The Skinny on Mental Fitness

I am 47 years old. I am 25% body fat. I eat a bagel almost everyday.
I weigh 138 pounds. I eat cheese. I am 5’6″ tall.

One of the above statements is false. Can you pick out the incorrect fact?
If you picked out the statement “I eat a bagel almost everyday” you are wrong. The incorrect fact is “I am 25% body fat.” In actuality, I am 20% body fat. How is it, in this day and age of the dreaded, evil carbohydrate, I can eat bagels and actually be fit? Well, I eat healthy foods in moderation. More about that later.

Now that I, hopefully, have your attention, let’s discuss “Mental Fitness.” Somehow or other we have ended up living in a society that tends to judge women almost solely by their appearance. Just think of yourself or any woman you know who is getting ready to attend their High School reunion. She can practically be a bag lady living in the street but if she looks good - who cares?! And somewhere along the line “looking good” has translated into “thin” or, a word I care for even less “skinny.” Women have been sold and are lining up in droves to voluntarily buy a bill of goods: the thinner the better (except for breasts.) The ideal body type we are being sold is not the type that commonly occurs naturally. Skinny, small boyish hips, very little curves and big breasts. I’m not sure where this trend began but it is certainly picking up steam. Ever check out the “Victoria’s Secret” catalog? I see a lot of models who have starved themselves and purchased fake breasts in order to model underwear. And have you watched “Desperate Housewives?” It’s a bunch of 40-something women trying to convince us there is only one ideal body type for women. The actresses are old enough to be the mothers of the VS models. Yet they have the same bodies. They probably purchased their breasts in a mother/daughter four for two sale. Current research shows that more than ever before in history, women in their 30s and 40s are developing eating disorders. Researchers believe this is due to the pressure women are under from media and societal issues I believe it’s due to women having too little self-confidence and submitting to the hype and pressure. But I digress…back to the skinny.

The Duchess of Windsor said, “You can never be too rich or too thin.” So, how can we achieve this thinness? Well, starvation is always a good bet. Limit your calories to less than 1000 a day (lettuce is always a safe bet) and run (a lot.) Of course there are several problems with that solution. As you cannot starve a fat cell your body will simply hold onto all the fat it possibly can while you cannibalize your own muscle for fuel (hence giving you an unhealthy body fat/lean mass ratio, technically referred to as a “skinny fat person.”) And who can starve themselves forever? Once you return to any semblance of normal eating your body will simply store any calories it possibly can as fat. Hence the weight comes back on and not only are you not thin, you’re out of energy and down on yourself. Picking up one of the very many diet books is always another great idea! What better scheme than to throw out everything you’ve ever learned and followed about eating and to replace your entire way of life with someone else’s money making scheme, otherwise known as a “diet book”? I mean, I would love to discard everything in my kitchen, shop for 4,000 ingredients, usually including some spices that sound kind of scary, and prepare some complicated meal and snack six times a day. That should last about 2 weeks. So, perhaps, we can look at the idea that just maybe the Duchess was wrong. You can try too hard to be thin. In fact, you can be too thin.

Recent studies from the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). This rigorous study found that the thinnest 2% of our population showed the same mortality risk as the obese. (In addition, women who are underweight with either extremely poor body fat/lean mass ratios or extremely low body fat run the risk of interfering with their menstrual cycles. This hormonal imbalance may cause early onset of Osteoporosis, which is, at this time, an irreversible condition. I have been telling my clients for years you are better off if you are 10 lbs. overweight rather than 10 lbs. underweight.) The CDC held a press conference over the confusion of their study emphasizing that people need to be fit, they need to have a healthy diet and they need to exercise. Well…thanks a lot! Where does that leave us?

Obviously, as fitness professional a part of my concern for my clients and myself is appearance. Fitness, however, has many other aspects that are equally if not more important than looks. As stated previously, try to replace the idea of thinness (weight on the scale) with a healthy body fat% (above 12% and below 29% for women, above 4% and below 24% for men.) Other components include muscular strength and endurance (how many pushups can you do? Full Pushups!), cardiovascular strength and endurance (can you walk a 15 minute mile, can you complete a full aerobics or Spin class?), flexibility, agility (can you still play hopscotch?) and balance (can you stand on one foot, close your eyes and count to 60?). The CDC recommendations for heart health are 30 to 60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise each day. The minimum recommendation for cardiovascular fitness is 30 minutes, 3 times per week, working within your proper parameters (time to buy a heart rate monitor!) The minimum recommendation for strength training is one hour per week. Strength training should include some “functional fitness” which enhances coordination, posture and endurance and relies upon your own body strength, balance and core muscles.

As for the million dollar question - what about nutrition? My rule is KISS - keep it simple, sweetie. Eat breakfast, every day. Eat every three hours. Eat non-processed fresh foods. Avoid fast foods, avoid pre-packaged foods, and eat healthy fats. (Did you know that your body needs to take in healthy fats in order to metabolize stored body fats?) Our Personal Training and Eat Smart Staff are on hand to help you with any confusion. We specialize in scientifically fine-tuning your fitness program. Try us, we’re worth it. In fact we believe in ourselves so greatly that our “Jump Start 2005″ program comes with a money back guarantee!

Should you be concerned that you are not exercising and eating for fitness and may possibly be struggling with an eating disorder or a potential disorder here are some (less obvious) questions to ask yourself. Do you dislike eating with other people and going out to restaurants? Do you dislike trying new foods? Do you prepare foods for others but do not eat what you cook? Do you get anxious prior to or after eating? Do you feel guilty after eating? Do you call yourself fat when you feel full? Do you prefer to have an empty stomach? Do you avoid tight fitting clothes? Are you preoccupied with food, calories or your weight? Are you preoccupied with a desire to be thinner despite your weight/fitness level? Do you suffer from constipation? Do you exercise strenuously simply to burn off calories? Do you believe that you have to exercise longer and more strenuously the following day if you ate extra calories at dinner the night before? Do you weigh yourself once a day or more? And the more obvious questions: Do you have irregular menstrual periods? Do you take laxatives or vomit after eating? Do you try to avoid eating?

Answering yes to any of the obvious questions indicates you should seek a health professional and ask for his or her advice. If you answered yes to two or more of the less obvious questions you may want to do the same.

Hopefully though, you are just like my clients and me, searching for fitness without the craziness. I encourage my clients to look in the mirror and feel GOOD about themselves. I truly refuse to judge myself by whether or not I can appear on the cover of “Sports Illustrated” swimsuit addition. (I mean, who decided women need saline, silicone or poisonous injections to be attractive? Who decided the laugh lines we’ve earned from raising a family and/or living life make us unappealing? I have some beautiful, confident older women as my clients and they are my idols. I’m on a one-woman campaign to age gracefully - please join me.) Can you put on an outfit, do your hair, add a little makeup and look pretty damn good? If so, and if you can couple that positive thought with healthy eating and a beneficial fitness regime you are well on your way to mental fitness!