Scales don’t reflect fitness level

Published 7:59 pm Friday, August 18, 2017

Many of us are guilty of making an automatic connection between what a person weighs and how physically fit they are. After working for 15 years in a gym, I’m here to tell you, you can’t judge a book by its cover. We work every day with extremely fit men and women who may be large, but can more than hold their own in a boot-camp, group-fitness class or on a piece of exercise equipment.

Exercise is not a magic bullet for weight loss. In fact, it is not at all uncommon to see a person gain weight initially as they start to exercise. There are many among us who find it very difficult to lose weight due to our genetic make-up. That is why it is important to remain focused on the other positive results of exercise and realize that fat or thin, a body that exercises regularly is generally a healthy body.

One of the byproducts of exercise is an improved body image. Since so many women struggle with their appearance and are self-conscious about their bodies, this is paramount. Exercisers are more apt to view themselves as strong, capable and proud rather than awkward, anxious and with low self-esteem. It breaks my heart to hear a client say, “I’m trying to get in shape so I can come to the gym” or “I could never take a swim class because I would never wear a bathing suit in front of other people.” This negative body image is a very real barrier to exercise.

If you suffer from a negative body image that is holding you back from accomplishing anything, including going to the gym, keep in mind these things:

  • The media has created a context within which people learn to place value on the size and shape of their body. Studies show repeatedly that the more appearance-related media we are exposed to, the more dissatisfied we are with our bodies. Televisions shows, television commercials and fashion magazines are among the biggest offenders. Become a critical viewer of media messages and limit the exposure of them to the young women in your lives.
  • Focus on the ability of your body to function. Our bodies are amazing things with incredible power, endurance and balance. The capacity of our bodies for work is awe-inspiring. Be grateful for what your body does for you each day.
  • Some of the most athletic people in the world are large. Nobody accuses a pro football player or a powerfully built tennis player of being overweight or unfit. It is possible to be overweight and fit at the same time.
  • Remember that our personhood is comprised of mind, body and spirit. Placing too much emphasis on the appearance of our body shortchanges our talents, abilities and character. It is a superficial way of looking at ourselves.
  • A perfectly chiseled body is not necessarily natural. Fat, by design, provides us with warmth and protection and provides form to our bones and muscles. It also helps us transport important vitamins and is vital to our reproductive health.

I am not saying that obesity is OK. We know the many detrimental effects of morbid obesity. I am saying that fat is natural, necessary and even beautiful at times. You don’t have to be thin to be healthy, and don’t let the world convince you otherwise. I have found that the older I get, the more accepting I am of my changing body, and it is very liberating. So, the next time you look in the mirror, embrace what you see, treat it with respect and get some exercise!

Judy Van Dorp, RN, is the director of the Vidant Wellness Center of Washington and can be reached at 252-975-4236.