Could being too healthy be bad for your health? The short answer is no. However, it is entirely possible and sadly, becoming more and more common for people to start out with a quest for fitness and end up with a dangerous obsession with exercise and restrictive dieting. We all know that obesity is on the rise and with it brings a never ending supply of articles, ads and campaigns aimed at getting us out of the refrigerator and into the gym.
While healthy lifestyle changes are a good thing, it can be surprisingly easy to cross the line from fit to fanatical. It's not hard to understand the dangers that come from eating too much of the wrong types of food or not getting enough physical activity, but it can be much harder to grasp how too much of a good thing can also put your health at risk. While inactivity can lead to health issues, so can compulsive exercising. A nutritionally void diet can make you sick, but so can an extreme preoccupation with eating healthy.
Weight loss has always been a popular topic of conversation, but with an influx of social media sites and weight loss TV shows, it's now become inescapable. Whether we're watching television, browsing through Facebook, Instagraming, tweeting or perusing pictures on Pinterest, the message is clear: Everyone wants to lose weight and we should too! But how we do that isn't nearly as important as how quickly we can get it done and how much positive attention we can get in the process. I am a firm believer in the importance of physical activity and am very aware of how being active benefits us physically as well as emotionally, but sometimes looking fit and actually being fit are not the same thing.
We see a super lean, toned, muscular physique and just assume it belongs to a person who takes extra special care of themselves and that they possess the type of dedication that we should all aspire to. Maybe they do, but what we don't consider is the fact that maybe, while on the road to reaching their fitness goals they managed to get off track and ended up being more interested in having bodies that looked the best instead of ones that worked well. Can we even consider the possibility that the thinnest woman in the room might not be the fittest or that the guy with the biggest muscles might not be the strongest? What if the woman's flat stomach and low body fat come from too many workouts and not enough sleep or calories to keep her body working as efficiently as it should? What if steroids and other PEDs are responsible for building that man's muscles while simultaneously destroying his internal organs and will be the reason he's dead by the time he's 35? Are we still supposed to feel inspired?
With such a strong focus being put on obesity, our perception of fitness has become so twisted that no amount of dieting seems too extreme and no amount of exercise too excessive. As a result, eating and exercise disorders are gaining steam. One of the reasons why it can be so incredibly difficult to recover from such disorders is that our society tends to glorify weight loss of any kind.
I recently met a woman whose teen daughter is battling Anorexia Nervosa. As soon as this mom saw possible signs of an eating disorder, including quick and dramatic weight loss, she stepped in and found the help they needed. Her daughter wants to get better, but while her parents and doctors are telling her she needs to gain weight, she still has some friends and family members telling her how great she looks thinner. Without realizing it, they're cheering on her disorder instead of encouraging her recovery.
A young woman I know who used to work reception at a fitness club was amazed at the amount of compliments she got from gym members after a two week battle with a nasty flu resulted in her losing 10 pounds from her already thin frame. When she explained that her weight loss was unintentional and that she was still feeling quite ill and weak, she was blown away when someone responded with, "You're so lucky! I wish I could get sick like that!"
I believe that the fitness industry itself has gotten confused and in some cases, lost its way. We hire trainers to get us into the shape we want to be in and put our trust in them completely. That is a huge responsibility and one that some fitness professionals take too lightly. It's crucial that trainers remember that fit bodies can come in different sizes and to help their clients achieve a body that's right for them and that they can maintain long term. The best trainers teach their clients to focus less on the weight they're losing and more on level of fitness they're gaining.
Jodi Rubin is a New York based therapist who specializes in eating disorders and is the creator of Deconstructively Fit, which is a training program that empowers fitness professionals with the confidence and knowledge needed to address the issue of eating disorders.
Unfortunately, while it is not uncommon for trainers to come across clients who are engaging in disordered behaviour at the gym, it is uncommon for them to know how to approach the issue. Jodi believes that trainers can be a huge resource in helping their clients come up with healthy, realistic fitness goals if they're given the tools to do so. She explains that she's spoken to many fitness professionals who want to learn how to recognize symptoms of eating and exercise disorders so they can effectively discuss the issue with their clients. Destructively Fit bridges the gap between fitness and mental health. As a fitness lover herself, Jodi understands the importance of exercise on our well-being but also knows the risks that come from a desire to put physical appearance ahead of physical fitness. The most important factors in a client/trainer relationship are trust and communication, so it's necessary to make sure that everyone is comfortable with the goals that have been set up.
It's a sad fact, that too many of us are more impressed the with how our body's look than what they can do. Until this changes, the body shaming ads and campaigns will continue as will the increase in disordered eating and exercise.
Over exercising and under eating might get you the body you want, but it won't last and it could end up causing serious damage in the end.
Self-worth shouldn't be measured in pounds.