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Fit versus Thin

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I've been on Spark a long time, and one of the recurring themes on message boards I see are women saying, "I need to lose weight, but I don't like exercise. I don't want to lift weights because I don't want to look like a body builder."

These women are setting themselves up to fail.

Ladies, you will not bulk up without a very specific training regime and eating plan. Most people cannot do this without advice of a trainer or coach.

What you eat and how you exercise determines what your body looks like.

This is runway model Adriana Lima:

Here's how she gets this look. Before a runway show:

"She sees a nutritionist, who has measured her body’s muscle mass, fat ratio and levels of water retention. He prescribes protein shakes, vitamins and supplements to keep Lima’s energy levels up during this training period. Lima drinks a gallon of water a day. For nine days before the show, she will drink only protein shakes – "no solids". The concoctions include powdered egg. Two days before the show, she will abstain from the daily gallon of water, and just drink normally."

Powdered eggs and water. Yum?

This is Oxygen fitness model Linda Minard:

I couldn't find an article that describes what Linda eats, but I know that Tour de France competitors eat 9,000 calories per day. That is not a typo. 9,000 on average.

Linda is 5'2" and weighs about 130lbs. That's pretty close to me. 5'0" and 128lbs. Except I don't look like her.

This is me:

Linda has WAY better abs and arms than I do! I definitely have more bodyfat than she does. I'm guessing she is about 14% bodyfat, which is very low, and 'competitive' range. I'm currently about 28% bodyfat, which is the upper end of 'normal'. Clearly, muscle makes her leaner for a similar amount of 'weight'. She's built like a cheetah.

Muscle is smaller, denser, and tighter than fat. Fat takes more volume per pound.

Here's a visual example. These are pictures I took at the Whole Foods meat counter.

This is a non-organic, corn-fed beef ribeye. This cow has eaten corn feed most of its life, and not much access to pasture, if any. It has a high degree of fat on it. There is a lot of marbling - streaks of fat - embedded within the muscle tissue. Basically, this cow was obese.

This is a grass-fed, free range, pasture raised beef ribeye. The muscle tissue is tight and compact. There is very little fat on it, and very small if any, steaks of fat within the muscle tissue. This was a thin, healthy, muscular cow.

I'm not anywhere close to 'fitness' model body composition, but because there are so many health problems these days, I am comparatively 'thin' for my area. My pet peeve at the moment is restaurant servers who say I can 'afford' to get the dessert because I can 'afford' the calories. Or that I have a 'high metabolism'.

No, I do not. This takes work and good choices. I eat mostly clean, and as few processed foods as possible. Most of my workouts are designed to combine both resistance training and cardio at the same time - more bang for the buck. It's the strength training that makes you lean, not cardio.

I see people get on elliptical machines and run at a very high cadence. Comparatively, I must look like a slacker. I workout at a pretty slow cadence. But if you were to look closer, you would notice that I set my resistance at moderate to high levels. When I get on the treadmill, you'll never see me running. I set a walking pace of about 3-4mph, but my incline is between 10-15%.

Whenever I get up from my desk, I do a few stretches, and about 20 squats.

For my arms, I like resistance bands. It's easy to stretch and pull while seated at my desk. Due to a wrist injury when I was 8, I can't do push ups, which is a shame because using body weight is a great way to build muscle. At the moment, I have a crazy fitness goal that I want to be able to do pull-ups. Why? Because I've never been able to do one!

We are relative newcomers to where we live, and I've had people say to me that I'm 'lucky' that I don't have a weight problem. They didn't know me when I was 42% bodyfat. Luck had nothing to do with it.

While I'm not a Tour de France competitor, and I don't eat 9,000 calories per day, I do eat well.

I can strength train with moderate cardio, eat about 1,400-2,200 calories per day and be fit. Or I can drink powdered egg protein shakes and be thin.

It's not luck. It's a choice.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I cannot imagine that the eating the models do is healthy overall and I am quite sure there will be consequences in their later lives.
    3130 days ago
    Great blog! Puts everything in perspective.
    3130 days ago
    This is perhaps one of the best blogs, most sensible and easy to understand... practical information with great supportive photos and explanations...look at all the people you helped have an "aha" moment!! I love it, and that you are a real person who has real expectations in a real time frame! Good job, I loved it!! ***SNOW*** emoticon Harrah!!
    3130 days ago
    What a great blog: "Luck has nothing to do with it" is so true!! Thanks for commenting on my eating disorders blog . . . so fascinating the assumptions people make because you're not fat.
    3131 days ago
    I remember reading somewhere that you have less liklihood of developing heart diesease if you are fat but fit than if you were thin but unfit. You've gotta move it to lose it.
    3131 days ago
    Awesome post as usual!

    It just goes to show that yes, you can lose 'weight' through whatever measure, and get 'thin', but it doesn't mean you're fit or healthy, unless you mean you 'fit' into a smaller pair of jeans. ;)
    3131 days ago
    3131 days ago
    Great Blog!! Well written and SMART! Nice job!
    3131 days ago
    It makes sense that a pull up is easier to do with lower body fat. You're having to pull your own weight. I'm working on bringing my bodyfat down a bit further. I have a goal of getting down to 24%, but I'm trying not to get hung up on the numbers. That has just lead to destructive behavior in the past.

    I've been reading exercises on how to train for a pull up. I have a pull up bar - I'll try hanging from it. I also read about using the lat-pull down machine in a modified form that simulates the pull up muscles.

    Got to go for now, but more comments later...
    3131 days ago
    Here's a fun reference in this topic if you haven't seen it yet: http://www.leighpeele.com/body-fat-

    I listen to her solo podcast (excellent) and also the one she does with a couple of buddies that they call the Fitcast.

    The biggest take-home message I'm getting is that if you want to maximize muscle and minimize fat, a dedicated strength program is key, along with adequate protein. They say to do low reps, high weight. And yeah, it's rare for a woman to "bulk up." I am a pretty easy gainer and my arms aren't model-scrawny; I'm pretty happy with the shape of them and they can DO stuff.

    Pretty much everyone has nice things to say about "New Rules of Lifting." and I'll be starting the "for women" version when I come back from kayaking in Canada next week.

    P.S. I seem only to be able to do pull-ups when I'm under 150 with about 18% body fat or less. Right now I'm closer to 158 with about 20% body fat. (Bah)

    P.P.S. Peele wrote a couple of articles about percieved "bulkiness" of women's arms that are also interesting:

    3131 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/26/2012 10:54:31 AM
    Loved this blog post. I have been able to do pullups (I could do ~8-10 when I was 30). It just took a lot of persistence and training. I'm working on it again. I have a pullup bar--I do a lot of the hanging and gradually lowering myself. (I will also say that for me, having less mass to pull up helped.... I was able to do the pullups when I was ~10 lb lighter than now).

    I'm not interested in being a stick. I'm interested in being that woman who blazes by you going uphill on the hiking trail or the mountain biking path.
    3131 days ago
    Choice indeed! Almost none of us either has the time or the willingness to do what would be necessary to become endurance-athlete-thin-and-fit. It's a very specific lifestyle and definitely not for everyone.

    Much as I like certain cardio, like Zumba, for instance, I'm focusing first on building my muscles - slowly but surely. I really like your advice about the elliptical machines, which I am just beginning to use. I've been trying to keep up with the "sprinters" and feeling guilty, but you're absolutely right. I should slow it down and run up a "steeper hill" instead. Thanks!
    3131 days ago
    I hear very similar things from people who didn't know me "when"....but then, my heavy period was over 20 years ago, so that's almost everyone, except my family! I don't know why people assume that a "thin" person can eat with abandon and not exercise, how do they think we stay that way? Like you said, it isn't luck!

    Good luck with the pull-up goal! I did that too, it's a great feeling when you can finally do it!
    3131 days ago
    Great blog! You are correct, it is very difficult for women to put on muscle mass.
    3131 days ago
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