So, the other day I was listening to a podcast by Ben Coomber, someone for whom I previously had a lot of respect. As a personal trainer, I’m used to coming across a fair amount of weight loss & body image flavoured bullshit in the industry, but I thought I’d whittled down my list of health & fitness related podcasts to the more moderate, balanced ones.
The podcast was a question and answer format, with a listener writing in with their health and fitness related question and Ben answering it.
Now this particular listener was a woman who wanted to know why she wasn’t thinner. She explained she ate well and exercised a lot, and had done for a while. I got the impression she was relatively slim and sporty, but her issue was that she felt she wasn’t quite as lean as she had hoped to be. She also explained that she gave up tracking calories and macros because in the past it had made her obsessive about food (hands up who’s been there! I know I have.)
So Ben goes on to answer this lady’s question, and do you know what he says?
Track your calories and macros.
Here is a woman who’s just told him that tracking calories and macros made her obsessive and unhappy, and his advice is to tell her to track her calories and macros?! No discussion about whether she actually needed to be thinner, or whether leanness was a particularly helpful fitness goal in the first place. No consideration of whether being lean was worth it if it meant becoming miserably obsessed with food.
I was gobsmacked.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, as the fitness industry routinely ignores mental and psychological health in favour of only one (supposed) marker of health: body fat.
I’m so tired of people thinking health begins and ends with weight.
Do we really value thinness so much that it matters above all else? Being lean is not healthy if it means spending your whole life unhappy and obsessed with food.
A study has shown that dieting leads to pathological dieting in 35% of people, and in a further 20-25% of instances, pathological dieting leads to a full-blown eating disorder. Eating disorders are deadly. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. I have no doubt that Ben was truly trying to be helpful to this woman, but his advice is dangerously misguided.
And I guess it’s hard to blame him really. We live in a society where we are repeatedly told that almost the ONLY thing that matters (particularly if you are a woman), is that you’re thin. Some people even say it explicitly – look at this clipping from the website of a fitness retreat.
I mean, really?! Nothing in the world?! Not your health? Not your mental wellbeing? Not your relationships? As J.K Rowling said:
“Is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow’, ‘vain’, ‘boring’ or ‘cruel’? Not to me.”
Leaving aside the issue of whether diets actually work in the long term (spoiler alert: they don’t) are these really the values we want to be promoting as an industry? Is this the message we want to be sending to our sons and daughters? You can be anything, as long as you’re not fat.
To paraphrase Lily Allen, is everything cool as long as you’re getting thinner?
I’d love to hear your views. Was Ben right to give this answer? Leave me a comment below.