Fitness vs Fatness…A false Dichotomy

In yesterdays discussion the common logical fallacy was brought up about the false dichotomy between “fitness” and “fatness”. This is a false dichotomy because ‘fitness’ is not the opposite of ‘fatness’…not always.

To start off we have to define the logical fallacy “false dichotomy”

A false dichotomy is an erroneous reduction of many possibilities down to only two. Essential creating an either/or situation that doesn’t exist.

In the case of fitness vs fatness the false dichotomy assumes that the opposite of fit is fat when in reality it is not.

The opposite of fit is unfit, and the opposite of fat is lean.

This doesn’t mean there can’t be some overlap between fatness and being unfit, and being lean and fit, but they are not categorically the same things.

At this point we need another definition…what is ‘fitness’?

I’d say fitness is a poorly described term at best. a quick browse of the interwebs will give various descriptions but it’s not that obvious what fitness is.

It seems to be a vague idea of being able to sustain some level of exercise without losing your breath (but not necessarily a distance runner type of endurance)…it doesn’t seem to really relate to maximum strength (as many powerlifters and strong men are massively strong but not what people would consider ‘fit’)

It seems to relate to having a lower heart rate than average, lower blood pressure than average, and good to above average blood markers of health (LDL, HDL, total cholesterol, triglycerides, total lipid profile etc)…it might also have something to do with VO2 measurements (volume of oxygen you can consume while working out)

If you want to get really text book geekish then ‘fitness’ simply refers to genetic superiority/preference as a mate for producing viable offspring. (and this is one of the deep rooted subconscious reasons we’re attracted to healthy and ‘fit’ looking bodies)…so perhaps this is the best definition of all…

It doesn’t seem that fatness is really the opposite of fitness, at least not all of the time…it seems the opposite of fit is simply unfit.

With that said I think there is a continuum of fatness that eventually becomes a good indicator of a lack of fitness.

In other words, someone who is carrying around 10-20-30 and even 40 extra pounds of fat could still have very good markers of fitness, they could easily be able to run 10 kms in a good time, be very agile, have good muscular endurance, have good blood markers of health, a strong heart, low blood pressure and all of the rest of it…they just have extra fat on them from years of overeating that they’ve not managed to burn off yet.

BUT, when it starts to become 50-60-70 pounds and beyond of extra fat it would seem reasonable that there is less and less chance this same person will have favorable blood markers of health, or be able to run any distance without pain and joint issues and lack of breath, or be able to maintain low blood pressure and a low heart rate (and all of the other measures of ‘fitness’)

So as body fat levels increase fitness seems to decrease, but there is a considerable range of bodyfat levels that most likely cannot predict fitness. I’m not sure where the cutoff is, and it doesn’t seem that there is any good data yet describing this break point.

My guess is the break point is somewhere around the 30-40 pound range of extra fat for the average man and maybe 20-30 pounds for the average woman.

It seems reasonable to assume that at some point the extra weight itself stops a person from engaging and attempting exercise that would lead to increased ‘fitness’.

At extremely high ranges of body fatness almost all measurable levels are in poor standing and can be drastically improved by simply losing weight by a calorie reduction without doing any exercise at all.

So when a very heavy person needs to get in shape…their first issue is not exercise at all, but rather weight loss by way of eating less. The simple act of eating less and losing weight would actually return any unhealthy looking markers of health and fitness back to at least ‘normal’ ranges…Once they’ve lost enough weight to resume exercising without risk, then they can actually start working on improving their ‘fitness’ level from normal to above average.

One of the biggest mistakes I see people and trainers make in the gym is taking obese people and making them train like an all star athlete in the gym. In reality the best things these people could do is start eating less and then once they’re at a lower body weight start exercising. But the trick is how to get them to eat less? I say Eat Stop Eat (yes I know this is a biased opinion, but hey I think it’s the best way to lose weight)


P.S. Your contribution to the discussions here are what make this blog worth writing, so I just wanted to take this moment to say thanks and keep em’ coming.