Fitness is expressed visually. It’s something you can see.
After all, if you’re lean and toned or at a healthy bodyweight then you must be fit, right?
Not so fast.
When it comes to defining health and fitness, physical appearance is not the most important thing.
I believe that your body should ultimately serve you and allow you to live a high quality life.
That that sink in for a moment. It’s a far different story than what’s on the cover of practically every health and fitness magazine which promises to reveal “secrets”, the best exercises, tips for getting rid of cellulite, and super-foods for fat loss.
Bottom line – health and fitness should not be solely about how you look. There are more important factors to consider and as a result “health and fitness” should be redefined.
Why? Because things aren’t working, or not working as well as they should.
Obesity levels are on the rise despite the fact that more information is available now than ever about how to “get fit and healthy”. And some people are developing eating disorders, battling binge eating, beating themselves into the ground with grueling workout routines, and living with a terrible self-image because they value themselves based on their physical appearance.
In the words of the wonderful James Fell:
I just spoke with an eating disorder doctor, and it prompts me to write a warning and preach balance yet again.
He told me that it is not at all uncommon for people to develop an eating disorder from a starting point of “eat right and exercise.” They were overweight and began a lifestyle change program, but then it went off the rails. They see some progress, want more progress, eat “cleaner,” exercise harder, and then it starts a vicious circle that can lead to an eating disorder.
So what I’m saying is, be careful. Listen to your body. Listen to YOU and your gut instinct about what is good behavior. Be happy with your program and your life. Make sure you’re feeling good. Don’t engage in suffering. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished and happy with how you look. Don’t fret over a few pounds and little bulges here and there.
Lifestyle change is supposed to be good for you. Moderation, sustainability, balance, feeling good, peacefulness. These are the things to focus on.
It’s time to redefine fitness and, as James so excellently explained, there are a few reasons why.
1) Change is difficult.
If you’re attempting to establish new habits that are radically different than your current ones or trying to do things you know aren’t sustainable long-term, you may encounter some problems in getting them to stick.
This is a huge part of the problem, and I think we may be asking the wrong question. It’s not so much about “How can we decrease the rate of obesity?” or even “How can we help people reach their health and fitness goals?”
The question should be, “How can we help people learn new habits they can maintain long-term?”
That is the real question, because sustainable habits are what will lead to long-lasting results and real lifestyle change.
So if you’ve been struggling to lose fat or develop a healthy lifestyle that you can maintain long-term (and are constantly hopping from one diet and workout program to the next one, a la fitness insanity), you need to ask yourself that question.
It shouldn’t be about losing fat as fast as possible or constantly yo-yo dieting. Seek first some simple, practical, flexible guidelines that get you moving in the right direction that you can apply consistently (this article is a good place to start). After some time, you can tweak your approach if necessary.
As a rule of thumb – keep it simple!
2) Selling an image, not a lifestyle.
There is no single image that can be “sold” as the definition of health and fitness because everyone doesn’t have the same aspirations, goals, and body type.
Health and fitness should not (and cannot!) be defined by a particular physique, number on the scale, body fat percentage, or even how much weight you can lift. Those numbers do not define you.
Health and fitness should be about building a body that serves you and developing long-lasting habits, preferably that you enjoy.
3) Trading in balance for obsession.
Brad Pilon so wonderfully explained in his article Dedicated but Balanced:
We’ve become obsessed with obsessing about health and fitness. We argue, debate, nitpick, research, tweet, blog, think, try and then give up on countless health fitness theories on a daily basis, all in the name of chasing the promise of ‘health’.
This is something I have grown tired of – especially the endless promotion of obsession as health, exhaustion as virtue and suffering as dedication.
In my eyes the very act of trying to achieve a healthy body is becoming extremely unhealthy, almost a form of self-mortification where people use the gym and the avoidance of their favorite foods as a way to ‘punish’ themselves for their past ‘unhealthy’ indiscretions.
That’s why I propose we redefine fitness.
Many years ago my personal definition of “health and fitness” was being able to deadlift 300+ pounds no matter how much my back hurt for days after and being able to slam a ton of food and say, “This is my food baby” while pointing to my overly stuffed stomach.
Despite being really strong and looking fit, I don’t think I was that healthy because I was constantly in pain and was practicing some obsessive-eating habits.
And I’ve seen, and worked with, others who are doing similar things all in the name of health and fitness and building a better looking body.
Here are some current trends that shouldn’t be part of a long-term health and fitness regimen:
- Revolving your life around a gym schedule is not healthy (yes, you do need to make time to take care of yourself, but your life shouldn’t revolve around it – a fitness routine should fit into your schedule – refer to the One Question Fitness Test for more information)
- Constantly obsessing over food is not healthy
- Having a bad self-image and working out because you hate how you look is not healthy
- Being in pain from your strength training workouts is not healthy
- Trying desperately to reach the standards of what others say is a “real woman” is not healthy
- Valuing yourself based on your physique or the number on the scale is not healthy
At one point or another I’ve done all of those things.
And I finally realized, after being in so much pain from not listening to my body, that I needed to adjust my approach despite the fact I was strong and liked how I looked.
To further elaborate I’d like to share the words of my friend and fellow health and fitness coach, the wise and wonderful Jen Keck:
Being ‘hard core’ with diet and exercise isn’t impressive.
Impressive is training intelligently, getting plenty of sleep, eating in a manner that supports health and performance, and knowing how to thoroughly enjoy life outside of the gym.
THAT stuff is impressive.
Not driving yourself into the ground with nonsensical workouts, and starving yourself. That’s just silly.
Please note that if you’re currently doing many of the things explained above as I once did, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with you, because there’s not. I’m simply trying to encourage us all to change our view and definition of what it means to be healthy and fit, and change our approach in the process.
It’s time we redefine fitness because I believe there’s a better way.
- Health and fitness should make you feel better about yourself and build you up (physically and mentally), not tear you down. It should enhance your life and not require you to revolve your life around a plan.
- Health and fitness should be simple so it can turn into sustainable life-long habits (a process) that don’t require much effort – it should just be something you do
- Health and fitness should not revolve around obsessive habits – it should be about building a body that serves you and enhances your quality of life so you can live the life you want
- Your health and fitness regimen should allow you to do the things you love and enjoy while minimizing the risk of injury
- Your health and fitness regimen should improve your body image and self-confidence
- Your health and fitness regimen should help you become the best version of yourself
- Health and fitness should allow you to be MORE, not less
- Health and fitness should allow you to be proud of the things your body can do instead of obsessing over how it looks
Looking great, losing weight, and building a body we are proud of can certainly be part of health and fitness, but it would serve us well to put a greater emphasis on overall health, function, a positive self-image, building a sustainable lifestyle, and how we feel above everything else. Those things matter most.
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