“French women don’t get ‘fat’,” proclaim popular book covers. “Okinawans are the ‘healthiest’ people on the planet.” “Europeans drink gallons of wine every day and maintain their ‘slim’ figures.” “The Paleolithic way our ancestors ate is the most ‘healthy’ way for humans beings to survive.”
We hear these claims all the time, but what do healthy, skinny, and slim really mean? Is healthy living longer, or doing it with less disease? Does skinny simply mean not bulging out of your pants, or does it refer to six-pack abs?
The answer is most likely that skinny, healthy, and slim are in the eye of the beholder — and the preacher; that is, that the person delivering you the message is the one who determines what these terms mean.
If you’re speaking with a bodybuilder, the definition is much more likely to refer to an extreme high standard of low body fat percentage and pronounced muscle definition. However, if you’re getting answers from a weight-loss group, they’re more concerned with anything that can lower baseline levels of body fat, Meeting their goal is much more likely to reflect attaining an average body size, which by the bodybuilder’s definition might very well be pretty close to “fat”.
It all depends on perspective; after all, by our ancestors’ definition, living past 40 was a long, healthy life. So it follows that when people give you health advice based on what our ancestors did when life expectations and demands were both much different than today, you should take it with a grain of salt.
(But not literally salt. Because as we all know, sodium is bad for you. Except as an electrolyte, in which case it’s good and actually totally necessary for your body’s function. Sea salt really better. But not all the time, because you need iodine from the iodized salt. But not too much. See what I mean? It’s maddening.)
You know when those awful skinny women start complaining, “oh, I’m so fat!”? And you’re just sitting there thinking like really, quit begging for validation and you know you’re skinny so why do you need me to tell you? Consider this: there’s actually a good chance that that woman really think she’s fat. Because based on her baseline and her current definition of fat and looking at her body’s history, compared to herself, she is.
With all this in mind, it becomes increasingly difficult to sift through a barrage of (often unsolicited) health and fitness advice in the Pinstagrambooktwitter world we inhabit. Mention a bout with holiday weight gain at a party and you’ll find yourself met with a chatty attendee’s sermon on what organic beets can do for you. But what basis does she have in assuming this will work for you, without knowing your goals? Worse, how are you to consider whether or not to implement her likely well-meaning suggestions?
What conclusions can we draw? One, if you find yourself playing the chatty-attendee role, consider whether you really know this person’s situation before you begin sharing. If you’ve had great success and want to let the world know, great, but then be specific about what actual differences you saw, not just “more” + a generic adjective.
What do these terms mean to you? What challenges do you face in diet and exercise-based conversations with your friends, family or colleagues?