Fitness and the Fear of Being Fat

“80% of U.S. women dislike the way they look” (Gallivan, n.d.). I’m one of the 80%. Even though I am a certified and experienced health and fitness professional. Even though I’ve been a health and human performance educator in the higher education realm for nearly 15 years. I don’t own a bathing suit or a pair of shorts. Granted, I live in Wyoming where it has been known to snow every month out of the year (seriously), but nonetheless, am I crazy? Doubtful. Do I have a fear of being judged? Totally.

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Sharing the message of body pride

Body pride and body image are topics close to my heart. Nothing gets me more fired up than to see how dependent we’ve become on society and the media to tell us (men and women alike) how we should look. When we allow these images to influence our view of ourselves and dictate our body confidence, we lose our power and we shame ourselves for not meeting some foolish and unattainable definition of “perfect” or “ideal”.

As a writer, I’m constantly in search of new topics and ideas. As many of us do, I search the internet, Pinterest, and other sites for inspiration. During one of my recent searches, I came across an “article” (I use that term loosely as it was not peer reviewed or supported by science) that included a graphic representation of “normal skin” compared to one of “skin with cellulite”. This image and the contents of the article struck me as I contemplated the meaning of the images.

The message was simply this: there is a “normal” way to look and if you look like the picture on the left, you’re good. If you don’t, well, let’s just banish you to a remote location where no one has to see the “abnormality” that is your skin. This made me wonder if the person who wrote the article was “normal” and by what authority does he or she have to make that sort of outrageous claim?

As I stared at the images, I asked myself – where does this fear of “fat” come from? And, how can we be more positive in our approach to conversations surrounding body fat, body image, pride, and confidence? It’s doubtful we will ever eradicate the influence of the media and society’s idealistic perspectives, but there has to be a way to encourage and promote body acceptance.

The Role of Fat in the Body

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First, it’s important to understand the role fat has in keeping us healthy. Fat is an essential part of the human body. Essential fat, the level of fat required for the human body to maintain normal physiological function, is 2-5% in men and 10-13% in women. This does NOT mean that body fat in each person should match this range. This is the level we need to function at the most basic, life-sustaining level. For a level of fitness, body fat can range from 14-24% in women and 6-17% in men. If body fat is higher than those ranges, that doesn’t mean an individual is unfit or unhealthy. There are many other factors that we examine to define one’s level of fitness and health. Additionally, a low percentage of body fat isn’t synonymous with a thin body appearance. Likewise, a higher percentage of body fat can occur in relatively thin individuals. A person’s shape does not define percent of body fat.

Fat also insulates our nerves, cushions organs, functions in hormone production, provides cellular membrane structure, supports menstruation and fetal development, and acts as a fuel source. If levels of body fat drop below the essential range, the body starts to deteriorate and systems start to malfunction.

Simply stated, fat is important and we need it to live and perform. We need to stop fearing the fat and stop thinking having visible fat (which is how cellulite is defined) is “abnormal”. I guarantee having cellulite somewhere is more the rule than the exception. Accept, allow, and don’t judge your body – or anyone else’s. Aim t o be fit not fat-free.

Being healthy is not defined by a specific size, weight, or physical appearance. Health comes in all shapes and sizes. Promoting these messages starts with us – at the individual level. The more we thumb our noses at socially prescribed standards, the quieter the negative voice becomes and the more we build each other up. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bathing suit to purchase…and maybe even some shorts.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1 is a health and human performance college professor, fitness blogger, mother, and passionate fitness professional. She has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry and college instruction. Erin believes in the power of a holistic approach to healthy living. She loves encouraging her clients and students to develop body harmony by teaching focused skill development and lifestyle balance. Erin is also the Director of Educational Partnerships & Programs for the NFPT. Erin is an editorial author for ACE, IDEA, The Sheridan Press, and the Casper Star Tribune. Visit her personal blog at belivestaywell.com