Discussing weight loss is like catnip for fitness professionals. And indeed it should be. The health and wellness issues associated with obesity are well known and there is little debate with regards to the importance of maintaining a healthy body-weight.
Similarly, the “you-can-never-be-too-thin” mantra keeps millions of people on diets and treadmills, and sells countless books, gadgets, and eating plans.
But somewhere in-between lays a murky reality that not all overweight people share the same health risks. Now, before you think I am giving license for the kinds of lifestyle behaviors that cause people to have more body-fat than they should, I’m not.
But first, let’s understand what the terms that attach to plus-size people really mean. And let’s also agree that this is an adult discussion, and has noting to do with the wholly unrealistic body-image goals that teenagers (and others) too often fixate on for what they [or who they] think they should look like.
Other than the subjective impression of excess weight that comes from simple observation (“she’s fat,” “I’m fat”), the principle methods for determining weight-related body size are based on calculations. The most common calculations include: waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), body mass index (BMI), bioelectrical impedance (BIA), and skin-fold measurements using calipers. In addition, body composition analysis using underwater weighing and body scanning also may be used, but these are more expensive and less convenient than the other methods, especially for tracking changes over time.
While different calculation methods may use different names for the plus-size results they obtain, the most typical classifications are overweight and obese. Obesity may be additionally defined by severity, i.e., Grade-I, Grade-II, as well as Grade-III, which is also known as morbid obesity.
We generally, if unkindly, refer to plus-size people as fat. And even though it is impolite – indeed, outright rude to call someone fat, it is usually how plus-size people refer to themselves. So at the risk of being impolitic, I will use the word “fat” as a generic term for discussing people with weight issues that go beyond a few vanity pounds.
So, you ask, can fat people be fit? The answer is definitely yes, depending on how precisely you want to define “fitness.” For the purpose of this discussion I would describe fitness as the absence of disease or physical limitations typically associated with a lack of exercise, or an improper diet, or chronic inadequate rest – or, any combination of those things.
Go to any gym and you’ll see lots of people on cardio machines and in the weight room. Some of these people look superbly trim and fit. But others – including some who exercise as frequently and as intensely as the visually fit exercisers - are overweight, and some are even at the lower end of obesity. And very often these fat exercisers have been following a serious, dedicated exercise regimen for months, and even years.
Given the evidence, the verdict must be that it is possible to be both fit and fat - fitness meaning having high levels of strength, endurance, and flexibility, albeit without the “and desirable body composition” compon-ent normally included in a definition of fitness.
To put a finer point on it, if an overweight person can walk at a brisk pace for 30 minutes without stopping; can lift heavier objects than another person of like age, gender, and weight who does not exercise; and has an unencumbered range of motion for performing normal physical tasks, I consider them fit. The only caveat that I would add is that any presence of disease or an unfavorable condition, such as hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity-related diabetes, or any other condition that is a result of lifestyle, must also be considered as a negative component of good fitness.
And finally, who's going to tell an NFL lineman that he is not fit?