During my latter years as a personal trainer, I developed a keen interest in sculpting the bodies of full-figured women who weren’t necessarily seeking to lose weight. One of my most memorable clients was a curvy plus-size model who frequently graced the pages of mainstream magazines, catalogs, and brochures worldwide. Standing 5’9″ at 240 pounds she wore a size 18, and because of her lucrative modeling career, weight loss just wasn’t an option. Her primary goal was to maintain a “thick” but “fit” hourglass figure, being sure not to reduce her size to less than 16. I helped her to meet that goal through a targeted weight-training program combined with short but frequent bursts of intense cardio exercise. Still weighing in at over 200 pounds, this woman possessed outstanding cardiovascular fitness, strength, and endurance, along with a beautiful set of curves. In this day and age when thin is in, this may seem quite unorthodox, perhaps even heretical. But many overweight and obese people nowadays have totally embraced their size and shifted their focus to living healthier, happier lives. Whether this can happen in reality or is just a perception, this prompts us to ask whether it’s possible to be “fit” and “fat.” Before I even attempt to answer this question, I must first clarify my use of the term “fat,” as I’m really speaking of a state of being “over-fat” in terms of body composition. Let me break this down a bit further. Body composition essentially refers to the relative distribution of your fat and fat-free weight, the latter of which includes vital bodily fluids (blood and water) and “lean” tissues (bone and muscle). Unbeknownst to many, body composition is actually a major component of health-related fitness. A healthy body composition encompasses a low percentage of fat weight (body fat percentage) and a high percentage of fat-free weight relative to overall body weight. In this light, an overweight person with a healthy body composition could very well be classified as “fit” in spite of their society-driven unfavorable weight status. Consider my former full-figured client who was arguably more muscular than some women of thinner stature, mainly due to her rigorous weight training routine. Compared to fat, muscle is very dense. As a result of training, this woman’s increased muscularity made her appear to be heavy and stocky when in reality she was just lean. But, unfortunately, a generic body mass index (BMI) calculation based on height and weight would simply classify this as fat and therefore unhealthy. Although some overweight and obese people are in fact carrying too much body fat, others may simply hold too much muscle, which isn’t at all a bad thing. In truth, having a higher body fat percentage substantially increases the risk of obesity-related health problems such as high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. But this holds true even for “over-fat” people with smaller frames who generally appear to be thin. Indeed, one in four thin people has prediabetes and is classified as metabolically obese. In the case of my former client, it’s better to be overweight (albeit misclassified as “fat”) and fit than thin and unfit. Personally, my body weight is heavier than “normal,” and according to the BMI scale, I’m also overweight. Still, through regular exercise training and good nutrition I’ve been able to maintain a healthy body composition for nearly 20 years and am, by all measures, extremely physically fit. I can outrun most petite women and even out-lift some men. So to the question of whether it’s possible to be “fit” and “fat” my answer is simple: It isn’t. Whether you’re thin, overweight, or obese, holding on to excess fat inherently puts you at increased risk for chronic disease. Truthfully, the body weight reading on your scale is irrelevant. An unfavorable body composition is the real problem here. In fact, numerous studies have shown that maintaining a favorable body composition can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, elevated blood pressure, and other risk factors for heart disease, even in the absence of weight loss. Remarkably, such effects are largely due to reductions in body fat as a result of weight training and cardio exercise, as opposed to simply dieting for weight loss. At the end of the day, being overweight or obese doesn’t mean you have to succumb to poor health, as you can easily achieve an optimal level of fitness regardless of your size. Fitness generally starts and ends with good nutrition and regular exercise training. By incorporating both, you will surely achieve an ideal body composition, which is a much better indicator of your health status.
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