Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Fat & Fit -- That's What I'm Talking About!

The Washington Post posted an article today on heavy people who might happen to be categorized as "obese" by the government standards who also happen to be very fit.

I certainly I fit into that category. The article, "Can You Be Fat and Fit," by Rita Zeidner, explores mostly fitness instructors who have been struggling with the issue themselves. Oftentimes finding that their clients might judge them by their appearance before they even give them a chance.
The article site endurance (both cardio and muscular), flexibility, BMI, and strength as the main indicators of fitness. And noting that research is finally showing that fat and fit are not mutually exclusive. Here's a clip from the article:

"I don't want to minimize the impact of obesity -- there is no question that there are real problems associated with being overweight," said exercise physiologist Glenn Gaesser, director of kinesiology at the University of Virginia. "But there is almost no weight-related health problem that can't be helped with exercise."
Because muscle weighs more than fat, health experts generally agree that body weight -- or even BMI -- isn't always a reliable indicator of fitness, particularly for muscular athletes. Nor does exercise work uniformly to trigger weight loss in all people. So the risks generally tied to excess weight can be overstated when a person is physically active, Gaesser argues.
"Some people obviously have compensatory mechanisms" that keep them from losing weight, Gaesser said. These could include eating more to make up for calories burned or slowing down in other ways to make up for an increase in structured exercise. And just as there are some people who are naturally tall or short, he maintains there are some who are "naturally heavy."

A 2004 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association supports the "fat but fit" hypothesis. The study of more than 900 women found that those who were overweight but exercised were less likely to have a heart attack, stroke or other heart problem than their thin but sedentary peers.
It's a comforting theory. But not everyone subscribes to it.

I am one of the "naturally heavy" types he is referring to. Now granted, certainly I could be more fit and weigh less.....and certainly I have tried....but by training for Eagleman 70.3, a half iron race, and by signing up for Maramarc's strength training class, which also works on core, balance and flexibility, it appears I'm doing all the right things. And, when I've tried to diet while training I've hit my limits and realized it is impossible to train for a half-iron race and do South Beach at the same time. So, dietary changes have to be moderate, and more lifestyle changes....basically meaning working out 4 nights a week means eating less because I'm working out during diner -- a snack or small meal on either side of the workout means less overall calories.

I've also wondered as a team leader for TRIgirl Training how many teammates expect me to be more fit than I am or thinner....and I wonder how many of them judge me for just that reason -- my weight. In this society (and in the triathlon/fitness circle we are in) it would be hard to blame them.

And, I certainly would be more fit, faster and have better endurance if I was smaller -- but for now, I'm not. And that is OK too. And I know, for me my weight will be a life-long struggle. It started at 4 or so and I don't expect it to end anytime soon. In the meantime, I'll keep working on it. And I won't forget what motivates me: Not only do I want to know my grandchildren, but I also want to be able to run with them and play with them on the floor. I never knew either of my grandfathers. One died of Emphysema before I was born. The other died of a heart attack that was caused by a unhealthy lifestyle...four big no no's -- second hand smoke, poor eating (and extra weight) , work-a-holic/type A personality and lack of exercise. My other grandmother also died before I knew her of complications of a stroke. Neither of my parents ever exercised when I was a child, but I have to give my mom credit for making huge strides in her health now that she's retired and can focus solely on that. Still, though she can't really keep up with the kids outside and certainly wouldn't want to play on the floor with them. I know she thinks it's becuase she's old. But then....I think of our swim coach, Som, who is her age and I start to giggle. He's completed over 20 Ironman races and has found the fountain of youth and health. I'm sure he'll do another this year.
I'm guessing that all of my life there will be room for improvement, but as long as I'm on that journey I'll try to feel good about myself.


Diane said...

Just wanted to say that I think you look fit and fabulous; getting even better and better with every workout. And you are an awesome team leader.

Anonymous said...

I have always just thought of you as a great athlete. You are awesome on the bike and in the pool! Plus I think you are a great team leader.


carmen said...

As one whose weight has fluctuated over forty pounds in the last couple of years, I totally know what you mean. I know I'm fit, but I can't stop thinking, "If only I could/would lose X number of pounds, I'd be so much faster," or, "how long am I going to keep that [small size] or [large size] in my closet?" It is what it is. You looked great on the bike yesterday.

Nancy Toby said...

Thanks for the reference!!

There are a lot of skinnyfast runners (the smug ones) that I would LOVE to see strap on a 50-pound pack and try to keep up with me on an equal body weight, equal effort basis.