From the Ideal Weight to Body Positivity – The Journey to a Healthy Body and Body Image
Some people want to lose a few kilos, others want to gain them. Some wish their muscles were bigger, others are worried about getting too bulky. No matter whether it’s body fat, muscle growth, body hair, or skin – there aren’t very many people who are entirely happy with the way they look. Why is that? And how much does it have to do with health and fitness?
Being Healthy and Fit vs. Looking Healthy and Fit
If you are slim and have good muscle definition, the general assumption is that you are healthy and fit – especially in Western culture. So people who do not fit this image are often criticized for being unhealthy and out of shape. The most common point of reference used to evaluate your “health” is the body mass index (BMI), the goal being to reach your healthy or ideal weight. That’s why many people get on the scale day after day to monitor their progress. In fact, the number on the scale does not determine how healthy and fit a person is.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, there are 5 key factors and habits in a healthy lifestyle.
- Nutrition: a healthy diet includes vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grain products, healthy fats, and omega 3 fatty acids. Trans fats, processed and sweetened foods and beverages, red meat and sodium should be kept to a minimum.
- Exercise: The recommended amount is 30 minutes per day. Check out the WHO’s recommendation on physical activity.
- BMI: According to the WHO, a normal BMI for adults is between 18.5 and 24.9.
- Smoking: Smoking should be completely avoided.
- Alcohol: Women should keep alcohol consumption under 15 grams per day and men under 30 grams. One drink has about 14 grams of alcohol.
Good to know:
The body mass index (BMI) is a combination of a person’s weight and height. A healthy or ideal weight, on the other hand, is based on a person’s age. Body composition gets completely ignored in the equation, though – there is no differentiation between muscle, fat, and water. Keep in mind that the BMI is an average value; if you are below or above the average height, the index is not a very good guideline.
Healthy Body: How often should I weigh myself?
First of all, it’s important to set a goal for yourself. If you want to lose or gain weight in a healthy way, it makes sense to keep an eye on your weight.(1, 2) Body fat scales and scales that show your body composition can be helpful for this. Make sure that you always have the same measurement conditions to ensure consistent results (same time, same location, with or without clothing).
However, these scales cannot give you a precise measurement of your health and fitness. If you want more information, have your doctor do blood tests and check your blood pressure. This will provide you with a clearer picture of your blood sugar, cholesterol, and heart health, which are important indicators of your overall health.(3)
There are actually pretty clear guidelines on how to stay healthy and fit and live a longer life. Nevertheless, magazines and the internet are packed with articles on the latest diets, miracle cures for weight loss and other health challenges. This is because our society often equates health and fitness with attractiveness and beauty standards. And the beauty standard that we know today is defined as minimal body fat, smooth, tight skin, muscle definition – but not too much, especially for women, as one study shows. In fact, based on today’s standard, in order for women to be considered attractive, they should be slightly underweight.
Healthy Body Image: What is Body Positivity?
The body positivity movement focuses on loving your body the way it is. There is no such thing as a bad body, with or without cellulite, age spots, no matter what size and what BMI, and with or without a disability. The movement aims to deconstruct unrealistic and discriminatory body images and beauty standards. Studies show that the image you have of your own body or that of others has little to do with health and more with attractiveness. When people do not meet the cultural beauty standard, it can lead to low self esteem and depression – and this actually has nothing to do with whether the person has a healthy and fit body. Just because someone may be genetically predisposed to being slim or has a stockier build, it doesn’t mean that this person is actually in good shape or not.
Criticism of the body positivity movement has been growing in recent years. Critics believe that despite its good intentions, the movement is too focused on body image. The body neutrality movement explores the question of whether we really have to love our bodies and why we are defined by our physical appearance at all. The goal is to feel at peace with your body (without neglecting your health) and to define yourself by the kind of person you are, instead of what you look like.
No matter whether you love your body or feel neutral about it, one thing is clear: the number on the scale, how you look, your diet, or exercise habits are not the sole indicators of your health and fitness. The key is to have holistic approach to health – that means physical and mental health. This is the secret to a long and happy life.
- Add more movement to your daily life with these 4 home workouts
- Do your mind a favor and keep a mindfulness journal
- Fill up your pantry with this healthy foods shopping list
- And last but not least, pay attention to yourself and your body – not to others.