Skinny Fat

Thin = fit? Not always.

We get asked all the time if overweight people can do Fuse Pilates®. An actual quote from a friend of ours who was tentative about trying Fuse: “I’m a little terrified by this class because I’m really very blobby right now.”

First things first: getting bogged down with whether you’re blobby or not isn’t going to motivate you much to exercise, it’s just going to make you feel, well, blobby. But you can also see the underlying prejudice: skinny = strong, fat  = weak (physically as well as in willpower).

Of course, we don’t want to deny the obesity epidemic. Here in the U.S., over two-thirds of Americans are overweight. The problem is growing around the world about as fast as our waistlines – lest you think all those Parisian women aren’t getting fat because they’re French, check out the Wikipedia article dedicated solely to Obesity in France (!!!): One in every four Frenchwomen you meet will be overweight too.  (Guess that rules out croissants as health food.)

But it’s unfair to say that overweight is categorically unhealthy and skinny is categorically healthy and strong. We’ve seen larger-size students bust out perfect push-ups in the dozens and rail-thin students who can barely lift their shoulders to a crunch.  This brings us to normal-weight obesity, or as you might know it: skinny fat. People can be thin on the outside, but still have a high body fat percentage – as high as people who would fit into the category of overweight if you were just measuring using the body mass index. Yup, you can be wicked unhealthy while carrying around a model-size frame.

If you want to get a room full of medical anthropologists – those people who spend their time studying the culture of health and medicine – really riled up, tell them that being overweight is unhealthy.  Half the room will start waving their fists and saying that obesity and overweight are unhealthy by nature because of the association between being overweight and the increase in rates of chronic diseases. The other half will point out that obesity is only correlated with the things that make us unhealthy; that doesn’t mean it causes those things. There’s no actual mechanism of being overweight that causes illness, no fat gene that makes you die younger.

What it comes down to is metabolic syndrome, a much more important indicator of health than your body size. Metabolic syndrome is the set of conditions making up possibly the biggest risk factor associated with the chronic diseases we link to obesity – diabetes, heart disease, stroke, even a lot of cancers. Having metabolic syndrome means your body doesn’t know what to do with insulin. Then, a whole lot of complicated scientific stuff happens, and the next thing you know, you’re having a heart attack. One way doctors look for metabolic syndrome is by checking out your belly – a bigger waistline is associated with greater risk of metabolic syndrome.  But skinny people get metabolic syndrome too, and regardless of whether you’re skinny or fat, people who have metabolic syndrome are at increased risk of ill health effects than those who aren’t.

Ok, here’s the challenge.  We know a lot of people out there want to be skinny.  Our society glorifies skinny. We don’t. We want you to recognize that skinny does not equal healthy. Is your brain exploding now? Is everything you thought you knew about health being challenged? Let go of your preconceived notions about health: a size 2 doesn’t mean healthy.  In fact, adding weight or a dress size might even make you healthier, since muscle weighs more than fat.  This is where we should point out that several of the Fuse Pilates® teachers are not currently their “tiniest.”  Mariska added 15 pounds to her frame when she went from way-too-skinny to lean and healthy, and Clare likes to carry around a little extra weight so that people don’t mistake her for a 12-year old boy (which happens).

Plus, there are other drawbacks to being skinny fat. You probably can’t lift your luggage into the overhead compartment without help (annoying), and you probably can’t hold proper posture (Mom will be on you for that!). How do you strike the balance between long/lean and tough/machine?

At Fuse Pilates®, our goal is to help you build your own best body and to have fun doing it.  Sometimes that means weight loss.  Sometimes it means weight gain.  The awesome thing is that your body finds its own happy place when you give it the right tools to do so. In fact, learning to love your body and all of its perfectly awesome imperfections will probably add years onto your life from all the stress you skipped out on.  Fuse Pilates®, along with a healthy (most of the time) diet, can be part of your arsenal.

If you’re faux thin, to be healthy you need to build muscle through regular exercise to lower your total body fat content. And, as much as we’d like to deny it, you’d best acknowledge that chocolate and jelly beans are not major food groups. This is our daily struggle. In our defense, we would like to point that Mariska loves chocolate and hates jelly beans while Clare inhales jelly beans and is meh on chocolate. That makes us well-suited to fight side by side in the zombie apocalypse, which has health benefits of its own. But until the zombie apocalypse, may we humbly recommend adding Fuse Pilates® to your daily diet?

Stay hardcore,

Mariska and Clare

 

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