Goal: Strong, Not Skinny

Before you get your sports bra all in a twist, this article isn’t intended to body-shame anyone. (God knows we need less of that in this world!)  And it’s not saying that strong bodies are better than skinny bodies, or even that skinny bodies can’t be strong.  What we're suggesting is that “strong” is a better goal than “skinny”. In the midst of an “obesity crisis”, there is a tendency to go running in the opposite direction of “fat” -- to get as far away as possible from all of the terrifying side-effects of excess adiposity.  But while having a large amount of body fat may increase the risk of certain health conditions, it doesn’t mean that being skinny is inherently “healthy”.  

There are lots of reasons a person may be thin and, often, it has nothing to do with having especially “healthy” habits.  Some people have a natural disposition for this build and are the lucky few who seem to be able to eat whatever they want without gaining a pound.  However, it’s possible to be thin and still have high cholesterol/blood pressure and face similar health risks as someone who’s overweight -- especially, if a person is inactive.

The diet and fitness industries has managed to play on fears of obesity-related illness, thereby hijacking the notion of “healthy”.  They've created an association between “health” and the fashionable, yet extremely difficult to attain, aesthetic of thinness, enabling companies to manipulate customers into believing that they’re not “good enough”...and that certain products/services are the secret to skinniness.  Marketing convinces people that looking a certain way will not only make them healthier, but also happier.

Ironically, the artificial relationship between thinness and health has led to some incredibly unhealthy behavior in attempts to achieve the “ideal” body.  Barring winning the genetic lottery, that “I look like I survive on green juice & TicTacs” bod is unsustainable for most people.  Attempting to get and stay “skinny” can often do a lot of damage to one’s metabolism, and many of those who chase this goal end up even heavier than they were to start with.

Cutting calories from food and burning calories, primarily, through cardio exercise is the most common approach to becoming “skinny”. Progress is generally measured by changes in weight on the scale.  There are several problems with this strategy:

  1. Metabolism slows down to avoid starvation when calories are cut drastically.
  2. “Weight-loss” includes muscle, not just fat; muscle atrophy causes a further reduction in metabolic rate.
  3. As your metabolism downwardly adapts, you need to continuously cut calories and increase cardio just to maintain weight loss.
  4. Getting skinnier can’t be pursued indefinitely; at some point you will need to stop, and then what??
  5. If you do go back to eating “normally”, your lowered metabolism will make it more likely to regain any weight that was lost, and possibly even more.

A cycle of “yo-yo-ing” typically ensues, and it becomes more and more difficult to get back to being “skinny”.  This places a ton a stress on one’s body and mental state.  It can become tempting to try “any means necessary” to reach that goal weight, including everything from juice cleanses, to diet pills, to purging, or even smoking.    

For these reasons, we suggest “strong” as a goal, and here’s why:

  1. Strength requires muscle, which is the body’s metabolic powerhouse.  This helps keep body fat low while enabling you to eat actual food. (Yay!)  
  2. Working to improve strength helps to create habits that are sustainable. There is no limit on how “strong” you can become, but there is definitely a point at which the goal of “skinny” needs to end or risk serious health problems.
  3. Getting stronger can make you feel more confident and able to kick-ass in all aspects of life.  Your posture will improve, enabling you to, literally, hold your head up higher and strut like a boss.
  4. Strength training improves bone density, which is particularly important if you’re a woman.  Wouldn’t it be great to not fall and break your hip when you get a little older?
  5. You will probably end up liking your body a whole lot better in the long run!!  Because you won’t be depriving yourself, there will be less of a tendency to “fall off the wagon”, allowing greater consistency in habit and aesthetic.

Don’t let greedy corporations ruin eating well and exercising for you. Don’t give in to the notion that you “fail” if you don’t look like the people in their advertisements.  Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and there is nothing wrong with any of them. Beating up your body to force it into the manufactured “ideal” isn’t going to improve your quality of life.  Strive for strong, not skinny, to build sustainable, healthy habits!