As a triathlon coach, I could always boil down my athletes' goals to three things: speed and endurance (performance), accomplishment (check the box), and body composition (looking and feeling healthy). The funny thing about these goals is that #1 and #2 were always the means to #3 👈🏼 , the ‘one’ that everyone fell back on whether they wanted to admit or not.
We all have a desire and a picture of what 'health' looks like in our minds. The body composition focus permeates our culture in every way, from the media to the medical establishment. Kate Moss famously and controversially said, "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels." The truth is that we idealize our health through the lens of approval, and what our social agreement has established through time is that 'thinner' is healthier. Do you think you might be the exception? How many mirrors are in your home? How many times do you catch a glance each day? Listen, I disagree with the thinner focused slant on our health, and so does science.1 That said, I'm not here to unpack how we got here and how we make the significant culture shifts needed.
I want to talk about how I approach body composition. Very scientifically. There's another famous fitness quote, 'Abs are made in the kitchen.' While this can be a polarizing comment around what it means to have defined abs and how to eat to get there, the truth is that our food is more consequential to our composition than exercise. You can't exercise your way through bad food habits, yet you can eat your way to good physical health. The combination of the two makes the best overall formula, though.2
Here's my methodology for moving towards your composition goals, whatever they look like.
1) Focus on high-quality (aka natural) fuel for your body's healthy energy exchange, your metabolism.3 We want to dial into our body's natural ability to identify deficiencies and needs through built-in evolutionary cues for hunger and thirst and move away from poor patterns that exacerbate our insulin response.4 Through time we can begin to tap into a better metabolic exchange that sets us up for...
2) Utilizing existing energy stores in our fat cells while balancing adaptation (building) of lean and muscular tissue in our daily habits. The previous sentence may sound like exercise alone, yet it includes our patterns around sleep5, hydration6, meal timing7, management of stress8, and intensity and frequency of our movements9.
3) Test out and track your pattern changes. It goes beyond weighing yourself and looking in the mirror. We can see changes that way, but our weight can be deceiving when building lean mass and losing fat. My favorite way to measure composition gains is through a BIA machine10. And still, going back to my original point around our cultural fixations, I look for energy improvements that are internal like HRV11 and improved sleep metrics.
In the end, we all want to feel good on the inside. It's easy to get caught up around the externally approving culture. With practice and intention, we can begin to feel whole and see our reflection as the essence of our internal energy. That is the 'best' composition for each of our flesh suits.