Functional Fitness: Making Peace with BMI, Diet Coke, and Twinkies*
Updated: Sep 4
I gave up my fitness tracker in 2022.
It's New Year's Day and I groan each time I see a diet commercial on TV. How many Americans will make a commitment to fitness in 2023? And how many will remain committed at the end of the year?
I have nothing against fitness and health consciousness. What I do object to is the constant belly button gazing Americans seem obsessed with around these topics. We are an egocentric culture. How many steps did I take? How many carbs did I eat? Did I do my 30 minutes of cardio?
None of this is bad on its own, but I am convinced that when we are too focused on these metrics, we make ourselves unhealthier, not healthier. It's action and movement that create health, not being able to recite arbitrary numbers about what your body is doing.
When I used to teach childbirth classes, I'd tell women, "Your body knows how to do this even if you never took my class. Your body was designed to birth a baby. You don't need a class to do it well." I think fitness is the same. If you move your body enough and don't fill it with a constant diet of processed foods, it knows what to do. It would have known what to do long before smart watches were invented.
Last summer, I was in Denmark. Everyone rode bikes. I saw no obese people. I saw plenty of drinking and refined carb eating. I saw people MOVING without needing to track every movement or record everything they put in their mouths. I did not see one yoga Barbie, but instead noticed many people, older than me, hiking, biking, and generally, looking much younger and healthier than their American counterparts.
I refuse to hop on the scale when I go to a doctor's office for a sinus infection. I refuse to ever have my body fat tested again. I will not track what I eat. I hereby proclaim BMI (body mass index) as the most ridiculous measure of health and fitness around. And I will proudly drink the occasional diet coke, eat a Twinkie once or twice a year, and yes, even have a McDonald's happy meal if I want one.
Maybe it's because I grew up in an eating disordered family and I have struggled with anorexia and bulimia. Maybe it's because for all of 2022, I worked out with a personal trainer and my body has never looked better. I am 60, menopausal, and fit. I am not overweight or underweight. I do not care what my body fat percentage is because I know that my body works just fine and my clothes look good. And the chances of me injuring myself or breaking a hip in my old age are pretty slim because of the slow, thoughtful way I approach functional fitness, which is about moving through the world in a healthy way rather than striving for washboard abs, running a 4-minute mile or making my biceps pop.
It's never easy in our culture for women to make peace with their bodies and their diets. And I suspect, that given my history, I will always be a work in progress.
But consistently moving my body and giving up my fitness tracker in 2022 may have been one of the smartest things I've ever done.
Today, on New Year's Day, when everyone is talking about diets and resolutions, I won't participate. And I may never wear a fitness tracker again.
*Thanks to my friend, Barry Banther, for suggesting this blog post title!