The image of a bodybuilder’s competition, rows of muscular men and women in their best form, tensing on a stage, makes one imagine these people as real life Greek gods and superheroes. Men and women bodybuilders spend years gaining muscle, then several months getting lean for maximum muscle definition. They are tanned, strong, and appear happy, the epitome of wellness and fitness. So it’s not surprising that so many look up to them. We follow our fitness heroes on social media and take their advice, no matter how ridiculous, on how to get fit.
We fall in love with the image of fitness, which is not the same as good health. The concept of health encompasses the mind, body and spirit. It creates a feeling of wellness and inner happiness. For instance, many fitness models aggressively fast before a photoshoot or before going on stage. They may have a serene expression on their face or look happy smiling ear to ear, but deep down, they feel the deprivation inside. They’re very hungry, and certainly not happy. Some people are addicted to being admired for their physique, but also tend to be hyper critical and unaccepting of others. Admiration is a shallow joy and a poor foundation for self-image. It is also a disordered way of relating to others when taken to excess.
Somebody who goes to the gym everyday, takes all the supplements, and is forever on a diet looks stunning. But they’ll cancel on outings with friends because it interferes with their workout schedule. They rarely eat out as it will spoil their diet. They won’t drink or eat ice cream, and can miss out on half their life because they want to upkeep an image of fitness. Clearly, some of these people can miss the point. Fitness is more than just looks and people who take it to extremes can make their life unnecessarily miserable.
The Price of Muscle Definition
Many of us equate fitness to muscle definition. If you don’t see the muscle, then is it really there? Sadly, even if the muscle is there, others will never see it because it is covered with subcutaneous body fat, an layer of fat that is stored just under the skin. To get extremely defined muscles, so it cuts like a knife, you have to bring your body fat percentage to a low level.
According to the American Council on Exercise, the adult male in average health has a body fat percentage range of 18-24%. Male athletes attain body fat percentages at 6-13%. The average for women is 25-31% body fat and athletes range from 14-20%. Body fat naturally increases as one gets older, because the body’s metabolism slows down. Male bodybuilders are notorious for achieving dangerously low body fat percentages, reportedly around 2 to 4%.
The human body needs fat; it is not just an accessory to get rid of. Fat is not just energy storage for the body, in case of famine. At very low levels of body fat, the body is unable to regulate hormones. Men lose their libido and women stop menstruating. If body fat remains too low for long periods, it can lead to liver damage, shrinking of internal organs, a poor immune system, digestive problems, and eventual death. A supposedly fit and muscular person can starve to death. Just because someone is “shredded” doesn’t mean they’re actually healthy.
Are Overweight People Unhealthy?
Being overweight can lead to a number of health problems, especially later in life. Being overweight increases risk for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, the body loses mobility and suffers a host of other disabilities. However, there are people who look overweight, or rather hefty, but do not suffer from diabetes or high blood pressure. Their cholesterol is normal, they eat healthy, have lots of energy and are very active. They lead happy and fulfilling lives even without conforming to the popular image of “fitness”.
At the other extreme are overweight people who do not eat healthy, get emotional food triggers, develop eating disorders and struggle to be active. They’re weighed down by feelings of shame, self-hatred, and frustration. Many want to lose weight but are unable, they fall victim to fad diets, binges and crashes which practically destroy the body and a healthy relationship with food. The change always begins inside before it can be seen outside.
It’s not unusual to find someone who has spent a lifetime struggling to lose weight and get fit. That person might even be you. But the change starts from within and has to be fuelled by a strong, spiritual emotion. Many times, people just need to reach a personal low before they change. Same goes with weight loss. It could be a warning from a doctor, the onset of early diabetes, or a near death experience like a stroke.
The stimulus for change can also be positive. Maybe you want to live long enough to see your children grow up. Or you want to set yourself free from destructive negative feelings that you associate with your weight. It is very difficult to change a lifetime of unhealthy habits, and the journey to fitness can be a long one. Which is why you start from within, with a strong mind and spirit that will fuel your journey. One needs a healthy mind and spirit to create a healthy body. It is important to love yourself first, before you can love the way you look, regardless of your shape or weight.