If we’re to take the conventional view of fat-loss, you basically need to be ‘eating less than you burn’, for fat-loss to be successful. So long term starvation is supposed to be healthier than short-term, intense starvation? Long term starvation is supposed to yield better results?
It’s just kinda strange, really.
Starvation is bad for everyone. Just because you’re fatter than you want to be, we’re expected to believe zinc, B12, and calcium magically don’t matter anymore? “Oh, just eat less. You’ll be fine” – really? Malnourishment doesn’t affect fat people then?
So are you better off starving a little for a long time, or a lot for a short time? Should you try to cycle your weight-loss nutrition, so you have planned periods of re-feeding that (I’m told) work with your metabolism, rather than against it? Is making a conscious effort to develop that sort of obsessiveness supposed to serve you for the long term?
Should you try to eat foods with a high mineral to calorie ratio? Can you eat low-calorie and high-vitamin, and avoid the feared metabolic apocalypse?
Quite frankly, after years in the fitness industry, I have more questions than answers.
I see other trainers gain and lose weight, one or two cycles per year, berating themselves when they gain, and congratulating themselves when they lose – we’re just like everyone else.
What I don’t seem to see anyone admitting to is the truth that I’m starting to notice. What’s true isn’t what we’re told, what’s true is what we see and experience every day. It’s out there, and it isn’t a secret. The truth of human nature is there for everyone to see, plainly exposed in the light of day.
If being fat is bad, why isn’t it easy to lose weight? If being fat is unhealthy, why doesn’t the body automatically lose weight when given half the chance? Why is it so damn hard to actualise lasting change? If exercise did magically make you thin, why do we need so many detailed and sophisticated programs, all designed to trick your body into changing? If we’re focusing on what’s healthy, why are we told we need to mix it up to keep our bodies guessing? What the fuck’s up with that? The idea that we can only develop if we fool our bodies?
If your focus is weight loss, you’ll try starving yourself, and when the weight comes back on, you’ll feel like a failure. You might try carb-cycling, calorie counting, or any other method that’s either based on starvation, macronutrient cycling, or detoxification methods. You might try excluding certain food groups, and eating unrestricted amounts of others. That approach led me into trouble in the long term (not enough dietary fat, and subsequent testosterone depletion).
We’ve got this weird idea that if we ‘eat right’, we’ll automatically lose weight. That you don’t need to put yourself into a deficient state for the fat to fall off. We want to believe that it is possible to lose weight healthily, without relying on starvation or disordered eating patterns.
But if you’re eating the right amount of food, for you, won’t you simply stay the same size as you are now?
Why should the point of exercise be weight loss? How does that work from an evolutionary perspective? Isn’t the point of exercise to make you stronger, fitter, faster - irrespective of what you look like?
If putting on more muscle speeds up your metabolism, why would that make you thinner? Isn’t it more likely to make you hungrier?
Funnily enough, if you move the focus away from the way you look, and onto the way you perform and develop – that’s where I’ve got answers. That’s where the indecision starts to fall away. If you want to get stronger, there’s something you can actually do, which does not require you being so hard on yourself. If you want to develop your body, you focus on feeding it, not starving it. You nurture it, you don’t abuse it. You remind yourself that ‘it’ is ‘you’, and it’s worthy of respect, because you are worthy of respect.
Or am I supposed to believe that we only deserve respect if we look right?
We’re too tied up in notions of beauty. All the time I see people complain about being fat, and someone else says it’s okay – don’t worry about it, “you're beautiful”. So, fat is okay if you’re beautiful, but what if you’re ugly? There’s beauty inherent in everything and everyone, but so what? We know beauty is subject to being beheld – it’s in the eye of the beholder. It’s not about beauty. It’s not beauty that makes you worthy of respect and love, it’s humanity.
If you move the focus away from fat and onto beauty, you achieve very little. We still work for the approval of others, we still avoid the true issue which is the harder path: developing your own sense of self worth, that is not based on external rewards.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not opposed to telling people they’re beautiful. Only be mindful of the context: if someone comes to you with body-image issues, and you give them your approval based on the way they look - even if you’re not pandering to the beauty standard, are you serving their best interests?
I think we need to keep the focus away from weight, and away from beauty too - away from the completely irrelevant sense of aesthetics (what the hell does beauty have to do with health, anyway? And are only healthy people deserving of respect, love and adoration? Hell no!).
You hear people say they still feel ugly, even though they see other people who are fat and beautiful. But they can’t love themselves. Is beauty the thing that determines whether or not you deserve to be loved? Is being kind what determines your worth? Or is it simply that you too, are a sentient, suffering being - and we all deserve a happy life?
Do we only love our friends when they’re coping well with everything? When their weight is ‘under control’, when their health is stable? Or do we love them despite the fact that they can be disobedient, disagreeable and difficult to live with? And when do they need our care the most? So how should we love ourselves?
Freely, I reckon. Without prejudice.
Can we love and accept ourselves, and want to change? Yes we can, this is not inconsistent. In fact, the former may well be a prerequisite for the latter. But if we love and accept ourselves, we must acknowledge that we cannot demand ourselves to look different. We cannot promise to love ourselves only when we change the way we look. We cannot wait until we are healthy and ‘perfect’ before we start to care for ourselves. Care comes first, and personal development follows - development on your terms, nobody else’s.
But what are you trying to change, and why? If you feel persecuted, unhappy and unaccepted, it is natural to want to remove yourself from the stigmatised group (to want to lose weight). But what will this achieve? Will you be happier when you finally fit in, or will you be happier when you learn how to generate your own sense of self-worth? How do you acquire self-knowledge? Through training, through processes of learning and development which are unique to you, not by looking like you fit in with the popular kids - the popular kids who still feel alone in a crowded room. And anyway, what if - one day - you gain weight again? What exactly did you ‘fail’ at? When you lose your thinness, do you also lose your sense of self-worth?
And ultimately, if you do manage to leave the stigmatised group, what does that mean? The way to end weight stigma is not to make everyone thin. That doesn’t end weight stigma - that reinforces it. That’s the ‘I finally lost weight when I learned that weight didn’t matter’ fantasy, which is only a subset of the ‘if we were all healthy we’d all be thin’ fantasy. The way to end weight stigma is to stop caring about how much any sentient, suffering being weighs - including yourself. It’s to stop holding people’s shapes against them. It’s to stop believing the lie that fat people did this to themselves and that they deserve to be punished.
Yes, we all make ‘choices’. But in a world where what we’re told is healthy is such complete bullshit – without turning this post into a full-blown essay – all I can say is what the hell?
Choices. Yeah, right. Alcoholics choose to be alcoholics. You just gotta choose to be thin. Like human physiological function is a decision. Even if we could agree on what healthy living actually is... I guess it’s why I’m so big on working out for yourself what’s right for you, and being really unapologetic about it. I worry about trainers who build their empires on ‘what makes you thin’ - can you imagine the pressure? The idea that your credibility rests on the shape of your body?
If we move the focus away from the way we look, it frees us to examine what’s actually healthy. Respect is healthy. Care is healthy. Hatred harms. Prejudice is hurtful. Ambition is a two-edged knife that inspires us to excel just as it gets caught up with expectation, pressure, and working for the approval of others.
If losing weight requires us to be un-healthy, what’s the point? Acceptance? Looking like you’ve got discipline and shit? If focusing on being healthy really did make us lose weight, we’d be more likely to focus on simply being healthy. You wouldn't hear people say “yes, but will that make me thin?” This simple, ignorant statement exposes the truth – that developing health and seeking thinness are actually two different things.
If you focus on being healthy, and you don’t lose weight - well that doesn’t matter if your focus is being healthy. It doesn’t matter what your size is, there’s always something practical you can do for your health, and it probably won’t result in much - if any - weight loss.
Cruelty leads to deprivation. Care leads to nourishment.
The thing is - for my two cents - if you focus on what nourishes you, rather than what depletes you, if you focus on what makes you feel good, robust, and vital - rather than what makes you feel fatigued, depleted, and exhausted - how can that possibly lead you astray?
I don’t want to look like a bad-ass athlete. I want to look like someone who looks after himself, and isn’t too precious about it all. I don't want to look like I have substance, I want to have substance. I don't want to sacrifice my health in the name of fitting in with our prejudices about what health is supposed to look like.