I was going to do a post on Insta about this (still might), but it seemed better said as a relatively short blog post. The other day, I got on the scale at my doctor’s office when I went in for a sick visit (I battle chronic sinus infections this time of year brought on by allergies – yay) and it said 177 pounds. I panicked. I’m 5’8″ and have always erred on the “skinny” to “skinny with definite curves” side of the spectrum. I’ve never seen that number on the scale. I knew in my head that it was bullshit – I’m fit as fuck and actually looking really good after a season of hard running and over a year of fairly consistent yoga practice. But, there’s still that little voice, the one that thinks weight is all that matters because it’s what we’ve been told our whole lives (men, women, gender non-conforming, we’ve all been fed this crap our whole damn lives). I went home and got on my own scale (it was dusty and shoved behind the toilet because I don’t fucking believe in scales) and it confirmed I was hovering around 175. Now, according to the CDC (which still uses the outdated BMI standard to measure body fat), I’m overweight. Yeah. Take a look at me.
I am NOT overweight by any standards. It’s laughable. And even if I was, so the hell what? What does that even mean? Well, that old line that muscle weighs more than fat is not a myth or an excuse for overweight people to try and rationalize what others perceive as their unhealthy bodies (you can be overweight and healthy, FYI). It’s true. But, it’s even more than that. Your scale can’t tell how much of your weight is due to muscle vs. fat vs. water retention vs. getting your period or various other factors. All that matters is if you are fit and strong and healthy. I exercise way more than the average person – I’m healthy and fit and yes, strong af. I get a physical every year. My BP, cholesterol and heart rate are excellent. My weight is incredibly inconsequential. Do I have a bit of a tummy? Yeah. I’m 41. A woman. And I’ve had babies. Should I have flat abs? Not unless I want to starve myself, workout to the point of it being unhealthy and probably end up with a slew of other health (both mental and physical) issues in the process.
Not unrelated to this, I recently left my gynocologist that I had lazily started using after I was done having babies and it seemed like too much of a hassle to keep up with my midwives. Since I started really training for and running long distances 1.5 years ago, my period has gone NUTSO. Like, sometimes I have it 3 times in a month and sometimes I go 35 days without having it. I have a non-hormonal IUD that I got in the weeks after the 2016 election (because they are coming for my reproductive rights), so everyone agrees my wonky periods are not due to that. I might be perimenopausal – that’s what my gynocologist chalked it up to at my last appointment. She did an ultrasound, which was normal, and just basically told me to “deal with it.” So, I went back to midwifery care. My midwife and I talked for a while. We talked about diet, sleep, and exercise routines (my gyno never asked about any of those things – I don’t even think she knows I’m an ultrarunner). She had some theories – I may be perimenopausal (that can last a decade – excellent), but she also thinks I have low body fat because I exercise so much. We worked out some supplements, a plan to up the healthy fats and fish in my diet, and I promised to try and get more sleep regularly (tough when you have little kids). We are giving it 3 months and then will check back in to see if it’s helping regulate things. The first month after I started the new plan, my period arrived at exactly 28 days for the first time in since I went off hormonal birth control a couple years ago.
Now, when my midwife mentioned I probably have low body fat, I scoffed. I mean, I have that belly and some flabby muffin top going on and I know what the scale says. It never occurred to me that I could have low body fat – isn’t the scale what tells you how much fat you have? Isn’t the scale what tells you if you’re healthy? I already knew the answer to those questions is a resounding “NO,” but it’s still hard to shed decades of being told otherwise. I realized that she was probably right: I work out so much and I am, as my boyfriend says, “all muscle.” I just ran a damn 50K, for Christ’s sake! It’s taken 5 years of consistent exercise to get this way, and it’s not something I was aiming for or ever expected, but I am in the best shape of my life. So, fuck the scale. I’ll take being 175 pounds of muscle any day of the week over the 140 pounds I was when I was sedentary and weak, both mentally/emotionally and physically.
I just peeked at the CDC’s website and they now offer this caveat about BMI and athletes:
“According to the BMI weight status categories, anyone with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 would be classified as overweight and anyone with a BMI over 30 would be classified as obese. However, athletes may have a high BMI because of increased muscularity rather than increased body fatness. In general, a person who has a high BMI is likely to have body fatness and would be considered to be overweight or obese, but this may not apply to athletes. A trained healthcare provider should perform appropriate health assessments in order to evaluate an individual’s health status and risks.”
Way to hedge your bets, CDC [eyeroll]. I’ve recently seen a couple friends I hadn’t seen in a few months and they told me “You look great! You’ve lost weight! Must be all that running.” I was like “really?” knowing I had GAINED according to the scale, but I said “Thanks!” I think what they meant was “You look strong and fit,” and I am. But, weight has nothing to do with it. So, I guess this is a plea for everyone, including myself, to reframe this narrative. When you see someone who looks healthy, say that. If they look strong, say that. But, leave weight out of it. If you’re saying shit about people’s weight, it’s likely something you are hung up on for yourself and that’s worth investigating. There’s a whole lot of us out here working to change this conversation (like Kelly Roberts, Mirna Valerio AKA “The Mirnavator,” Latoya Snell, Martinus Evans at 300 pounds and Running, and the folks at brands like Skirt Sports, Oiselle, and Super Hero Fit, among so many others) – join us. If what you are really worried about is your health, that’s legitimate. Team up with a good doctor, nutritionist and workout coach or friends who exercise regularly. Start a walking or running group. Find something you like to get your body moving: be it dance, the gym, yoga, SUP, whatever. Get healthy. Get strong. Get fit. But, unless your doctor says otherwise, get off the damn scale!