May 11th, 2011 by Digestive Detective
That was the message tiled across the outdoor sign of a salon that I passed over this past weekend. The message conveys two key points that in part define the issues our society and population are currently having in regard to health and the obesity epidemic:
1. Quick-fix mentality
2. Aesthetic-focused culture
The quick-fix mentality is the magic pill concept; the idea of getting something without putting in any effort. This sign and message though, seemed to go even beyond that. It implied not even achieving some desired end-result, but faking it - using some form of artificial enhancement to not actually change appearance, but simply the perception of appearance. It's the band-aid approach: mask the reality of things with something that brings temporary change (or the perception of change to the outside world) while the real underlying problem remains. As a culture and a society, the only way we will be able to stem the tide of obesity, reverse it, and change the course of the health & well-being of our population is to adopt the mentality of old - where hard work and determination guided our thoughts, actions, and behaviors. If we want to create real change in our lives, not simply the facade of change, we have to work hard and strive for success by the means in which American physician, author and running enthusiast George Sheehan eloquently stated: "Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be."
Perhaps even more alarming about this message was the idea that you could "get skinny" with this approach. Even with myriad of health-related conditions that are prevalent and the mounds of scientific evidence that link lifestyle to the prevention or acquisition of disease, many parts of our culture are still focused on pure aesthetics. Now everyone wants to look good, but how often do we really focus on how we feel and function? When creating goals for a fitness program a few that are often at the top of the list include statements like "tone up my arms" or "flatten my stomach" , but these measures are subjective and often result in disappointment and frustration when they're not achieved or perceived to have been achieved. What about these instead:
"Improve the range of motion in my shoulders and increase the muscle endurance in my arms so that I can paint around the house without pain."
"Decrease my waist measurement and strengthen my core so that I can alleviate my lower back pain and reduce my risk for cardiovascular disease."
Even setting weight loss as a primary goal can be setting the scene for frustration. Weight loss as a goal is fine, it can tie in to decreasing Body Mass Index and reducing risk factors for chronic disease; however, it should not be the primary goal of a fitness program. Instead of being aesthetic-focused, or scale-obsessed, why not set the main goal as "improving overall health". When health is the focus, then how you feel and function each day comes into play. Being healthier means considering things from a more holistic perspective and taking into account things such as cardiovascular health, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, sleep patterns, stress levels, metabolic efficiency, joint stability/mobility, balance, and functional strength. Developing a fitness program focused on health provides the opportunity to create an overall healthy lifestyle - not just a series of actions to reach a singular outcome. It's an ongoing process to improve the way your body feels, heals, functions, and performs in all aspects of your life. Weight loss can then be achieved as a secondary goal - derived as the natural byproduct of becoming more physically active, eating more nutritiously, and improving one's health.
So the next time you are setting your goals for your fitness and exercise program, consider the words of this proverb:
"He who has health has hope; he who has hope, has everything."