need Cheat Meals?