Fat or Fit: The Great Divide

Five years ago while working in a leading UK hospital one of the doctors said to me, "Have you ever been to the United States and noticed there are two types of people -- anorexics and fitness freaks or obese people?" She certainly struck a chord, but then furthered her argument by saying weight had class implications. If people were rich enough, they hired a personal trainer and cook to stay ultra lean while the poor were depicted as lazy, or even worse so called "welfare queens." We started to discuss how the UK was mirroring this behavior: fat women were depicted as lazy layabouts and thin women, the middle class motivated waifs that went for a 10 mile run every day.

I am the child of immigrants and I was a big girl. My mother and my grandmother were thin, but they also came from a slum in Kenya where they washed their clothes by hand and scrubbed floors. My mother played jump rope with her friends everyday, walked three miles to school, ate food that her family grew, and climbed up trees to pick her own fruit. No wonder she was thin. On the polar extreme, I grew up in urban London. The food I ate was processed because not that much fresh produce was available and I hardly got any exercise, because I was told the only way out was to get an education. Plus I couldn't skip in the street for fear of getting run over or snatched up by a pedophile. My reality is the reality of many girls in urban environments, and especially true of immigrants and people of color who are disproportionately poorer.

The picture of physical health, however, is becoming bleaker for us all, regardless of our class. Americans and those in other Western countries are getting fatter; and, not just fatter -- lazier. The rate of disease caused by obesity and a sedentary lifestyle combined is crippling so much so we have a national problem on our hands. In the United States, people are not eating food, they are consuming huge amounts of the same product packaged in different ways namely foods that contain high fructose corn syrup. Nutrient dense foods have mostly disappeared from peoples plates.

Women are also further compounded by the fat fit issue as thin people are deemed more desirable in our society. Faced with mass marketing of thin people eating heart attack rendering foods on ads while simultaneously being told they can magically loose 50 pounds in five days. The focus on health has gone out of the window.

Dr. Toni Yancey's Instant Recess explores and analytically looks at the multitude of issue that makes obesity such a hard public health issue to tackle. She eloquently explains why it is so hard to get women especially to get active. Many view sports as unfeminine and a BBC report showed that girls think exercise will turn them into a muscle Mary. Most girls, just want to look thin.
Dr Yancy Teaching a 10 minute fitness class
Weights will never turn the average woman into Schwarzenegger. However, they will give you a bit more lean muscle mass so you can burn more calories and prevent osteoporosis later in life. It took me two years to lose fifty pounds, and I've kept most of it off. I didn't starve but I did get active. I also didn't turn into a muscle Mary or marathon runner. Five years ago, I couldn't run for the bus without feeling like my heart would explode out of my chest. Now, I try and run two miles four times a week. I'm no waif , I feel a lot healthier and my body shows it.

 The focus as Dr. Yancy highlight's should be on health and fitness not how thin you look. Being ultra thin also has it's own problems. The point is to empower people about their bodies and focus on health.