The Whole30: Concepts of “fitness”

One of the first things that stands out to me as I read the brief introductory article on The Whole30 is this:

“Certain food groups (like sugar, grains, dairy and legumes) could be having a negative impact on your health and fitness without you even realizing it.”

There’s a lot going on here, but for now I want to highlight “fitness.” If I were coming to this article as a someone totally naive of diet culture, I would wonder what type of “fitness” they are referring to, specifically. As someone with some knowledge of health and physiology, the first thing that springs to mind is cardiorespiratory fitness, or specifically, how efficiently a person’s heart and lungs function to provide cells with oxygen so they can utilize chemical fuels (like glucose) to perform work.

However, I suspect, in the context of the rest of the introductory article, and given the focus of the Whole30 program itself, that this is not the “fitness” to which the author is referring (though cardiorespiratory fitness may be a secondary consideration.) I suspect they are referring more to “metabolic fitness,” which is a construct concerning itself with the body’s utilization of glucose and insulin, as well as body composition, or the ratio of lean to adipose tissue in a person’s body.

To me, this is culturally interesting because of a recent (but not unprecedented) shift in diet messaging in the past few decades. Most of you probably remember the low-fat diet messaging of the 1980s and 1990s, which happened to correspond with fitness messaging that focused on aerobic exercise and cardiorespiratory fitness, and the health indicators (serum cholesterol, blood pressure, heart rate, V02 max) used to measure this. It is interesting to me that, with a swing toward (or back toward) low-carbohydrate diet messaging, also seemingly comes a swing toward fitness messaging that focuses on resistance exercise and metabolic fitness.

Aside from these two concepts of “fitness,” whenever the word “fitness” itself is used, I can’t help but ask myself, “fitness for what, specifically?” I don’t mean this as a rhetorical question or a snide attempt at undermining the message, but as an honest attempt to poke beneath the surface.

What are we trying to be fit for, exactly? How does the concept of “fitness” apply to the popular theory that the human environment has changed rapidly enough to outstrip our biological adaptability, rendering most of us presumably “unfit” for the environment in which we find ourselves living? Does it make logical sense to attempt to return the body to a state of “fitness” best adapted to an environment that no longer exists?

I have no idea. Do you?


More questions than answers, probably, in comments.






45 responses to “The Whole30: Concepts of “fitness””

  1. Twistie Avatar

    I suspect that for most laypersons reading that intro, ‘fitness’ would automatically be interpreted as ‘thinness.’ They expect a ‘fit’ body to look like someone on the cover of a fashion or fitness magazine, airbrushing and all.

    But of course being strong and healthy and being thin are two different things that may or may not happen in the same body at the same time. The problem lies in the way that our society has made thin such a virtue and fat such a sin that most people never think to unpack their assumptions about how body size relates to either health or morality.

  2. mickey Avatar

    I really don’t know what this Whole30 thing is, so I’m really looking forward to this series.

    This isn’t related to fitness, but I don’t get what’s up with demonizing grains, dairy, and legumes for the general population. Now, if you have Celiac’s disease, allergies, or intolerances, that I understand. But for most people, I do not understand. I’m also a vegetarian, so giving up those things would have me subsisting only on vegetables and fruits, which isn’t easy, cost-effective, or sustainable.

  3. Becca Stareyes Avatar
    Becca Stareyes

    Now, I’m curious as a layperson, what do each of these ‘fitness’ feel like? Like, I have the vague idea that cardiovascular fitness means that I can do physical activity longer or more intensely without feeling out of breath. I imagine if ‘metabolic fitness’ has to do with insulin use, then it would be about avoiding things like ‘my blood sugar has crashed, and I feel FAMISHED’.

    Both of these traits are desirable to me, and my nutritionist in grad school helped me with both because of reasons like ‘I like exercising without panting’ and ‘I like not feeling STARVING around mid-afternoon’. But, as someone noted, both are different from being thin.

    1. closetpuritan Avatar

      Interestingly, you would be more vulnerable to the blood-sugar-crash thing if you’re more metabolically fit, WRT not diabetic/insulin-resistant. At least if they literally mean “low blood sugar” and not “low availability of sugar to your cells. Since diabetic people’s insulin doesn’t work as well, their blood sugar doesn’t go as low after a meal, but I’m assuming that they would feel hungrier with higher blood sugar because the sugar in their blood would also be less available to their cells. All of that is “to the extent that hunger has to do with low blood sugar” ANYWAY, because ghrelin and leptin are IIRC more important in determining hunger/fullness.

      I think it’s Gary Taubes’s fault that a lot of people now think of hunger as primarily a blood-sugar-crash thing. Although at least we’ve gotten beyond the Volumetrics idea that hunger is primarily about whether your stomach has stuff in it or not, and your body is too dumb to know the calorie content of what you’re eating, it can only tell how much stuff is in your stomach, doesn’t matter if it’s food or water or air, let’s not eat fat because it has more calories by volume.

  4. Moira Avatar

    What I get from this is that certain food groups are causing weight gain . Fitness = BMI.
    Which is only a sliver of the whole picture.
    My question is, what happens after the 30 days?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I think that’s quite possible, that in this (like in many diets) the concept of “fitness” is being reduced to body weight or BMI. And what happens after the 30 days is one of my questions too! I should be asking that in an upcoming post.

  5. Amy Avatar

    The folks who came up with Whole30 came from a perspective of folks who work out at gyms a lot. That’s a pretty clunky way of describing it, but that was their original concept and target market. They were surprised when random people (like, say, me, folks who are reluctant exercisers and would never go to a gym) got interested.

    As for the larger question, about making our bodies fit for an environment that no longer exists, this is an excellent question, and one that goes back to the issues of how best to feed people without continuing to destroy the planet, food justice, and other issues. I don’t think the folks who started Whole30 had these questions in mind, necessarily, but now that the Whole30 has grown far beyond their original context, these questions will definitely come up. I don’t know if there’s an easy answer.

    As for weight/BMI, it’s really hard to convince people that these are worthless and oppressive tools to use to describe ourselves, but I can certainly say that we do try. I often tell people to take their scales out in the driveway and run them over with their cars. Hehe (I don’t think anyone has taken me up on that, but I’d love a video.)

    Great article, looking forward to more. Thanks again for all you do.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Thank you Amy, I really appreciate your insight as someone imbedded in the community there. Your comment brings to mind another shift I left out in the article, but which I’ve noticed: along with low-fat diets and aerobic exercise often came calorie counting. With the shift to low-carb dieting and resistance training often comes encouragement to eat more, to not count calories, and possibly not to weigh oneself (often linked to the fact that muscle weighs more than fat, and because shifting body composition, rather than overall weight loss, is the goal here.) Not sure what it means, yet, but seems important to mention.

      1. inge Avatar

        I feel that getting away from calorie counting and having one’s life being ruled by the bathroom scales is a good thing, and so is being strong (but also being fast, or having good stamina, or good coordination…). Endurance trainings seems more in line with calorie counting, as weight lifting in itself does not use that many calories, according to the charts. (Whatever one might think of these charts’ reliability, let alone usefulness.)

        However, replacing one obsession (calories/fat/scales) with another (macronutrients/ “clean” food) — that’s “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.

  6. Bionic Avatar

    i am obsessed with this word recently. Perhaps this is already in the comments above, but I must throw in the suggestion that you search include a consideration of eugenics, specifically the early 20th c US eugenics movement and its connection to Muscular Christianity and purity.

    Fitness creeps me out as a construct.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Muscular Christianity! That’s a new one. Will definitely have to look this up.

      Fitness also reminds me of links to fascism, but possibly I am weird.

      1. Bionic Avatar

        Oh, yeah, you’ve got to. See also: the YMCA, Boy Scouts, teddy Roosevelt.

        1. Mercy Avatar

          See also: Victorian English empire building, Kipling, Rugby, Tom Brown…

    2. moseyonby Avatar

      Yes! Fitness is a bit of a scary term. Like, it already implies shape and size even when it supposedly refers to exercise abilities (I also don’t like to say or hear things like “in shape” for the same reason).

      That’s why I never know what to say–as an HAES-loving, Fat-Acceptance-loving former athlete–when I want to express my desire to get stronger/faster/more agile/more flexible/jump higher/swing harder/etc. I don’t like to say “I want to improve my fitness” or “I want to get in shape” because these are terms about appearance rather than skills of athletic expression. As far as I can tell we don’t have an easier way to express this than using those terms with the annoying implications, or making a long list full of /s like I did above. :)

      The bit about eugenics is creepy but for some reason unsurprising. Ugh.

      1. Gretchen Avatar

        Generally I approach my statements of goals as “I want to be able to do X more/better/faster.” For me that looks like “I want to be able to dance my heart out all night long.”

        When I’m looking to express that I want general physical functionality for activities-not-yet-specified, I say “I want to physically capable of handling whatever challenges life throws my way.”

      2. inge Avatar

        I’ve just been thinking how “survival of the fittest” is really “survival of the one best adapted to the environment.”

        Not being able to move safely in traffic, being illiterate, not being able to ask for help — that would make a person far less adapted to a modern (esp. urban) environment than not being able to run a quarter mile in two minutes.

        For humans, survival-relevant fitness would be social first, resistance (the ability to survive illness and hardship) probably second, and physical pretty far down the line.

        But that argument equals “adaption” with “fitness” for effect, which is sleight-of-hand. ;-)

      3. mickey Avatar

        Depending on the context, I express my “fitness” goals as “I’d like to be able to run an Xk race” (where X is some number between 5 and 21), or “I want to be able to keep up with my toddler”. Just throwing that out into the conversation.

  7. Kate Avatar

    I will need to do more reading on Whole30 – this looks like it will be an interesting series! – but I wanted to leave some thoughts on “fitness”. I might be an outlier, but I’ve always thought about fitness as not being “in shape” or “toned” or any of those things… but always as being fit to participate in my life the way I want to. To be able to go for a swim, or do yoga, or dance like mad in Zumba, because I enjoy those things. I don’t really worry about the scale or my BMI, but can I do those things and enjoy them? Then I’m fit and functional. And doing those things makes me feel stronger, less anxious, and more in tune with myself, so it’s like a double bonus.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I think this is a great way to frame fitness, personally.

    2. Indywind Avatar

      ^ Yeah, that’s how *I* mean fitness.

      But I’m pretty sure many people do not mean it that way, or at least not primarily that way. Seems like most people mean fitness = “able to fit a socially-determined ideal” of looks or size or shape or weight or something else that can be judged by others. Goes hand-in-hand with uncritically valuing “objective” over “subjective” and mistaking judgement of others for objective, instead of recognizing it’s just as subjective as self-judgement, merely pointed a different direction.
      “Fitness” ends up being kinda like Colbert’s “truthiness” that way: it’s not what it sounds like, it’s just enough superficially similar to be mistaken for it, when people with clout push hard enough to prop it up.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        Aside from individual definitions of “fitness,” do you think there is a cultural or collective definition of fitness? If so, what do you think it is?

        1. Kate Avatar

          I do think that often fitness is conflated with thinness – I once went to sign up at a gym with a friend of mine from university and she commented that “everyone in here is so fit”. I remember saying “You can’t tell that by looking at people.” …and she looked at me like I had 2 heads.

          Thinness, or obvious musculature (particularly in men), I think are the two images that are often matched with “fitness” from a physical perspective on a cultural or collective level. I like to frame it differently for myself, but from what I hear others say to me, I think that’s what people think of when they think “fit”.

  8. Shannon Cate Avatar
    Shannon Cate

    Yes I think “fitness” as a word in the English language was probably almost exclusively about eugenics originally. “Survival of the fittest” becomes “fit baby” or “fit family” competitions at local fairs and did indeed have strong ties to Christianity and moral “fitness.” The YMCA is all about this–it was born at the height of the muscular Christianity period. Likewise sports were originally very much tied to the military and training for war and for ruling, via Imperialism, “less fit” races and cultures. So. Much. Baggage.

  9. Beth Avatar

    Knowing what the author means by fitness can make a lot of difference between actually getting fit or harming yourself.

    If you go for what the medical community considers fit, then you only need to perform the behaviors that keep your arteries from clogging, keep parts of yourself from falling off, keep your immune system up, keep your mind functional, and keep your body at a certain functional level. Essentially, when you’re 100, you want to be able to go to the bathroom by yourself and go for a walk, not die of heart attack or stroke or a cold, be able to be around other people for social enrichment, and not be completely insane. If you have all those covered by 100, you have won the fitness game.

    1. Helen Avatar

      That sounds like the most realistic and simplistic definition of being fit. I like it, but don’t think that is all you need to do to live to 100, because a good set of genes would also help. ;) I’m all for playing the game, but you won’t find me doing this Whole 30 thing.

  10. JS Avatar

    I don’t know anything about Whole30, nor do I know much about dieting in general, but fitness always makes me think of movement, of bodies in motion. This is no doubt because acquiring a “fit” body obviously requires movement (via exercise) and because fitness commercials always feature images of people running, sweating etc. But beyond the obvious aspects of this, I think it plays into a pretty deep concern of ours, that is, our concern about being productive and active citizens and the fear that if are not physically active enough, we are somehow succumbing to death and obliteration. And when I think about it, the idea of fitness=motion plays pretty well into the idea that our biological selves don’t match up with our environment;
    one of the most common critiques of current culture is that we are far too passive and sedentary than our ancestors and this is an inherently “bad” and immoral thing. Finally, To me, fitness as movement is also a pretty North American construct, as our culture and history has always encourage innovation, productivity, moving forward (though this isn’t to imply to more “laid back” cultures produce inherently slower or less fit bodies).

    Perhaps the implication then is that food literally intervenes with our ability to move and be productive, to control our bodies as we see fit (this seems to align with the idea that chaining our diets will inevitably bring us more energy, one of the things that lots of people who undergo radical food changes seem to value most that they are less sluggish and fatigued, i.e. less slow)

    1. JS Avatar

      Wow, lots of typos and misspellings, apologies!

  11. Kristan Avatar

    So…part of this comment probably could have gone with the “intro to Whole30” post with general impressions, but part of it’s specific to fitness, so here goes:

    Given the Whole30 origins and the fact that so many crossfitters are in love with it, they may also be thinking of fitness in the crossfit sense: “increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains.”

    More specifically, crossfit describes ten General Physical Skills: cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power,coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. And claims that “You are as fit as you are competent in each of these ten skills. A regimen develops fitness to the extent that it improves each of these ten skills.”

    If I eat a large meal, especially if it has lots of carbs, and most especially if those carbs are highly processed, I am essentially useless for any sort of work capacity. (I’m actually also mostly useless for brain work capacity). But sometimes those meals are soooo worth it. At its core, the idea of focusing on how the food actually makes you feel and how you “perform” when you eat certain foods in a particular manner can be very helpful.

    Fitness is personal. I really do appreciate that the crossfit communities I have been a part of are largely supportive places. Even when I, as a “morbidly obese” woman walk in, positivity has far outweighed negativity.

    That said….they’re gyms. (“Boxes” whatever. It’s a gym.) Many people are there trying to lose weight, or build muscle, or look a certain way. But a lot really are just trying to get constantly “better” at certain things and recognize that each individuals’ “better” really is different.

    From Amy’s comments about moderating Whole30 boards, I’m glad to hear there’s more support in there as well for that perspective.

  12. Amy Avatar

    All of these insightful comments about the history of the word fitness are enlightening for me. Very very disturbing, and extremely creepy, but also enlightening. There’s so much to think about when we consider what we are told that our bodies are supposed to look like and to do. From survival of the fittest to Christianity/imperialism/militarism to fascism, the word seems extremely loaded – no wonder it’s such a powerful word to throw around. Wow. Looked at from a historical perspective, it’s a bit like throwing a grenade into a conversation. I had no idea!! The things I learn on this here blog…

  13. Linda Strout Avatar
    Linda Strout

    One aspect of fitness that nobody else has hit on is the idea of ‘not being a burden on society’. Sure, we can now live into our 90s, but we should do it while being ‘fit’, in other words, not requiring a ton of medications or medical interventions. Certainly the younger you require medical help, the less ‘fit’ you are, although you get a pass if you were injured doing something athletic.

    But certainly, being thin is often considered the same as being fit, even if your thinness is caused by rampant tapeworms.

    1. rydra_wong Avatar

      Oh god, yes, I haaaaate that.

      I’ve seen a few exercise people I otherwise like and appreciate as sources throw around stuff about fitness (or strength, particularly) making you “more useful”. And it makes me start screaming.

      I mean, I get they’re trying to push ideals of fitness that are maybe more communitarian, less individualistic “I must look pretty”, but — it effectively implies that people who are less physically strong are less valuable, and that your worth is dependent on how “useful” you are to others. Ableism much? *headdesk*

      Also, I am now quite physically strong while being chronically unemployable and extremely medication-dependent owing to assorted lifelong mental issues. My strength is occasionally “useful” if someone needs a hand lifting a heavy box, but that’s about it.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        The idea of fitness as “usefulness” is also extraordinarily tied to capitalism, I think.

        1. inge Avatar

          First question about “useful” should be “to whom”?

          1. Twistie Avatar

            I, for one, happen to think Steven Hawking is a pretty useful person .

  14. rydra_wong Avatar

    To me … well, I’m a rock-climber, so physical “fitness” is highly relevant to my personal interests.

    It’s at best a very broad term, though. If I had to define it (without Googling a definition), I’d probably talk about something like “physical capacity to do movement tasks”, and point out that it inevitably has multiple aspects — cardiovascular fitness, strength, endurance, flexibility, etc..

    And there’s no way of measuring which of these are in some objective way more “important”, and who is more “fit”, the marathon runner or the sprinter. Or the power-lifter. Or the ballet dancer. Or the yoga practitioner.

    Place it within the specific demands of a particular sport or movement practice — fitness for something — and then you can rate it, to some degree.

    But obviously, whether that specific kind of physical fitness is valuable to someone depends entirely on whether (and how much) they value that particular physical practice.

    You could argue for some idea of “all-round fitness” and being able to do a wide range of movement tasks decently, but that’s as much of a goal and a value judgement as any other. And depends on how you rate “decent” for any given sub-activity, etc. etc..

    It’s not that it’s meaningless or useless as a concept, but there’s no objective “fitness” in abstraction from individuals’ lives and values.

  15. Merilin Avatar

    Well… when I think of personal fitness, I have this ideal of myself as a sporty person filled with stamina. That’s not a reality at the moment, but it’s something I’m striving towards (smoker, fat percentage could be better, weak back, very weak and very little stamina).

    To me, “fit” as a concept means being phsyically capable and strong; it means taking care of my body so I can, basically, enjoy life more. And in my mind it’s heavily correlated with living a long life, with good health as long as possible. (I’m 25.)

    I’ve been involved with social work, especially with disabilities and the elderly. Perhaps that’s why I think of fitness partly as sort of a long game. My country has A LOT of poor, ill-health elderly whose quality of life is very low. I don’t want that for myself.

  16. lea Avatar

    Something I didn’t see mentioned and possibly isn’t relevant to this discussion, but felt missing for me is the idea that fitness is obtainable for every single individual when that is clearly not true, depending on the type of fitness. Even the mention of being fit into old age, though there are some measures we can take to improve our lives and increase our lifespans many factors go into the ability to be fit (in any definition that you could have) and yet fitness is often considered to be a goal that all people should reach which then leads to a judgement on people who are not ‘fit’, as though fitness (again, I’m not referring to a specific kind here, though physical fitness does spring first to mind) is obtainable for all people at any time if they only worked hard enough at it.

    1. Amy Avatar

      Yes!!! I think of this all the time in relation t my aging parents. I hear younger folks of my acquaintance saying they wouldn’t want to live another moment if their health gave way, and doing things that seem (to me) rather extreme to maintain their ideals of physical health. But I hear their comments and think, “Really? My beloved parents should just die? THIS is what you want?” I hate this.

  17. Chris Avatar

    Oh what fun! People have already pointed out that fitness exists in relation to something – skills or work capacity, or something of the like.

    Fitness training is completely contrived. We’ve made up movements and systematized them, but I’ve been thinking a lot about natural “human movement” lately, and what might we be built to do? The list looks something like this: crawl, walk, run, push, pull, drag, lift, twist, pivot, brace, climb, swim, jump, hop, balance, throw, heft, and otherwise manipulate objects.

    These are all broad terms, but if you’re training for a thing, a specific thing you want to be better at, you can analyze what you want to achieve, and train in a way that will help you be better at that skill, action or movement. Sometimes people like to prioritize bodyweight-only training, or training with weights, or endurance, but the skill of controlling your own body, and the skill of manipulating and controlling heavy objects, and the ability to endure – these are all valuable. All useful. One is superior only when you value it in particular for a given reason.

    At a gym, people like to train bench press, chin-ups, squats and things, but a chin-up is quite different to climbing – forces shift in relation to gravity, but climbing is more similar to crawling – albeit vertically – than to chin-ups, in terms of movement patterns, if not in terms of loading parameters on various muscle groups. The concept of sets and repetitions is useful, but also contrived, as we seek to apply structure to a thing, to help us become better at a thing.

    I don’t know if I’m rambling. There seems to be also, the “functional fitness” movement, where you might look at weightlifting or the development of raw strength and power, but you also look at work capacity and cardiovascular endurance/capacity/efficiency – and you look at “stability work” and “strength-endurance” – people are trying to cover all their bases.

    For me, what has value at the moment, is the concept of being strong and mobile – I like to think of mobility as being where strength and range of motion intersect – or overlap – but I am not naturally inclined to endurance activities, so I don’t really value endurance training. However, I certainly have had enough injuries to value mobility, and I am naturally inclined towards strength work and (albeit low-key) feats of strength. Quite apart from the crazy world of eugenics, my own body appears to be built more for strength than for endurance – as a child I did not excel at regular sports, but when it came to athletics, I could hurl a discus, do a good long jump, I could jump high – this natural inclination lends itself well to becoming a successful Olympic lifter or Powerlifter, but not to becoming a successful distance runner. We all have natural inclinations.

    At any rate, fitness certainly looks different relative to what you value. I’ve seen incredibly strong people who can lift a huge amount of weight for one single repetition described as strong but unfit, but if you do any serious strength training you learn very quickly that you need to have a very solid degree of cardiovascular fitness to be able to do the work, even though it’s not an endurance sport. And if you value strength but not endurance or vice versa – just because someone isn’t skilled at the sport or activity you love, doesn’t mean they aren’t fit.

    Enter the (I imagine) Crossfit inspired notion of “a general state of physical preparedness” which I think is a bit too much hype for my liking. General preparedness for what? A bit of running, dragging, and lifting – Paleo-fantasy style? The idea, already mentioned too, of course, of being able to do the kinds of things that cave men and women would have done? These people who might have been good at climbing rocks, mountains and trees, but who might not have been good at chin-ups or barbell lifts? What is useful for us – for health and functionality, and really importantly – for fun and recreation?

    I helped a friend recently with some renovations. Her dad joked that I could carry the heavy fence posts, and I joked that if it’s not shaped like a barbell, I don’t lift it.

    I might have lost my point somewhere along the way. For me, fitness is whatever you value, it exists in the smallest of things, in proprioception and coordination that can be trained like anything else. But also, I think of great importance, is that notion that was previously mentioned that fitness, culturally, is also about not being a burden – there’s something weird and disturbing lurking underneath something that is sold as positivity – it absolutely is great to be autonomous and self sufficient, but these values when perverted can lead, as you know, to the most appalling of prejudice and cruelty, aimed at marginalized communities. I’m paraphrasing Hitler, believe it or not, to say “we should always make functional fitness our ideal standard for beauty” – and, I don’t mean to be flippant, but as useful as fitness is for an individual and a country, I don’t think we can take Hitler’s word as gospel, and our civilization does reveal itself in how we treat our most marginalized members.

    If you made it this far, thank you for reading. I had not thought about the correlation between endurance activities and high-carb diets, and strength work and low-carb (or high fat) diets, but strength athletes still need a helluva lot of carbs. Just if you’re also a physique model, you get really pedantic about when and how to eat them.

  18. inge Avatar

    I read “fitness” as “the ability to perform strenous physical tasks”.

    Something which impedes my fitness would make it harder for me to perform these: Make me slower, weaker, prolong my recovery time after exertion, increase the risk that I hurt myself. Other than with something impeding my health, I would be able to work around it, or I could cut the challenges out of my life. But as I enjoy being physically active, I would dislike it.

    So, a way to eat that would not allow me to train, or to build muscle, or to bicycle 25 miles a day, or to lift heavy things, would impede my fitness. Same as a way that would make me lethargic and too tired to do anything but work and sleep.

  19. Adina Avatar

    I imagine that in the context of a diet, “fitness” has to do primarily with appearance: lean, with a little (but not too much!) muscle definition and doing whatever the cool exercise du jour may be.

    I’ve never been in the overweight BMI category. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve been fit. I’m naturally a lower energy person, more inclined to seated activities :-)
    To me fit is a broad category but for my personal interests it includes:

    Not feeling physically weak and having a decent muscle mass (I’m naturally not very muscle bound so this does not come naturally to me nor do I equate muscle mass with big body building bodies because that’s not gonna happen for me unless it became my job and even then unlikely). Decent is hard to define. I have my own personal idea of what strong looks like and I am not there because I keep forgetting to do the exercises I intend to do.

    I want to be able to easily get up and down from the ground (various body weight exercises should help where I practice that movement).
    I want to be able to quickly jog to hurry up and get somewhere without being totally wiped out. (short bits of aerobic/anaerobic exercise should help)
    I want to avoid back pain and have better posture (abdominal and back muscles exercises should help)
    I want to feel strong for me (various weight/strength training exercises should help).
    I want my fitness to be slightly above that which is required to get by with daily activities because I want a buffer. My understanding of muscle growth and physical fitness (ability to do physical stuff) is that doing only what one needs to do to get by will barely maintain that ability to do what one needs to do to get by. Whereas that little bit of overload and recovery required to lift/do/walk faster than what is needed by activities of daily living, helps one maintain functional abilities a bit better.

    I’m intrigued by your question about whether we need to achieve a higher level of fitness than what our current lifestyle requires (my paraphrase). For me and my body, I think I do. I don’t think our bodies have changed much in the last 1000 years. I think they that bones, skeletal muscles and the heart, etc still need to be moved/exercised and slightly challenged to stay strong. And that big research study (from Sweden?) that came out in the past few years about the cardiovascular effects of being sedentary really hit me hard. There was a significant increase in cardiovascular events regardless of exercise habits if people were sedentary. I think it’s hard to refute the positive effects of movement. Now does that mean that everyone needs to be a gym rat or do Zumba or run marathons? No. But to maintain muscles, bones, strength some kind of movement is better than no kind of movement. It is well understood that as people age their muscle mass decreases. However, if people do things to maintain or even build muscle as they age, then some of that can be prevented and they can maintain more of their ability to function. That’s easy when people are able to do certain activities or exercises and ENJOY them. Harder if they can’t or don’t enjoy them or don’t want to try them. Definitely doesn’t tell me what OTHER people should be doing. But it tells me what I’d like to work into my life.

    It would be nice if there was a well researched universal definition of fitness–but because each person’s life/health/physical abilities is different that is probably impossible. But at least instead of doctors/health professionals saying “get fit by losing X pounds or reducing your body fat by __ %” they could define it by functional ability or something less ridiculous. Or even by “wow 2 months ago you couldn’t do XYZ, but now you’ve gotten stronger and you can.”

  20. standgale Avatar

    Fitness has recently taken on a weird meaning, because of crossfit and similar things i think, where fitness is a sport and an activity and a goal.
    But to me I think “improving fitness” is “improving your body’s physical capability”. And I’m not sure if “being fit” is something you can define as a particular state, other than “body is able to do what body is required to do”, but you can still improve or decrease fitness whilst remaining fit, or not fit. I think an able-bodied person and a disabled person could each be fit even if they had quite different capabilities because the capabilities of the body would be different. If you literally can’t run, then you can be still be fit without running.
    Which brings me to my other definition for fitness – because we use words in different contexts and they don’t always have the same meanings, so the other definition is specifically about good cardiovascular health.

    (I think it is perfectly valid to have multiple definitions, whether they are very different or subtle. I was trying to think of an example, and have glanced at an email about “saving” something, so – does this mean save on a computer, save some for later, save the life of, save in a religious sense, stop from being destroyed, etc etc.)

    1. standgale Avatar

      To sort of sum up, I think that you can improve or decrease fitness, but not actually achieve fitness.

    2. G Avatar

      This is how I personally think of fitness too; not as an attainable end state but as a journey, where hopefully I continue to improve on my physical abilities. There’s probably not going to be a point where I say “okay, fit enough” and stop.

      I also think there’a s good chance that, in the Whole30 intro blurb, “health and fitness” is a combined concept that encompasses all the physicality of the body, its appearance and abilities and how one feels physically. I hear “health and fitness” lumped together all the time; it’s sort of jargony.

      While I’m here… I think the “eat the food” movement is interesting, but I think it’s only applied up to a point. So the resistance exercise folks encourage women to eat and build muscle mass to gain strength. Cool, right? But usually it’s not framed in the context of body acceptance. It’s framed as more like “stop dieting, lift and put on mass, and decrease your body fat so you look strong and lean” which isn’t nearly as cool, there’s always lean attached and it’s still focused on appearance. And counting macros can be just as restrictive and crazy-making as counting calories.

      And folks that do competitive lifting compete in weight classes and this leads to other issues, crash dieting to make weight and so on. The lift heavy movement isn’t a panacaea for diet culture…

  21. […] The Whole 30: Concepts of “Fitness” by Michelle at The Fat […]