Fitness Is Not One Size Fits All

Fitness Is Not One Size Fits All

The number on the scale does not determine overall health, but I didn't know that for years.

JoAnn Parker
46

At my regular checkup just before seventh grade, I weighed 125 pounds. I was 5’6” and shopped in the juniors sections at most department stores and wore size 9 pants at Hollister. My doctor said I was healthy and strong, and I believed him.

Until my mom casually mentioned that she weighed 5 pounds less on her wedding day.

She is 5’9” and got married at 24.

Now, Mom, I know you’re reading this, so I’ll precede everything I’m about to say with a reminder that I don’t hate you, nor do I think you tried to torture me and make me hate my body - you wanted to do the opposite.

My mom did what she knew how to do to help me be health conscious, but what neither of us realized until I was out of college was that our bodies – and their needs – were very, very different. Which was why I struggled with my body image for so long.

When my mom was in her 20s, she was long and lean and slender. She had a figure but was pretty thin and delicate. I, on the other hand, had thick thighs and that belly pooch by age 16. It confused both of us - wasn't that the "dangerous fat" that led to diabetes and heart disease?

During my sophomore year of college, my parents decided they were finally, after two decades, going to lose the 50 pounds they'd each packed on during my mom's pregnancy with me and get back into shape. Having gained the freshman 15 and the sophomore 15, I decided to join them - maybe losing the weight would make me feel better.

They both reached their goal in about six months, but I had nearly given up trying. My mom's diet plan of adding veggies and cutting calories, along with yoga and 30-minute walks daily, wasn't cutting it for me. I lost 20 pounds but felt hungry, weak, lethargic and soft. During winter break my junior year, I actually got physically sick due to weakness.

After college, the weight came back. I again tried my mom's diet, but my stomach would growl at my desk at work. I'd cave in to cravings of chocolate and bread. I felt weak, like I was moving through slow motion, and brain fog kept me from focusing. If I tried to work out, I would feel light-headed. I came so close to canceling my YMCA membership because not even the ellipticals were friendly to me.

I felt like a failure - what helped my mom so much wasn't doing anything for me, and I now weighed 10 pounds more than she did. Not only had she lost weight, she was happier and stronger, but I felt like I could never get enough sleep and felt like crying all the time. What was wrong with me?!

But one February afternoon, I happened upon this article, and I had a major breakthrough - learning about the three basic body types explained to me why I wasn't seeing the same results as my mom.

The three body types are less about shape and more about how each type processes and uses food. There's the ectomorph, who is usually taller and thinner, having trouble gaining muscle but not packing on the fat (think Victoria's Secret Angels and other supermodels). Then there's the endomorph, who can build muscle more easily but struggles to burn fat. And finally, there's the mesomorph, who is somewhere in between the other two, able to build muscle and burn fat at about equal rates.

Even though she'd had weight to lose, my mom definitely fits the description of the ectomorph, especially seeing her results with the ectomorph diet and exercise plan, which emphasizes resistance (strength) training with limited endurance (cardio) training and requires more complex carbs than the other two types. My mom had been eating mostly vegetables at lunch and dinner with a higher protein breakfast, and her workouts mostly consisted of yoga on our Wii Fit system and 30-minute walks daily. She took care of the strength exercises by pulling weeds in her garden in the spring and summer, and by shoveling snow in the winter.

That clearly wasn't me, but I didn't feel like the endomorph either - like my mom, I had naturally thin wrists and ankles, but I lacked her hourglass figure, my widest point being my shoulders and not having much of a waistline. My thighs and calves had always had more definition than hers, too, thanks to years of horseback riding as a kid. So in February I started up with the mesomorph plan, which suggested equal distribution of protein, fats and carbs, and splitting up resistance and cardio evenly as well.

Starting with my diet, I swapped out white bread for whole grains, began snacking on pistachios instead of candy bars, and added more vegetables and lean protein like chicken, fish, and eggs - I think I was making myself a spinach omelet at least three nights a week at one point. Once my body got used to the diet, I began working out four days a week, lifting two days and getting my sweat on the other two and walking on my days off.

I began feeling and noticing a difference within a few weeks, and by summer the results were very apparent. My favorite pair of black capris, which hadn't been able to go over my hips in January, I could now put on with ease. My waistline sort of existed. My arm jiggle was gone. My mom said I felt firmer when she hugged me.

I was finally happy with myself, not because of validation from my mom or because my clothes fit better - no, because I finally found something that made me feel good. The results were internal as well as external - I felt physically stronger, no longer experiencing back pain from my chair at work. My mental sharpness was back too, and I didn't feel tired all the time anymore.

The number on the scale didn't even faze me in July when I was weighed at the doctor's office while seeking treatment for an ear infection. I was still heavier than my mom, but that's no longer a source of worry for me - I'm happy, healthy, successful and strong, and that's what matters.

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