Many of you understand that body image is easily confused with body composition. Your actual physical make up can be obfuscated by your natural, genetic predisposition. In other words, how you look doesn’t necessarily represent your body fat percentage or body mass index. The issue of look is very – very confusing because on the one hand it seems to lie and on another it reveals truth. Stick with this post and find out what it is all about.
The number one problem is comparison. To make judgments on fitness and health we tend to compare to others. Naturally we compare ourselves to attractive fit looking people. We hear about how much they weigh and see them through rose-colored glasses. We idealize the human look by focusing our attention on the best qualities and are further convinced by usually only seeing such buff folks at their best. Then we compare to a 2 dimensional image in the mirror from eye level, both of which severely skew and limit our objectivity. Add to this comparing our body type to another with a different somatic disposition and the self-image clouds heavily. Your badly positioned, poorly lit photograph should not logically be held up against a magazine model.
Think we’re going to start chanting don’t compare just share or some such thing? Guess what…comparison won’t stop, it is an evolutionary trait and learning to live with it by understanding its proper place will make a lasting positive difference. Yes once again as is the fundamental thrust of our blog you are an individual. We are human and share characteristics as well as sharing commonalities with others of similar body type but to truly affect fitness we must start with the individual. You must also understand that what you need is to bring out your best characteristics based on your needs to feel, be and look your best.
How you look will reflect your overall health but only within an honest, proper context.
On to the practical stuff – how we look is heavily influenced by one very special aspect of fitness. This part drives and influences everything about our health inside and out. It is where fitness begins and ends. It gives you endurance and strength and keeps you young and helps protect you against the stress of life.
Lean Muscle. You rely on it to drive your entire system and it actively drives the body to stay fit. It urges your metabolism to healthy levels. It draws from all your resources stimulating your system to be and stay healthy and vital. By adding more, your body fat percentage comes down even without fat loss. It works your bones and connective tissue to make them dense and resilient. It is your engine of mobility and functionality. It demands circulation and delivery of oxygen and nutrients from your cardiopulmonary system.
Consider the body composition issue at large. We are all physically defined by our phenotype [ http://www.thefreedictionary.com/phenotype ]. This can be superficially broken down somewhat into three over influencing somatic types [ somatype: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/553976/somatotype ] (endo/ecto/meso). Some are more apt to be thin and wiry while others are stocky and solid and in truth we are all basically a mix. Your ‘type’ depends on such things as bone structure and propensities towards gaining and losing fat and muscle. The point to know down to your core is that age and a lack of fitness promotes the less healthy aspects of these somatic types. That is the inclination to store body fat as well as be weakened and eroded by stress. Muscle on the other hand feeds both fat fighting and strength generating qualities. Muscle promotes energy burning both during rest and because it encourages more vigorous movement.
Look at us…literally look at us in the various pictures on this site. We look fit sure but honestly we’re very regular folk. Lets break it down – We are female and male with the female comprised of (greatest to least) endo/meso/ecto split of about 50/30/20 a natural inclination towards being smooth and strong with fewer small structure/low body fat characteristics. The male is ecto/endo/meso at about 40/40/20. The influence of wiry structure is as great as that to be smooth higher body fat. The strength and muscle influence is there as a male but far from dominant.
If you don’t see then it is a testament to our fitness abilities. That is as we have worked to off set weakness and fat gain by concentrating on building and maintain strength…lean muscle. We are 37 and 47 years of age respectively and both face and have faced the massive shift towards endo influenced fat gain in our 30’s. Everyone does because evolution has made it this way. We have both tried everything under the sun to combat this effect and the primary positive influence has come from the development of muscle. A female doesn’t tend to have a lot of muscle in general and neither does a male ectomorph, – trust us, we have and are in the trenches of the fat and weakness war as much as anyone.
What confuses and misleads people can be seen in this diagram of varied body fat levels.
Here there is no adding or subtracting of muscle and this is how people tend to look at fitness. We focus way too much on fat and not nearly enough on the lean mass aspects of our bodies. Just from a visual perspective consider that better developed muscles in the back, chest, shoulders above and gluteus, thighs below automatically make the waist look far smaller. Also consider that improved posture and symmetry have a huge impact on how healthy, vital and fit you look. Your strength and muscle levels heavily and directly influence even your body language.
The key is individuality. An endo/meso (in the case here a female but the same goes for male) can in some ways use natural solid structural and strength traits to handle higher levels of resistance than many others to develop muscle. An ecto/endo dominant person can manipulate food timing getting a lot out of high calorie loads for muscle gain and if timed properly stave of fat gain easily. It gets far more detailed than this but it illustrates a point. Knowing yourself is more than being comfortable with who you are but also allows you to bring out your best. This makes health and fitness reasonable and it all starts with muscle.
Fat loss means you are in a negative caloric state. While this is unavoidable for reducing unhealthy fat stores it must be held within a proper context. You should never forget that during a fat loss diet that you are only avoiding starvation because you are living off fat stores. Human fat is not a pleasant food source and is just raw rough calories to keep you alive until real food is available.
As stated previously body fat percentage suggests your true body composition. Body mass index is less accurate though far easier to calculate. In fact an obvious sign of just how complex body fat percentage is can be seen in the tools available.
There is everything from pinchers and algorithms to Dexa like bodpod scanners.
What we have found is that the greatest computer in existence…the human mind, combined with experience is easily if not more accurate. We can often predict just by looking at someone and watching them move just what sophisticated tests will show. This tells us that the underlying issues are highly personal.
Body composition is very individual and water levels, organ size, bone density, intra cellular fat, subcutaneous fat, visceral fat, muscle quality and distribution make it tough to measure. You need to be realistic and understand that you see even feel very little of what is actually going on with you.
We promote paying attention to yourself closely for all the reasons listed above. We suggest your focus be on muscle gain first and fat loss second as well as staving off the stress of life and aging through maintaining this priority. Always pushing to build and keep muscle requires energy, nutrients, proper exercise and regular activity as well as quality rest. Focusing primarily on keeping off fat can lead far too quickly to constant restriction of nutrients and low energy ways.
Your fitness should center on lean mass. This is where your strength is. This is where your endurance, agility, functionality, and longevity flow from. Active energetic muscles, healthy connective tissue and strong bones are key.
So called cardio exercise does tax muscles but pales in comparison to heavier more intense resistance training practices. Eating clean is smart however unless muscle is built and used there is little draw in modern life for the nutrients. Even a semi sedentary individual can easily live on what amounts to basically a starvation level diet but not with any quality of life especially over the long term.
Prioritizing lean mass has a special influence on how you should exercise. This as opposed to activity and exercise which tries to cover all the bases under one generic approach…but lets save that for a future post.
Be well, be strong and share if you care to.