Let’s have a chat. A chat about fat.
All day long, I hear (primarily) women (though also some men) go on and on about being fat. “I’m fat,” they’ll say, and they’ll point to someone across the gym, “and look at her, she’s so skinny.” Then, almost like clockwork, she’ll sigh and say:
“I just wish I was skinny.”
There are so many things about this statement that drive me nuts, as a trainer of course, but also as a woman and as a health professional. The (wrongheaded) idea that thin is in and fat is bad is so deeply ingrained in our culture that I don’t know if we (again, as health professionals but also human beings living in a reasonable society) will ever be able to fully reverse the black-and-white nature of that message.
But today, I’ll try.
Let’s start with the idea of fat. What does it mean to be fat? For a lot of women, especially women in L.A., being fat means having anything more than the medically necessary bone and skin layer to sustain life. I’m not joking. It does not matter if the “skinny” person in question is bone-thin, greying under the eyes, losing her hair, yellow of tooth, and bent-over in a pre-osteoporotic hunch – if she’s thin, she’s idolized. That’s it.
I have a client that is a dead-honest size zero who has pinched some part of her skin in front of me, and claimed that she, indeed, is fat. A strong, fit client of mine that can bench press over 100 pounds and leg press over 400 has a BMI that is above the normal range, which makes her “fat” by certain standards. One client of mine was a full eight months pregnant (!) and honestly lamenting the fact that she had “gotten fat.”
I am not having this. Any of this.
What matters to your overall health, and what should matter to your overall psyche, is not some weird, ambiguous definition of fat – or skinny, for that matter. What matters is that you have a strong body composition – i.e. ratio of fat to muscle – and that you attain and maintain that composition in a healthy way (i.e. no starvation diets, cleanses, hypergymnasia, orthorexia, or any of those other “health trends” that are actually mental-health problems in disguise).
Moreover, being skinny in and of itself is not something to be idolized unless it is the naturally occurring shape of a body that is also muscular, well-fed, calcium-rich (since the thinner you are, the more at-risk you are for osteoporosis), and happy. Nothing drives me crazier in the gym than seeing someone who is conventionally “skinny” listlessly working out on the elliptical for 20 minutes, hitting that weird and pointless abductor machine for a hot second, and then maybe throwing in a few crunches for good measure – all the while not being able to do a single bodyweight push-up, pull-up, or run a single mile.
Being healthy isn’t something that can be discerned from observing someone’s weight or body type – in fact, people who are overweight (BMI 25-30) actually have longer lifespans than people who are normal weight (and much longer than the obese or underweight). And don’t even get me started on skinny-fat (people whose BMI is in a normal range, but whose body fat is dangerously and unhealthily high).
What, then, does it mean to be
skinny? First of all, I reject the word skinny. In my opinion, It’s not a compliment for women who work out – it simply means you aren’t building visible muscle, and you just look weak. If you’re trying to describe someone’s body type in a positive way, let’s be more accurate. How about good old-fashioned thin? Better yet, fit? Can I get a muscular? Lean? Healthy? Strong?
Or how about we stop commenting on the shape of women’s bodies entirely?
I always tell my clients to focus less on numbers on a scale (although numbers from a body fat read can definitely be helpful – for more on how to do that, click here) and more on how they feel after we’ve been training together. Do you feel more powerful when you work out? Do you sleep better when you’re exercising? Do you have more energy when you eat clean foods? Do you love yourself more when you take care of your body?
If the answers to the above questions are yes – maybe the numbers on the scale and/or the labels you slap on your own body don’t matter so much anymore.
What terms do you use to describe yourself – and your body – to others?