Would You Rather Weigh Less, or Feel Better?

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We humans put a lot of value on our health, when we’re not putting more value on our appearance, sex appeal, and weight. It is important to keep in mind the distinctions between these differing goals. A lot of women seek to lose weight at all costs, whether or not it is actually healthy for them. A lot of men try to get big muscles, regardless of whether those muscles are strong or what they must put in their bodies to get there.

The truth is, these goals are actually health goals, motivated by attracting the opposite sex. The objective of losing weight stems from the cultural problem that most of us are overweight, so generally, losing weight is healthy, but focusing on weight as the sole and most important marker of health is like judging a book by its cover; a good book is likely to have a good cover, but some of the greatest books in history have pretty awful covers and remarkably uninspiring titles. Yes, people who are lower-than-average weight tend to be healthier and sexier, but only because ‘average’ weight is above normal.

I spend a lot of time reminding my female clients of this problem. They frequently become hypnotized by the cultural idea that less weight is better, regardless of costs. They aren’t at risk for developing body image disorders (usually) but they still don’t make the distinction between abnormal and healthy body composition.

For example, a woman might (wisely) undertake a strength training program in order to lose weight. At first, she will lose weight as her body’s metabolism ramps up and starts burning off excess fat. Pretty soon, however, she will either stop losing, or may actually start gaining weight as her body puts on muscle. All the while, she is getting more attractive, dropping dress sizes, and feeling more energetic, but she will still fret because the scale’s numbers are going up.

Men have similar problems, depending on where they are starting from. Men who start exercise are either underweight, and are constantly pursuing a higher number on the scale believing it means more muscle and strength, or are overweight. The overweight men tend to be more concerned with how they look naked, and thus don’t really care about losing weight except as it leads to more visible muscle. It’s the underweight guys I have to worry about.

Truth be told, I was one of them. When I left for college, I was a petite 145lbs, and proud of it. I didn’t gain a pound in college, except for one summer in Jordan when I went up to 165lbs as my aunt stuffed me full of delicious, high protein, Arabic cuisine. My senior year, I began to exercise and watched my weight slowly creep up to 165lbs. When I started CrossFit after school, I was very eager to continue to pack muscle onto my lean frame, and chased the numbers up to nearly 180lbs. Those last few pounds were really difficult, and I was convinced that it meant I wasn’t getting any more muscle.

Since then, I’ve dropped back down to 165lbs. This was the result of a break from overtraining and an increased focus on gymnastics and martial arts over weightlifting. When I started CrossFitting again, I expected to be weaker, but I was surprised to find that I had actually gotten stronger, and not just in the bodyweight movements. My deadlift has increased significantly, as has my clean and snatch. Generally speaking, I cam more powerful at 16lbs than I was at 185lbs (though I still have trouble with higher weights at higher reps, probably because my body can’t rely so much on its own inertia to stabilize external loads and must rely on stabilizer muscles more). I am told I look better at 165 than I did at 185, and I feel more alert, energetic, and balanced.

So, the point is that weight, or any other individual marker, is not the totality of health goals. If you are pursuing a particular number on the scale, or some other indicator of health, ask yourself why that matters so much to you. This can apply to weights lifted as much as weight on your body. Do we pursue these things because we want to be healthy, or for some other reason?

For most of us, the reason we want to weigh less or look better is really because we want to demonstrate health. Just as you can’t get away with the appearance of intelligence in school (usually), you can’t get away with the appearance of health for very long.

It is also counterproductive to try to develop such an all-encompassing element as health by only attacking one aspect of it. Instead of just trying to lose weight, aim to live healthfully by eating delicious, wholesome foods, enjoying the movement of your body, and really engaging with life. Health with develop, along with all its little perks such as lower weight, increased sex appeal, and stronger, more visible muscles.

What habits do you do in the name of health? Are you focusing too much on just one aspect instead of taking a more holistic view of your physical-mental-spiritual well-being?

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