Open letter

Hello everybody! Welcome back to my blog. 

At the time of posting this piece, Sydney continues to be locked down, and like most of you, it has given me a lot of thinking time during these days staying at home. 

As you may already know from my previous posts, I am always concerned about the diseases that affect us that can be possibly fixed or prevented with exercise, a good diet and rest. 

Before I continue, I am about to explore a subject that might be sensitive for some people. I just want to let you know that all I am about to say, I say it because I worry about people’s health, that is the whole reason behind this project.

I assure you, my motivation is not to make anyone feel judged. Please, don’t take it the wrong way, but if you feel judged, offended or generally bad, please know that I write from a place of love and compassion which I want to share with you today.

Every day since the end of 2019, there has always been something in the news related to COVID-19, the pandemic of the decade and probably the century. The numbers are certainly scary, and we must take it seriously. 

Last year, my family and friends back in Spain had to spend months inside their homes, leaving just for the most essential reasons, feeling like their freedom had been taken away and very concern about the uncertainty. This virus has killed more than 4 million people worldwide, with about 200 million cases in total. Luckily, around 175 million people have fully recovered from the disease. 

Very rapidly, despite the obstacles multiple vaccines have been developed and supplied globally, and we now have around 1 billion people fully vaccinated worldwide. 

It is so normal to talk about COVID-19 these days and for the last 18 months it has come up in every other conversation in some way or another. Nevertheless, there are many other diseases that are affecting and killing more people, however they are completely removed from the zeitgeist. Even worse, they have become taboo. In some cases, it has become so taboo that even the health professionals don’t talk about it as much.

According to the WHO, in 2016 more than 1.9 billion people worldwide were overweight, 650 million of these people were obese. That is 39% of the world population. 

You can see the numbers in their website: 

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight

The problem doesn’t depend on how much you weigh, rather on the consequences of obesity. Some of them we are already familiar with; high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis. However, you may also suffer from sleep apnea and breathing problems, mental illness such as depression and anxiety, body pain and difficulty with physical functioning as well as many types of cancer.

There is also another disease that nobody talks about. About 70 million people worldwide suffer from an eating disorder. These eating disorders are killing more than 3 million human beings every year. There are many different types of eating disorders. The most commonly known are anorexia and bulimia. 

No one likes being told that they are obese, or anorexic. Socially, these serious diseases have become an insult, a way to get to people’s minds and destroy their self-steam and confidence, especially in our younger ages. 

There has always been a prototype, a fashionable type of body. In the past, a white overweighted woman was the dream of any other guy. Being white and with love handles symbolised wealth, because these women wouldn’t need to work, and they had enough money to eat plenty.

When I was a little girl, the perfect body was the extremely thin body, leaving the ones like me, the ones with a bit of muscle, in the “too fat” category.

Nowadays, Instagram and the fitness gurus have made the fit, muscular bodies fashionable.

Of course, this is not a law. People have different preferences when it comes to choose a sexual partner or partners, but overall, this is how it is. Also, this prototype will change depending on where in the world you live.

In the end, being thin puts you in the “acceptable” category. 

It’s this use of the human body what, in my opinion, has created this taboo around it. This is the reason why we need to be extremely careful when we want to tell our beloveds that they may have a problem with obesity or anorexia, and they might know it already, but they don’t feel good about you telling them. Even though you have your best intention. 

The WHO has a definition of what is obesity or anorexia depending on the BMI.

The BMI is calculated dividing your weight in kilograms by your height squared in metres. I think this is one of the biggest mistakes, and it’s scary that the WHO is still telling us this. According to this number, any shotput athlete is overweighted, when actually they are extremely strong. According to this, I have been underweighted during my time as an athlete, even though I have never felt as good in my life, outside and inside. 

This is how a new term has been born: fatphobia. This is the social stigma of obesity. Unfortunately, some people are fatphobic, they don’t want to be surrounded by “fat people” because they think that being fit is a sign of success and health. This is why it’s so difficult to know where to draw the line. Let me tell you, some people like me don’t care about our friends’ size, we don’t care about how they look, but we do care about how they feel.

If our friend has other diseases, if they have COVID or they have a cancer, we will never stop loving them, we will stay by their side, and same with obesity or eating disorders. 

It’s true the BMI is one of the things to take into consideration to analyse someone’s fitness, but it’s not the only and surely, it’s not the best. We need to take into account how much of that weight is fat or muscle, which will give us a better number when it comes to analysing someone’s fitness. But this is a more difficult number to get, because you need to pay money to get a scale that senses this data. Even the scale might not be the best option because it’s not 100% reliable, so the best way to find out is by hiring a professional with the necessary equipment and knowledge to do it. It doesn’t sound like something that everybody can get, and even if they can, it’s not the first option for anybody.

So, how can we know? Certainly not just for the way we look, because we are affected by the social stigmas, and today if we don’t have a 6-pack or a nice biceps (but not too nice for girls, don’t risk looking too bulky), we don’t pass “the cut”. (Please notice the sarcasm).

Ask yourself these questions: how do you feel? Is it easy for you to walk for 20’ without feeling short of breath? Are you doing a minimum of 30’ exercise every day? Are you reaching the 10,000 steps every day? Are you hydrating with water rather than soft drinks? Do you smoke? How much? Do you spend time outside, under the sun (with solar protection, of course)? Do you feel energetic during your day? Are you feeling rested?

There are thousands of questions we can ask ourselves to find out if we are healthy, it’s not just about the result of a BMI. It’s not that number on the scale. 

From my experience working with people in the fitness industry in both Spain and Australia, that is 6 years, I have met a lot of people with many different goals. The main goal I have seen is, of course, losing weight. Other people want some help to get more bulky, more muscular and improve their general fitness. But I have also found many people that want to put on weight because they are fighting an eating disorder. In this group, I include one member of my own family, someone that I love very much. 

It’s really nice that our government is caring about us with this COVID situation, asking us to stay at home to stop the spread and encouraging us to wear masks, keep the distance and respect each other. I really wish they would take other health issues as seriously as they are taking this one, because having an eating disorder is not the fault of the person suffering it, it’s a whole lot of factors affecting them, from that fitness guru they follow on Instagram, to the lack of education provided. While all the gyms have been closed and are going to remain close, as well as sport warehouses, I was shocked to see that they consider bottle shops as an essential businesses, which is what originally inspired me writing this post. What kind of message are we sending to people? To our kids? 

While chains such as McDonalds are opening restaurants every minute, the “health” advice learnt at schools lacks serious attention to even the basic elements on the topic of health, and this is, in my opinion, the key to understanding how overdue we are when it comes to teaching people how to live a healthy lifestyle. 

It’s known that we can’t sit and wait until governments worldwide change this approach to a healthy lifestyle, but we can do something locally. My advice is this: stop following those fitness gurus that make you feel bad every time you open your Instagram and focus on yourself. You will never become that person, you are you and you must love yourself. But loving yourself also means worrying about your health, having a healthy relationship with food, knowing which steps you should follow to FEEL GOOD, not to look good for other people. There is no prototype, and even though you fall for this, your people won’t love you because you look fitter, they’ll love you for what you are inside, your essence. But they love you healthy, they love you feeling well.

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