Why do we hate fat? Why do we run around trying to lose fat? How much fat is OK?
I realised I never challenged the idea of vilifying body fat.
I see the obsession we have with losing weight and losing fat but I never consciously processed it. It’s just one of those “facts”. A normal reality. Everyone seems to agree that these are good things to be doing. Everyone seems to want to lose some weight, to lose some fat, to start running, join gyms, eat clean.
Fitness lifestyle became a thing. It’s like this virus of thought. swarming. A meme. And I adopted it.
I went from having a healthy relationship with food, to being obsessed with getting as thin and ripped as I consider fit and attractive. From eating like a “normal person”, to micromanaging what, when, and how much I eat. From eating to live, to living to eat. From eating with my body, to eating with my head.
Some do it for health reasons, some do it for aesthetics. I initially did it for both reasons.
I wanted to build strength and endurance so I can walk longer and lighter. I also want to look fitter, more toned, and lean. To feel more accomplished and well rounded in all areas of life. Maximise the score across the board. More secure, confident, and in control.
I also felt the benefits of exercise. I have better mental and physical bandwidth, getting regular dosage of feel-good brain chemicals (endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin).
The message is also reinforced by the media around the fitness lifestyle also helps me strengthen the narrative that I am doing the right thing. I felt validated, supported, justified.
Only now I gained a bit of perspective that if I am going to play that game, if I am doing it to “be perfect“, then being “underweight” is by definition, imperfect.
Everyone is playing a different game, and it’s all fine. What is dangerous is losing track of the initial purpose, forgetting what you’re initially playing it for. What is even more dangerous is playing but not really knowing what you’re playing for and what the rules are,
How did we get here?
Let’s talk about the fitness lifestyle for a second. I think it started with the global obesity epidemic, Where people have developed higher percentage of body fat and imbalanced body composition than what their body is naturally built for, causing health issues.
At the other end of the malnutrition scale, obesity is one of today’s most blatantly visible – yet most neglected – public health problems. Paradoxically coexisting with undernutrition, an escalating global epidemic of overweight and obesity – “globesity” – is taking over many parts of the world. If immediate action is not taken, millions will suffer from an array of serious health disorders.
Obesity is a complex condition, one with serious social and psychological dimensions, that affects virtually all age and socioeconomic groups and threatens to overwhelm both developed and developing countries. In 1995, there were an estimated 200 million obese adults worldwide and another 18 million under-five children classified as overweight. As of 2000, the number of obese adults has increased to over 300 million. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the obesity epidemic is not restricted to industrialized societies; in developing countries, it is estimated that over 115 million people suffer from obesity-related problems.
Generally, although men may have higher rates of overweight, women have higher rates of obesity. For both, obesity poses a major risk for serious diet-related noncommunicable diseases, including diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, and certain forms of cancer. Its health consequences range from increased risk of premature death to serious chronic conditions that reduce the overall quality of life.
So this is a real phenomenon and fitness lifestyle seems to be valid and much needed response to it. But sometimes we don’t know when to stop. There is that line between fitness lifestyle and diet culture.
Being obese and “getting ripped” are on completely different ends of the same spectrum. Where do you want to position yourself?
We don’t know what we know
I understood that thinner != healthier and more exercise is not always better. It sounds silly and blatantly obvious.
That not everyone need to lose weight and fat to be healthy. The more fat you lose does not mean the healthier you get.
It’s also not uncommon to hear fit and active people getting cardiac arrests and other negative effect from overexercising after pushing and not honoring the limit and signal of their bodies.
These thoughts and data points swarm around unnoticed among millions of other knowledge, beliefs, and signals that zoom in and out every day through my lossy perception, or went buried somewhere in the drawers in my mental attic, unindexed and unregistered.
We don’t know what is signal and what is noise
We ignore the signals the body sends, thinking something is normal and operating within “the new normal”. We accept and cope with the hunger, occasional chest pains, and lost period. We postpone, work around, and manage them.
Even worse, we interpreted these signals inaccurately.
Only the past couple of days I reflect and realised that the “gym highs” where I feel extra boost of energy and mental bandwidth could possibly be me having trouble sleeping. I was happy with these because it kept me up longer, providing me with extra physical and mental productivity. And it didn’t affect my sleep quality or quantity speaking in the monthly timeframe.
I would be wary if I have gotten those from external “unnatural” stimulants like caffeine. But because I got it from resistance and strength training, something that is supposedly good for me, I treated it as a positive side effect, not a sign that something is wrong.
Why do we do what we do?
There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel and look a certain way.
I believe at the core of it we need to recognise what we all want is just to enhance our lives. To feel better, to be better, to have better opportunities, to increase our chances of survival.
We learn new skills, develop relationships with people, and work on our bodies. We want our bodies to be able fully support our activities, allowing us to do what we want when we want to and be in the best shape for social survival.
In the process of that sometimes we run away from uncomfortable emotions and mistreated ourselves or others.
If we learned to get in tune with our bodies, develop then maintain healthy relationship with food, and stay reasonably and functionally active, we will arrive at each of our own ideal weight and body composition. Tools like BMI calculators, calories trackers, and weight scales are tools to help us get there but I have learned that our heads are less smart than our whole body.
Human is messy. We are complex beings in complex systems connected to and impacting each other. But at the end of the day, we are all doing our best with all we think we got.