One of the many things I get tired of seeing, get tired of having pushed on me, is the notion that a certain body weight or size or number on the scale equals health. Besides my coaching here, I do public health education presentations for a local health insurance company. I love it- love talking to people, giving them info, answering their questions, and helping them make health changes. But one thing that really bothers me is the constant focus of the company on weight reduction.
I am not a fan of pushing women (or men) to lose weight simply to get a ‘lower number’ on the scale. A particular number on the scale, a particular body shape, or a particular body size do not equate to health.
I am not a fan for so many other reasons as well.
There are all kinds of body shapes and sizes. I don’t think it’s right to shame any of them. We’re all doing the best we can and some of us have genetic or disease-related issues that make weight loss difficult. Not to mention…peri-menopause can bring some real changes in weight distribution and metabolism.
I believe in both the need to move our bodies for good health and also the need to rest and relax in this chaotic, stressful world. Which might mean the number on the scale never changes.
I believe in both the Healthy At Every Size (HAES) movement and the ‘maintaining a healthy* weight is important’ movement. There are extremists in both those camps, which I don’t like- so I take tips from both camps- moderation and integration are important in feeling healthy in your body, not just worrying about your weight number.
I believe that we all have the right to feel good in our bodies, no matter what shape or size they are. This is why I think having models of all shapes and sizes is very, very valuable. Isn’t it nice when you can see someone shaped like you and think, “Hey, she looks cute and she’s kinda shaped like me. I bet I look cute, too”? The number of your weight doesn’t matter as much as feeling good in your body.
Exercising is good for us, and so is feeling healthy, strong, and joyful in our bodies. Neither of those have anything to do with the number on your scale.
Here’s the number you should care about: the number of minutes (day or week) that you are getting your heart rate up and sweating a little as you move.
That’s the magic number.
Because your body doesn’t care if you can fit into the xyz size swim suit, it cares that your heart muscle is getting a bit of a workout.
Your body gets far more from a 20 minute walk 4x/week than it ever will from hitting xyz number on the scale.
When you move regularly- and move enough to feel your heart rate come up- you get so many benefits.
- better quality (and sometimes quantity) of sleep
- reduced anxiety and depression
- increased self esteem
- increased stress resilience
- healthier heart muscle
- more flexible circulatory system (your veins and arteries get a work out, too and they get more flexible)
- decreased fat storage in your blood vessels
- reduced blood pressure (which reduces your risk for heart disease- still the number 1 killer of men and women in America)
- better blood sugar management
- increased muscle mass (which can increase metabolism)
- increased strength and flexibility
You may, in fact, also lose weight. But what really matters is that movement/exercise that gets your heart rate up which helps your heart be healthier and live longer.
AAANNNDDD…all the things that your heart and circulatory system touch…they also get healthier. Because the blood is pumping to clean out the stuff your blood no longer needs or uses. It also cleans out the stuff that other organs and systems put in your blood stream for the purpose of being cleaned out. When you exercise, your body is using its natural detox system (blood cleaning and sweat).
When we exercise our heart muscle, our body and mind (and maybe even our spirit) reap huge benefits. And while there is nothing wrong with having a goal of weight loss or having a particular body shape or size, please don’t let that be your only motivator. Doing something that gets your heart rate up is what matters most for feeling strong, healthy, and avoiding all the unhealthy and disease-related outcomes we worry about.
Lastly, I want to remind you of the beauty of a sweaty woman who is reaching some goal she set for herself. You’ve seen her cross finish lines at 5k runs, or red-faced on the treadmill, or simply smiling and chatty with a friend at the park. But that look of accomplishment, joy, and sweat running down her face is what strength is all about.