A meaningful body


Just a few years ago there was a study that included 1,800 U.S. Women over the age of 50 years. Every individual was asked a series of questions pertaining to the body.
Of the participants, 27% were obese, 29% were overweight, 42% were normal weight and 2% were underweight.
Here are the results of the study:
-4% binge eat
-8% purge
-70% diet to lose weight
-36% dieted ~50% of the time in last 5 years
-41% check body size daily
-40% weigh themselves at least twice a week
-62% report body weight negatively impacts their life
-79% report body weight affects self-image
-64% think about their weight daily
(source: Environmental Nutrition Sept 2012, Vol 35, No 9.)

We are getting close to the holiday season which often makes individuals (not exclusive to athletes) very vulnerable to their body image due to the drastic shift in food choices associated with holiday food and the realization that another year has gone by.
Come the New Year, it only takes one trigger event for an individual to rapidly and drastically change eating habits and exercise behaviors. Such a strong desire to change body image for athletes can often lead to unhealthy mechanisms like undereating, underfueling and restrictive eating. Ultimately, if an athlete feels as if her/his body weight is/was a limiter for performance, she/he can often seek quick fixes and extreme methods which turn a fit, healthy body into an unhealthy and weak body.

For many, the bathroom scale gets a lot of action around the holiday season. Whether the scale is seen as an enemy or supporter, I highly encourage you to not put all your energy into a scale when it comes to the best method for improving health and performance. 
(Karel and I are not scale-users and we have never changed our eating in an effort to achieve a race weight)

For athletes, we want to focus on how we perform, how food makes us feel inside and how we use that fuel to gain the competitive edge. Relying on a number on a screen does paint the big, beautiful picture and many times  a number on a scale triggers unhealthy eating and compulsive exercise behaviors. 

Never forget that developing a healthy relationship with your body (and food) is a vital component of living a quality life AND improving health and performance. Your performance and longevity in your sport is based on how you take care of your body. 

Knowing that the upcoming year will likely bring new changes, challenges and goals, I recommend to start building your healthcare team (ex. primary physician, registered dietitian, OBGYN, dentist, optometrist, dermatologist, psychologist, and/or physical therapist) to help you stay in good health.

When it comes to driving a behavior change, we need a concrete reason. Although feeling, believing and needing are often beneficial in the behavior change process, if you are feeling or needing a change in your body composition, many times you will rely on "groupthink" rather than focusing on your own individual needs based on a test result or ongoing issue.

Some of the most successful athletes who know how to balance eating and training to keep the body in good health, are successful because they focus on what works best for them. Whereas many athletes abide by athletic cultural seasonal "norms" like off-limit food lists, sport nutrition rituals and training regimes, it is important that you understand what works best for you now and for your short and long term goals.

Yes, I understand that there are many extremely lean athletes out there who have amazing looking bodies. Sure, they look good and sometimes they perform really well. But was this a result of drastic measures to improve health and performance or a natural result of training and eating smart? Perhaps we may never know the answer because every body is different.
But, let it be known and celebrated that there are a large number of very healthy bodies who perform amazingly well. Shouldn't we marvel over how a body performs and not how much body fat a person has or how defined they look in spandex?
And while you are at it, what's the point of looking at what others are doing and what everyone else looks like? Shouldn't you be focusing on your own amazing body and what is working for you and what changes you are making because they are specific to you?
Comparing does you no good because you will typically put yourself as the worse-off, unlucky, "it's not fair" individual. When was the last time you took a long look at yourself in the mirror and told your body how awesome you think it is and believed in yourself that you are making good, healthy choices for your one and only body?

In order to put meaning behind your body image, you must eat, train and live in a way that you are actually able to do amazing things with your body.

If you are currently experiencing GI issues, low energy for no reason, unintentional weight gain/loss or anything else abnormal with your body, you should consult with a professional immediately as you are wasting precious time reading forums and blogs as you overwhelm yourself with information overload that does not directly apply to you. 
Athletes are very int-tune with the body and for good reason. When performance needs to improve, an athlete will identify a physical weakness in the body or training regime. When workouts/races do not go as planned, athletes find it so easy to blame their body and weight. It's almost instinctual. But if you feel limited by your body,  restricting food (or food groups), overexercising and taking extreme measures to change your body composition is not going to help you become physically stronger, faster or more powerful. 

 It's understandable that you may want to change your body composition and over the next two months, it's very easy to feel vulnerable to your body. In an effort to reduce the chance of sickness, injury or even an eating disorder, I recommend to make an appointment with a professional, to get the truth behind your health OR to talk to someone who can help you with your body image concerns.

If you are considering taking some steps to improve your health, here are some recommended tests depending on your age and health/performance goals:
1) Blood pressure and HR (it's recommended to keep track of your resting heart rate, first thing in the morning as often as possible to monitor signs of overtraining and recovery. I recommend to take note of your HR on Monday and Tuesday morning as well as Saturday morning).
2) Weight, body fat and waist to hip ratio
3) Bone density scan (ex. DEXA) as well as vitamin D, folic acid, Iron/ferritin and calcium – for women 65+ years as well as postmenopausal women. Other individuals who may benefit from this test and may be at risk for osteoporosis/osteopenia include individuals with history of bone fractures, smoking, vitamin D deficiency, excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption, early menopause, eating disorders, low body weight/fat, physical inactivity, taking medications known to cause bone loss (x. prednisone or Dilantin), hyperthyroidism, low estrogen. 
4) Lipid profile – including cholesterol, HDL, LDL, triglycerides
5) Blood glucose (fasting plasma and glucose tolerance test)
6) HbA1C (glycosylated hemoglobin – average blood sugar control for the past two to three months) – for individuals at risk for diabetes as well as anyone with an insulin resistance/glucose-related disorder
7) C-reactive protein – to screen for heart disease risk if your lifestyle choices place you at risk for a heart attack or stroke.
8) Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estradiol test
9) Mammogram, breast exam, pap test, colonscopy, prostate and pelvic exam – discuss with your primary physician or OBGYN on how often you should be tested/screened and at what age in order to reduce your risk for cancer.
10) Dental exam and cleaning (don’t forget to floss and brush your teeth daily)
11) Eye exam by physician or optometrist
12) Skin exam by physician – if at risk for skin cancer, consult with your dermatologist.
13) Complete metabolic panel and complete blood count (CBC)
14) Food allergy or intolerance– there are many ways to identify food related allergies or intolerances, often without the need for a “test”. It’s recommended to meet with a Registered Dietitian who can evaluate, assess, diagnose and treat your symptoms and to help you create a balanced diet to fuel your active lifestyle.