Bikinis and Body Peace

It is that time of year when articles start popping up left and right on fitness sites about getting that “bikini body” or “beach body”. There are countless exercise regimens, nutrition plans and diet products that market behind this concept. But those articles, diets and exercise plans really aren’t about fitness. They highlight a culture of body shaming that is being perpetuated in our culture often through a disguise of health and fitness. Not only is it superficial and a really shitty thing to do, but it also distorts the perceptions of health and fitness in our culture. It changes the way people approach fitness & nutrition by making it more about being skinny than about overall health and wellbeing. Part of this emphasis on weight is because of the chronic conditions associated with being overweight/obese, but part of the emphasis is likely because of prejudiced beauty standards in our culture. If the discussion of weight in health and fitness was strictly scientific in nature,  fitness magazines would not say “look your best” or “earn that bikini body” when talking about weight loss.

The Bikini Body

There has been a myth that has been created that you need to look a certain way to wear a bikini.

There is no such thing as an “appropriate” body for wearing a bikini. Some people have the nerve to attempt to rationalize their prejudice by saying being fat is unhealthy and that is why fat people shouldn’t wear a bikini. Last I checked, whether you wear a bikini or not has nothing to do with fitness. The only difference wearing a bikini has in the realm of health is that it increases the surface area of your skin that may or may not get a sunburn (but there is sunscreen for that).

There are also people who attempt to rationalize the idea of an appropriate size for wearing a bikini by saying seeing certain people in bikinis makes some people uncomfortable. Their discomfort is because of their prejudice, not because there is anything harmful or wrong with anyone of any size wearing a bikini.

What someone decides to wear for swimsuit season is a matter of what they feel best in. There is no justification for body shaming. Body shaming is horrible and it certainly has no place in health and fitness.

Body Peace

Being able to love and accept yourself is key to living a healthy lifestyle. Everyone deserves to love their body. Everyone deserves to feel beautiful. I believe that part of loving your body is making healthy choices, but part of it means accepting yourself as you are. It means making the choices based on what you consider the best version of yourself. That means something different to each individual.

I think loving yourself is especially important when making changes in your own lifestyle. When you change your behaviors out of love rather than shame, it is much easier to continue making healthy changes and feel good about yourself in the process. I believe that the first step towards becoming what you consider a better version of yourself in the future is being at peace with yourself in the present.

I recognize that the views expressed may seem contradictory and hypocritical given the story behind the name of my blog. That had to do with my own body and my aspiration towards a version of myself that the red bikini was symbolic of. I believe it is a personal choice that is about wearing what you feel best in.

Read More:

Recommended Website: Body Image Movement

Can you be fat and fit?

Body Fat Percentage (BF%)

 

The Problems with The Beef Industry & How to Be a Part of The Solution

As consumers, we are inclined to only look at one side of the story. When we buy products we usually consider how it affects us. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is another side that we should consider. What went into this product? How was it produced? What is the impact of their methods towards humanity and the environment? Do I support the way they run their operations?

Over the last few decades, food production in the US has shifted to a system that is dominated by industrialized factory farms, owned by only a handful of corporations. The rise of industrialized farming has run smaller local farms out of business. In addition, there are a handful of concerns with the impact of  factory farming. Among them is the beef industry.

Irresponsible Use of Antibiotics

80% of antibiotics used in the US go to farm animals, including livestock.

distribution of antibiotics

Why? Cattle in industrialized farms are in small overcrowded spaces which are stressful to the animal and make infections spread more easily. The counteract this, many industrialized farms give their cattle low-levels of antibiotics to prevent infection and promote weight gain.

Why is this bad? Using low-levels of antibiotics in crowded spaces encourages the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Antibiotic resistance has become of the greatest public health threats our world faces, this threat is in part due to inappropriate use of it. Easily treatable infections can once again become life threatening as they were before antibiotics.

Farm to Fork

The FDA recently added rules to phase out the use of antibiotics. These rules are on a volunteer bases and only cover specific drugs that are commonly used to treat humans. While this move may  improve public image, it really doesn’t do much to end inappropriate use of antibiotics in livestock.

Hormones

 Most cattle in the U.S. are given anabolic hormone implants to promote faster growth. There are six steroids used, in varying combinations.

  • Natural: estradiol, testosterone and progesterone
  • Synthetic: estrogen compound zeranol, the androgen trenbolone acetate, and progestin melengestrol acetate

Giving steroids to beef makes them grow more muscle and makes them grow faster, this makes them cheaper to raise and gives the beef industry more meat to sell.

Is it safe? While the U.S. government claims the use of antibiotics is safe, the European Union has banned meat that have been given hormone implants. There is a surprising lack of research given how widespread hormone added meat is. Despite the lack of proof that it is actually safe, the majority of the U.S. beef industry continues the practice with little concern for what that means for anything beyond their own profit.

What are the concerns? There are concerns that the hormone additives that are in the meat may cause birth defects and change the sexual development in children. There are also concerns that it may cause cancer.

The Environmental Impact

What goes into a burger

Animal Manure: Factory farms are overcrowded. The high concentration of animals in a small space makes managing waste complicated. The disposal of the waste harms the air, water, soil and nearby farms. To add on to this, livestock waste is not processed for sanitation. The waste is often mixed with water which is then sprayed on crops. This can spread infectious diseases such as E. Coli (which they also may have helped in making it resistant to antibiotics). When the manure/water pits become overfilled, it can leak which can eventually end up in surface water.

Air Pollution: Factory farms pollute the air with methane and hydrogen sulfide. These gases contribute to global warming and may cause harm to those living nearby. Air pollution is often the result of the overuse of machines, mismanagement of waste and harmful feeding practices.

Animal Welfare

The industrialized cows have to live through unnecessary cruelty.

factory farms

  • For identification purposes, cows are branded with a hot iron causing third degree burns.
  • Male calves testicles are ripped from their scrotum.
  • The horns of cows raised for beef are cut or burned off.
  • Livestock fed diets high in grain often suffer from chronic digestive pain and conditions such as acidosis.Rather changing their diet to grass-fed, they are given low-level doses of antibiotics so they keep growing. The antibiotics don’t do much for the suffering of the animal.
  • The feedlot air is filled with ammonia, methane and other harmful chemicals. These gases cause chronic respiratory issues.
  • The livestock are often in very crowded environments. These environments are uncomfortable and very stressful to the animals.

What You Can Do About It

One of the best ways to change the way to food system operates is through voting with your wallet. If you do not support the practices of industrialized farming, then do not support them. There are a number of ways you can go about this…

Support Small Local Sustainable Farms: Small farms are having an increasingly difficult time competing with the bigger industrialized farms. It is important for both economical and environmental sustainability that local farms are supported.

  • You can find local Certified Humane products here.
  • You can find local sustainable food here.
  • If you find a local farmer and make a seasonal deal, you may be able to get a discount on the meat.

USDA Organic: Items that are “100 percent organic” are certified to have been produced using only methods thought to be good for the earth. “Organic” means the item contains at least 95 percent organic ingredients.  Prohibits the use of hormones, antibiotics, genetic engineering, radiation, synthetic pesticides, and fertilizers.

American Grass-fed Certified: Applies to beef and lamb. Requires humane treatment, open pastures, and a grass-only diet for all animals and prohibits use of all antibiotics and hormones.

Certified Humane: No Cages, No crates, no tie stalls. animals must be free to do what comes naturally. A diet of quality feed, without animal by- products, antibiotics or growth hormones. Producers must comply with food safety and environmental regulations. Processors must comply with the American Meat Institute Standards (AMI).

Eat Less Meat: You can reduce the amount of meat you consume or stop eating it all together.

Spread the Word: The more people that know about factory farms and other problems with our food system, the more pressure there will be for legitimate regulation and reform.

 

Read More: 

Tips for Sustainable Living

The Meatrix

Industrial Livestock Production

What You Need to Know About The Beef Industry

Growth Hormones in Beef Linked to Adverse Affects on Male Sexual Development

Decoding Meat and Dairy Product Labels

Glossary of Meat Production Methods

Factory Farming: Cruelty to Animals

Visualizing a Nation of Meat Eaters

Food Economics

Animal Welfare

Environment

 

 

Dieting and The Deprivation Mindset

I think one of the most prevalent pitfalls in many approaches to healthy living is the deprivation mindset. What I mean by this is a diet that is revolved around what you can’t have. Personally, I don’t believe in cutting anything out of your diet 100% unless you are allergic to it.

When I try to cut foods that I love out of my diet, I just end up wanting it more. Eventually, when my willpower is exhausted, I end up feasting on it and having an increased appreciation for that food for a few days. When I simply focus on eating healthier, I naturally end up eating unhealthier foods less often without having to consciously say no to it.

I think dieting with a deprivation mindset can create a forbidden fruit effect on what we are cutting out. Trying to cut delicious foods out makes it all the more enticing. Every time we see it, we are reminded how we can’t have it and we want it… and we all know what happened in the Garden of Eden…

My Alternative to Deprivation Dieting

I’ve noticed that what I think about is kind of like gravity. If I think about cookies (or not eating cookies) then I find myself pulled towards eating cookies more. When I think about eating fruits and veggies, the more I feel drawn towards eating fruits and veggies. So basically, not eating cookies when you are frequently thinking about not eating cookies is kind of like fighting gravity.

Shift your focus to the solutions rather than the problem. Focus on what you should have more rather than what you should have less. Focus on eating healthier foods more often. Focus on eating more fruits and vegetables. Focus on eating more natural foods. Focus on drinking more water.

If you are having a hard time shifting your focus, try changing the information you are exposing yourself to. Don’t keep junk food in the house, buy it when you really want it in a single serving. Watch less TV shows since those are filled with junk food commercials and product placements. Watch Youtube videos or read articles about healthy foods/behaviors. Every time you see something (or something you associate with something) in your environment it is like it is telling your brain “Reminder: I exist!”. So when it comes to foods you aren’t supposed to be eating, this can be problematic.

Also Read:

Embracing Your Inner Fat Kid

Health is about Balance

What defines success in health and fitness?

The scale has become a deeply ingrained symbol of health & fitness in our culture . We check it regularly. It is one of the first things we do at doctor’s appointments. It is in every gym locker room and even in rest stops on road trips. We see magazines, TV shows and health articles consistently reminding us that our weight is important. Many of us use BMI as a rough estimation of our overall fitness. But how often should we step on that ever pervasive piece of equipment? When does a useful tool become an unhealthy obsession? What does it really mean to be healthy?

Weight is an easy way to get a rough estimation of your overall fitness. However, it is also important to not be obsessed with it. I usually weigh myself about once a week. I put more emphasis on body fat %, how well my pants fit and by paying attention to my energy levels. The issue with weighing yourself daily is that our weight constantly fluctuates and there are a number of factors that can impact this. I think the scale can give people a tunnel vision almost. They are so obsessed with it that they have a hard time taking a step back and seeing the big picture. Luckily I didn’t even have a scale my entire first year of losing weight, so I would only weigh myself maybe once a week at the gym. I think this helped me keep a healthy perspective while changing my fitness habits since it didn’t become all about losing weight.

Our culture overvalues weight and undervalues wellness. I think as a culture we have an unhealthy obsession with weight loss. I’m not considered a “success” and didn’t get featured on Calorie Count and The Huffington Post because I improved my overall wellness… it was because I lost a third of my body weight. The internal changes for me came much earlier than the external manifestations of it, but it was the external change that made others perceive it as a success. While I am grateful for being able to share my story, sometimes it bothers me that “success stories” always feature people with a very significant external difference. To be honest, I think it is superficial. There are plenty of people who didn’t lose much weight but still made huge improvements in their overall wellness. There are also people who lose a ton of weight and while they may look much better on the surface, they are just as unhealthy if not even unhealthier internally. Would I still be considered a success if i didn’t lose much weight at all, but became much fitter and was eating healthier foods? What if I lost a lot of weight but didn’t get there in a healthy way, still had layers of insecurity and had my self-worth reliant upon being thin?

I think the obsession with the scale can lead to people using weight loss methods that don’t improve overall wellness. It leads to people eating so few calories that they convince their body that despite being in an environment of nutritional abundance, that they are experiencing a famine. It leads to people reducing calories at the expense of nutrition. It leads to people starving themselves for a few days and even taking laxatives so they look slightly skinnier in a dress or a bikini. It leads to things being considered health products not because it is actually healthy for you, but because it is “low calorie/fat/sugar”  and might help you temporally lower the number on the scale. Overemphasizing weight when it comes to health also leads to fat shaming, which does nothing to improve the wellbeing of others.

I’m not saying weight doesn’t matter. I’m just saying we need to look at the big picture when it comes to health. We need to look at overall body composition. We need to look at the long term effects of our habits. We need to make sure that we aren’t sacrificing fitness and nutrition to hit a number on the scale. We also need to make sure that the mindset behind our habits is healthy. I think we become so hyper-focused on dramatic before & after photos and number changes on the scale, that we often miss what it really means to be healthy.

Being healthy isn’t about being skinny. It is about eating natural foods, getting the nutrients we need and not going to far beyond that. It is about not eating toxins. It is about being able to move and interact with the environment and being able to enjoy yourself while doing so. It is about loving yourself regardless of circumstance. It is about being balanced and full of energy. It is about living in a way that will keep you energetic and balanced long term.

Read More:

How to Know When it is Time to Begin Your Skinny Ever After.

Can you be fat and fit?

Tips for Sustainable Living

I believe part of living a healthy lifestyle is doing what  I can to live environmentally sustainably and keep the planet I’m dependent on habitable. How can we expect to be healthy if we do not live in harmony with nature, do not interact with the environment the way we were designed to and we are destroying the environment we are dependent on for our survival? In honor of Earth Day, I thought I would share some tips for living sustainably.

97% of climate scientists agree that humans are at least partially responsible for climate change. Here is some of the evidence. If 97% of climate scientists are wrong and we take action and live sustainably, then the result is: cleaner air, no oil spills, no nuclear plant disasters, we produce/consume less and live more, get more out of what we use. There would be no harm done. However, if 97% of climate scientists are right and we don’t make use of the solutions which already exist: famine, unsafe water, unsafe air, more death/disease caused by living in toxic environments, catastrophic weather events, widespread conflict and eventually mass extinction (including humans).

Eat Local:  You can find local farmer’s markets here. You can also grow your own food.

Eat a Plant-Based Diet: Not only are plant-based diets among the healthiest, they are also among the most sustainable.

Buy Foods with Sustainable Labels: Such as…

  • USDA Organic: Items that are “100 percent organic” are certified to have been produced using only methods thought to be good for the earth. “Organic” means the item contains at least 95 percent organic ingredients.  Prohibits the use of hormones, antibiotics, genetic engineering, radiation, synthetic pesticides, and fertilizers.
  • American Grassfed Certified: Applies to beef and lamb. Requires humane treatment, open pastures, and a grass-only diet for all animals and prohibits use of all antibiotics and hormones.

  • Rainforest Alliance Certified: Sets high standards for environmental protection, worker rights and welfare, and the interests of local communities. Some pesticide use is allowed.

  • Fair Trade Certified: Members commit to biodiversity-enhancing practices, ensuring children’s rights, supporting safe working conditions and other fair-trade measures, and documenting fair-trade labor policies.

Use Less Fuel: Walk, bike or take public transportation when possible. If you have the opportunity, get a hybrid car so you aren’t dependent on gas.

Use Renewable Energy: Buy solar panels or use renewable energy options from your energy service.

Use Less Electricity: Buy energy efficient products, turn off the lights when you can and turn the power down when you are not using it, hang dry clothes when possible.

Use Less Water: Shorter showers, use dishwasher only when full, wash clothes only when full.

Do not buy bottled water

Recycle: You can follow standard recycling practices and buy products secondhand.

Compost

Buy less stuff.

 

More:

Find out your ecological footprint.

Post Carbon Institute

Resilience – Environment

Transition Towns

Reduce your ecological footprint.

NRDC Green Eating Guide

Time is Running Out for Climate Change

Climate Deniers Manipulative Fake Science

Trust and Control

I think that there is a link between trust and control. I think control is often used as a stress response to fear of uncertainty and distrust towards the world. That said, some people seem to respond with apathy, they emotionally hide under a rock. There are also people who seem to get obsessed with self-control and others who seem to get obsessed with controlling the external world.

I think there is a difference between acting with intention and controlling out of fear. People that act with intention have less attachment to the result, they focus more on the process and have more trust with the world. People that are acting with intention are more open to opportunity and changing their plan of action. When we are simply acting with intention we are more adaptable and less forceful. People who act with intention, but don’t control out of fear remain much more collected and are mindful of the purpose of their actions. They remain calm and collected when unexpected situations arise and are able to respond rationally.

People who are controlling out of fear seem to be more attached to a specific outcome and a specific way of doing things. When we control out of fear we get tunnel visioned and can’t handle things not going as we planned. When we control out of fear we have a harder time accepting the world as is and when things don’t go as expected. We stress over things we cannot change and that are out of our hands. People who control out of fear seem to respond to much more stress when presented with ideas that conflict with their perception of reality aka belief system. I think a lot of people who pointlessly micromanage are controlling out of fear. People who control out of fear respond to stress by over-gripping.

Let’s apply this to dieting as an example. When I act with intention, I will eat a healthy balanced diet and trust that will work out well. I am mindful of calories, but I won’t hyperventilate about going 100 calories over my daily average. When I control my diet out of fear, I become more dogmatic about my diet. I become obsessed with calories. I feel the need to repent for my sins (i.e. overcompensate) if I decide to live a little. I am more obnoxious when eating out and am looking up the nutrition facts about menu items rather than just ordering what seems delicious and nutritionally reasonable. When I eat with intention, I am controlling my diet. When I control my diet in response to stress, I overanalyze my food and micromanage my diet. I also get more obnoxious about not allowing unhealthy foods into the kitchen because I do not trust myself. I get into the habit of the binge/ micromanage cycle of dieting and the harder I try to grip, the more I feel as though I am about to slip. I may also overcompensate my lack of control in other areas of my life by micromanaging my diet. An extreme example of controlling your diet out of fear is orthorexia.

This can also happen in exercise. People overwork their bodies out of fear to the point where they are at risk for injuries such as stress fractures. They do it out of fear of not being good enough, pretty enough, etc.They do it because they fear that if they don’t, they will get fat.  They get stressed if they haven’t worked out for a couple of days and may overcompensate by working out more extensively upon return. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of marathon runners and bodybuilders are like this. This may be coupled with being obsessive about their diet, but it may not be. Personally, I have never overworked myself through exercise… getting off the couch and out of my head is enough of a miracle.

This idea also shows itself throughout the irrational freak outs we or people we know have. Consider that person who has a panic attack when somebody is running 5 minutes late to something where the purpose is to have fun, or that person who is a clean freak way past the point of being objectively beneficial. These are all examples of distrust of the world and trying to control everything and plan out how everything will go to cope with it. It is shown with parents who put their normal healthy child on a leash (both figuratively and literally) and never gives their kid a chance to just figure things out on their own. While the intentions may be loving, there is an underlying irrational fear their love is being controlled by. We do this when we try to force our own beliefs and opinions on other people as well. It is one thing to debate, discuss and share our ideas, it is another thing entirely to shove it down peoples throat and want them to agree or die (religious wars being the most extreme examples). And when one person ignites the stress response, there is a good chance others will catch their stress cooties.

I think the best way to end pointless and even destructive control is by saying “fuck it” a bit more often. “Fuck it ” represents trusting yourself and trusting the universe. It is about trusting and focusing on the process rather than being blindingly results driven. It is about embracing uncertainty and not forcing the world into an arbitrary micromanaged box to protect ourselves. Being able to say “fuck it” and have trust is the ultimate form of freedom and is necessary for being a balanced person.

Body Fat Percentage (BF%)

While Body Mass Index (BMI) is the traditional method for assessing health through weight, it can be unreliable because it doesn’t take into account body type or composition. A less used but more reliable method is Body Fat Percentage (BF%). It measures what percent of your body is composed of fat. It does not take into account other factors such as muscle mass, bone density and lifestyle choices. As we age our BF% increases as muscle mass decreases.

Essential Fat: This is the minimum percentage required for basic functioning and survival. We need a certain amount of fat for our bodies to function. We need it for insulation as well as protection of internal organs. For women this is thought to be around 10-13% and men it is around 2-5%.  This is often what bodybuilders will aim for on competition day. This range is very risky, unsustainable and not recommended for a healthy lifestyle.

Athletes: Women between 14-20% and men between 6-13% will fall into this category. This level is really only healthy if you have a higher amount of muscle mass (such as competitive athletes). This range is especially questionable for women, since some women will stop menstruating at these levels.

Fitness: This is considered the ideal range for fitness. Women fall into this category from 21-24% and men from 14-17%. This does not mean everyone in this category is actually fit or that people above this are not. This is generally the optimal range, but other factors need to be taken into account.

Acceptable: A BF of 25-31% for women and 18-24% for men is considered acceptable. This is what most people in the United States would consider a normal healthy weight. Many people who eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly will fall into this category.

Obese: A BF of 32%+ in women and 25%+ in men is considered obese. People in this range are at increased risk for chronic diseases.  Most American adults would fall into this category.

*Keep in mind this is different than obese according to BMI. The obesity rate according to these standards would be higher than BMI standards.

 

How to Determine Your Body Fat Percentage

  • Skin Fold Caliper: These cost around $5 and are a reliable way for measurement if done properly. You pinch your skin and pull the fat away from the muscle. Learning how to do this properly may take some practice, but is very useful if you learn how to do it right. You can calculate your skin fold measurements here.
  • Tape Measure: You can take measurements of yourself then input them into an online calculator. This isn’t the most reliable method, but it is quick and easy. One of the major factors that could come into play is your body shape (also measuring inaccurately/ not quite in the right place).
  • Bioelectric Impedance Analysis (BIA): This measures the electrical current in your body combined with your height and weight. It makes an estimation of your BF% based on this. This is not the most accurate method because hydration can impact the result, but you can do it at home and it may feel less awkward than using a skin fold caliper. If you use this method, make sure you measure at a consistent time to keep the hydration levels similar (first thing in the morning is a good bet).
  • Hydrostatic Weighing: This has a high degree of accuracy for measuring BF%. It also requires going out of your way to pay $100+ to get dunked in a tank of water. For most people, this isn’t a very practical option.
  • DEXA Scan: This is considered the best measurement. It includes other factors in addition to BF%. However, it costs about $250 so it is only worth it if getting a precise reading is important to you.
  • The Mirror Method:  If you are able to look at yourself objectively, you will probably be able to make a decent estimation of your BF% in the mirror. If you only care about being in a healthy range and liking the way you look, then this is probably a good option for you. This is especially the case if like me, you have a tendency to obsess when numbers get involved. You can do this by comparing yourself to various visual guides and the characteristics described of each range (links below). That said, looking at ourselves objectively isn’t always easy. I recommend combining this with at least one of the other methods.

There is a good chance that the gym you belong to offers body fat measurements. This may be a cost effective way to be assessed by an expert (or at least someone who knows what they are doing). Some gyms may offer this with an overall fitness assessment.

Setting Goals

Body fat percentage is especially useful in tracking progress when you are at or around a healthy weight. You can track this along with progress in performance. Body fat percentage may be more difficult to accurately measure without a professional if you are significantly overweight, since there are less noticeable changes in definition.

When it comes down to it, the ideal BF% (once you are in a healthy range) is more a matter of personal preference. While you can be relatively healthy while overweight, the BMI and BF% guidelines were set as they are for a reason. Most women will probably want to aim between 20-25% and men between 15-20%.

Strength training plays an important role in finding a good balance. This is especially the case if you are losing weight, since you want to make sure what is lost is actually fat. Muscle is also denser and burns more calories than fat, so increasing muscle mass will give your metabolism a nice boost. Not to mention, it makes you look toned and being physically strong feels kind of bad ass.

Learn More:

Body Fat Pictures and Percentages (highly recommend)

Ideal Body Fat Percentage Chart: How Lean Should You Be

5 Ways to Measure Body Fat Percentage

Body Fat Pictures of Men & Women (highly recommend)

Body Fat Images for Comparison

Everything You Need to Know About Body Fat Percentage

National Body Fat Percentage Average