Excess body fat is a problem. That is something all health professionals can agree on. Carrying around too much body fat can lead to various chronic conditions, some of which are the most significant contributors to preventable deaths in the U.S.
Heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers are all diseases that are much more common in people that are overweight or obese. So, shouldn’t the opposite be good if excess body fat is bad? Shouldn’t the pinnacle of health be a lean and muscular physique like that of some bodybuilders and fitness influencers you see on Instagram and TikTok?
Building and maintaining lean muscle is one of the best things you can do for your long-term health. Muscle makes us better calorie and fat-burning machines, and prevents us from ever reaching the point where a slip or a fall could be dangerous in old age.
Generally speaking, the average American would greatly benefit from less body fat and more muscle. But is there such a thing as being too lean and too muscular? Can extreme weight loss cause complications? Yes. The extremes in either direction aren’t healthy. Obesity is bad, and the extreme on the other end of the spectrum, like what we see in the sport of bodybuilding, is also not healthy.
The horror stories from the sport of bodybuilding are plenty. Competitors at every level go to extreme lengths to ensure they hit the competition stage with the lowest body fat percentage possible.
Putting the body through extreme weight loss or weight gain will result in a heavily-taxed hormonal system
Hours before the 2021 Europa Pro Content, a Czech bodybuilder, Alena Kosinova, realized she couldn’t move as she waited for her spray tan to dry. Minutes later, she began convulsing and losing consciousness. The 46-year-old mother who dreamed of winning the prestigious Olympia bodybuilding contest died before the competition was over.
And stories like this aren’t as rare as you would think. Bodybuilding competitors often rely on excessive use of diuretics and extreme dieting to accomplish the award-winning physiques you see on a bodybuilding stage. Another female bodybuilder, 30-year-old single mother Jodie Engle, recently won first place in her division at the NPC National Championships in Florida. She now requires open heart surgery and will eventually need a kidney transplant. Doctors blame the diuretics she’d been advised to use by her coach.
Here is another tragic story of a 36-year-old aspiring female bodybuilder that is now on life support following an aggressive conditioning plan, diet plan, and performance-enhancing drug regimen by her coach.
While too much body fat is not ideal for our health, neither is too little. Especially for women, getting too lean can be detrimental and lead to some serious health conditions. Obviously, bodybuilders are an example at the absolute furthest point on the spectrum, but these stories still highlight an important point. The extremes are never healthy.
The key takeaway? As you think about your New Year’s resolutions and scroll through social media, it is important to remember that visible abs and toned physique, especially for women, may not be the ideal representation of health any of us should be aiming for. Being obese or overweight isn’t ideal, but neither is being obsessed with reaching a level of leanness that does not support strong overall health.