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.

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