Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Health is Beautiful but Beauty isn't Always Healthy

Good morning and happy hump day!

Before I post more about the CAN FIT PRO conference, I have one of my wonderful rants for you, but I promise its relevant to what I'll be sharing with you tomorrow.

I detest fashion and beauty magazines.  They are incredibly heavy on advertisements and the articles they contain couldn't be more boring, in my opinion.  I care not one bit about fashion shows, new designers, the latest makeup trends, etc.  But, hey, if you are into this stuff that's awesome.

My problem is that I am interested in health.  Yet virtually any health or fitness magazine I pick up is also dominated by ads and articles devoted to beauty.  What is that doing in my magazines?  And the women featured on the cover are generally models and celebrities.  Why not ordinary fit women? Why not female athletes?

My beef (or kale, if you prefer), is that beauty is not the same as health.  Sure, you could argue that if clothes and makeup help you feel beautiful and feeling beautiful contributes to happiness and wellbeing, than ultimately it contributes to health.  But let's get real!   Many beauty trends are downright UNHEALTHY.  Elective cosmetic surgery has significant risks, many cosmetics and beauty products contain harmful ingredients, high heels are bad for your feet, tanning can cause skin cancer, tooth whitening can erode enamel, control undergarments and super skinny jeans can cause nerve damage, and on and on.

Sure, certain 'beauty' products fall under the category of personal hygiene, which is definitely an element of health, but only the odd article is actually about, say, which deodorant has the healthiest ingredients.  Most are about which creams are best for reducing wrinkles or which hair products are best for frizz, or the lipstick that provides the best pout. 

The problem is our society is way too focused on beauty and the unfortunate blurring of the lines between beauty and health has become a deterrent for many people in adopting healthier lifestyle habits.

Let me explain.  In my counselling practice I see clients who want to lose weight.  Some have moderate weight to lose.  Others have a whole lot to lose, if they want to improve their health.  While they all are somewhat concerned about the health risks of being overweight, the biggest issue for all of them is lack of body confidence and concerns about how they are perceived by others.  What always trips them up in terms of committing to lasting lifestyle change, is the resentment they feel over being negatively judged because of their appearance.  They cannot separate this issue from their goal of being healthy, and eventually rebel by returning to their old habits. 

I get it. Its not fair to be judged harshly because of your weight and there is no way to deny that we are a seriously fat-phobic society.  Fat is considered ugly and we tend to view fat people as stupid, lazy, and self-indulgent.  These assumptions are so deeply ingrained in our culture that overweight people themselves also believe it.  And this, once again, leads to self-sabotage.

But here's the thing.  You cannot always tell by someone's body shape or weight whether or not they are healthy.  At a gym where I used to teach fitness classes, there was a middle aged mom with super huge thighs - that definitely did not fit the 'ideal' we have for women.  But this amazing woman and her powerful thighs ran marathons, on top of being a mom and holding down a full-time job.  She was super fit and strong!  At this same gym there was a lovely looking, very slender, 20 something woman who ran on the treadmill for a super long time every day.  She eventually developed such a severe stress fracture she had to quit.  She admitted to me that she had very disordered eating.  Not healthy!  At the CAN FIT PRO conference last week, there was an obese, pregnant woman in both the spinning sessions I attended. She was so obese I never would have guessed she was pregnant except I heard her tell one of the session presenters.  Well, ya know what? She kept up better than a lot of the skinny fit 'looking' women there!

A client of mine recently confessed her frustration because her wife, who suffers from a chronic, autoimmune disorder and doesn't take care of herself, is so out of shape, she can barely walk up a flight of stairs.  But when her wife ever admits she should start doing more physical activity, my client told me that people always say to her, "No way, you're so skinny, you don't need to exercise."

Grrr!  This irritates me so much!  I often see people, particularly women, who do not have a weight problem, or are naturally lean, think that they do not need to exercise or eat healthfully.  This is not true! You may conform to society's prescribed body ideal, but that doesn't mean you are not putting yourself at risk of illness!  Even slim people can be at risk for metabolic disorder and heart disease if they are not eating well and keeping active.  Being sedentary also ups your risk of osteoporosis, cancer and Alzheimer's regardless of your weight status (in fact thin folks are at GREATER risk of osteoporosis!).  Everyone should exercise and should be active EVERY DAY in order to be healthy and maintain quality of life.  Forget about what it does for your physique!!

If we could all just focus on the fundamentals of healthy living and not on achieving some extreme esthetic ideal that is so unrealistic the vast majority of us will fail, than we'd all be a lot better off.  It always comes back to the same principles:

1. Don't smoke
2. Be active
3. Eat real food (unprocessed, appropriate amount for your energy needs, etc.)
4. Limit alcohol
5. Get enough sleep and manage stress

Follow these guidelines and you will be your personal best.  And that's beautiful.