– Words by Kaisha Scofield Photographs by Lia Crowe
The January 2022 issue of The runner’s world magazine featured Martinus Evans, marathon runner and trainer. Evans is a serious runner, like five serious marathons a year. He has participated in countless races and all the coveted marathons like Big Sur, New York and the Boston Marathon.
It’s safe to say that Evans is an athlete. He is also best known by his handle, @300poundsandrunning. Yes, Evans is a professional marathon runner and, yes, he weighs around 300 pounds. Evans represents a very important type of athlete, which forces us to question the parameters of athletics, sport and, above all, health.
The dictionary definition of the word athlete is “a person who has mastered sports and other forms of physical exercise”. There is no mention of the physique, weight or size needed to compete in athletics, and yet it is assumed that fitness and health are reserved for a very specific body type, certainly not for people over corpulent like Evans.
But athletes come in bigger bodies, like Olympian weightlifter Sarah Robles, yogi Jessamyn Stanley, track and field Olympian and world record holder Amanda Bingson, and of course, tennis queen Serena Williams. These athletes are all absolutely remarkable but remarks about them often focus on their body size first and their athleticism second.
Why are we so amazed by tall athletes and why do we struggle to recognize the health and fitness they have achieved?
Let’s start by looking at the systems currently used to determine health. Body Mass Index (BMI) is something we’ve probably all experienced and dreaded, the calculation of height and weight, divided by a magic number that then determines your fate as a healthy human being. It may sound dramatic, but BMI is hugely influential. It is the most commonly used measurement system for health and it is used in many important institutions.
Many of these metrics result in celebration and reward for those who are able to achieve the lowest BMI. The body mass index, however, is ineffective. This is an antiquated measurement system that was not developed by a physician but by an astronomer and mathematician named Adolphe Quetelet in the early 1800s. He developed it for a system called anthropometry, in an attempt to define the “average man”.
Anthropometry would continue to be used to guide eugenics, a horribly inaccurate and misleading system of categorization. In the 1970s, BMI was popularized by the controversial American physiologist Ancel Keys, who later became famous for falsifying data results in his international nutritional studies and bringing us the low fat, high protein diet. 1990s sugar. We all know how well it worked.
Both men admitted that BMI is inappropriate for individual assessment, yet that is exactly how it is currently used. One of the main flaws of the BMI is that it does not take into account individual variations in muscle mass, bone density and overall physical condition. According to the BMI, muscular actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would be categorized as obese.
While it’s true that many overweight or obese people pose high health risks, the same is true for people with smaller bodies. The number of health risks for people in the extremely underweight category are as serious as those for people in the extremely overweight category, and even these risks are very general.
Without looking at the individual details of a person’s activity, nutrition, and lifestyle habits, these broad classifications cannot determine overall health. We simply don’t have a single health or fitness pattern, or ideal weight, calorie intake, or level of physical movement that works for everyone.
Health cannot be defined by an equation; it’s much more nuanced than that. Because of this, people are beginning to move away from traditional, categorical measurements and toward a more holistic and individualized model of health. We step off the scale, reject the “lose weight at all costs” mentality and recognize the importance of individuality in terms of size, shape and fitness.
Health at All Sizes (HAES) is a movement that calls for the de-emphasis on weight loss as a primary goal towards health and the elimination of weight stigma. HAES instead focuses on individual health markers and goals outside of generalized weight classifications.
The five principles of the HAES are:
• Weight inclusiveness: accepting and respecting the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and rejecting the idealization or pathologization of specific weights.
• Improved health: support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that enhance human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional needs and others.
• Respectful care: recognize our biases and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma and weight bias. Provide information and services knowing that socioeconomic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequalities.
• Eating for well-being: promote flexible and individualized eating, based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs and pleasure, rather than externally regulated diets focused on weight control.
• Movement that improves life: support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities and interests to engage in pleasurable movement, to the extent of their choosing.
The HAES model is considered a radical movement that has been accused of promoting obesity because it rejects the idolatry of certain body types. However, her body size shouldn’t limit her enthusiasm for movement. The reality is that people come in all shapes and sizes, and everyone deserves to move their body, regardless of weight, height, or health.
By rejecting outdated and inaccurate generalized categorizations of health and enabling people of all shapes and sizes to enjoy movement, we are redefining athletics and promoting health and movement for every body. We can fight against the exclusivity of athletics by favoring the representation of diverse bodies, therefore by welcoming everyone into sport, movement and health.
So if you’ve ever talked yourself out of joining that soccer team or running club because you thought you weren’t fit enough or didn’t have the right body type, think again. you. Every body can move and as Martinus Evans says, “If you run, you are a runner and you have a runner’s body.”
Story reprinted courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a publication of Black Press Media
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