I spend a lot of time reading feministy, body-positive, Healthy at Every Size type blogs, so at first I wasn’t surprised to read a piece called Never Take Fitness Advice from the New York Times. Until I realized it was written by a man, and on Gawker to boot. Yay for encountering body-positive messages in unlikely spaces, particularly considering the staggering number of negative messages we get about our bodies each and every day!
In this piece, Hamilton Nolan critiques a recent NYT article called “Does Working Out Really Help You Lose Weight?,” particularly its assumption that the goal of exercise, and indeed all of life, is being “thin,” a word that is used repeatedly in the NYT’s article. Hamilton writes:
Being thin is an awful goal towards which to strive. It is certainly not the goal of an exercise program. Writing an entire, ostensibly meaningful and important story on whether exercise can make you thin is analogous to wondering whether going to college can get you laid. Yes, but that’s not really the point.
The purpose of working out is get in shape. Not to get “thin.” To be in shape, for the average person, connotes being healthy, and improving on the basic elements of one’s own fitness: muscular strength, endurance, cardiovascular, flexibility, etc.
Amen! The goal of working out, and even of eating healthy foods, is to be HEALTHY, which may or may not mean being thin. In fact, for many people, it will not mean being thin. And being thin does not necessarily mean being healthy, either. I should know. I’m what the NYT might call “thin,” with a BMI* naturally in the “underweight” range of the scale, and yet I am still what you might call “out of shape.” I couldn’t run a mile if you asked me to. I have a rather high resting heart rate. But I recently started exercising regularly for the first time in my life, by taking yoga classes, and I am feeling stronger and healthier and happier the more I practice yoga.
Not to mention, thinness is a crappy way to motivate people to pursue healthy activities. I eat healthy food because it tastes good. I practice yoga because it’s fun, it helps with my back pain, and it makes me feel beautiful just to be in my body. I even hear tell that some people like to run because they think it’s fun, though I think it sounds like torture! Do what makes you feel good and healthy. Do what’s fun. It may or may not make you thin, and who really cares anyway?
*As an aside on the BMI: a lot of those feministy body-positive Healthy at Every Size blogs I read like to talk smack on the BMI. While they have a point that having a certain BMI does not necessarily mean one is by definition unhealthy, ie, just because one falls in the “obese” or “underweight” category according to the BMI does not mean one will have all of the health complications associated with that category, the BMI is still useful as a measure of predicting risk and determining if further testing is necessary. For example, according to my BMI, I might be at risk for infertility, osteoporosis, and anemia. Because of this, my doctors might suggest testing or monitoring to see if I have developed those issues, but it doesn’t mean I have to HAVE those issues– in fact, I don’t. The same goes for people who are obese according to the BMI– they are at risk for diabetes and other complications, and may require testing or monitoring, but will not necessarily have those conditions.