Continuing to write about my experiences from recent consultations. Having written about the 16-year-old sprinter, the 21-year-old yoga student, I now write about the 30-year-old overweight business lady. It was the comparison that was causing her much more anxiety and physical distress than her primary complaint.

Case 3: The lady wanted to achieve her target pre-pregnancy weight – and said she had tried every possible exercise form and diet, but had not lost as much fat and gained as much muscle that she desired. On inquiring about who decided on these parameters- it was the mommy group influence. Such groups are wonderful to discuss common issues, encourage and pull each other up. But, unfortunately for her, she thought she was the only mommy who had not achieved her desired body composition. She did not realise that she was the only mommy who resumed work within 4 months and took her company to new heights since resuming. Not only is that an extra load of work which affects body physiology, metabolism and composition, but it also gives her that much less time to devote to her own self. Should she compare herself to pre-pregnancy? Again, many physiological changes happen and it takes time to revert. Whereas it should be possible to revert physiologically, people cope differently with the new responsibility as compared to when they did not have it. Also, some people just take longer than others and she is again stressing herself with the comparisons to self and others.

Not everyone has the same skin, hair, metabolism, professional drive and mental make-up. We were designed to be different individuals, let us not try to be like others and kill this variety.

Coming up last in the series- the 50-year-old marathoner………….

 

Continued (Part 2)

Case 2: The 21-year-old boy came with a persistent low back pain for 8 months. The pain had 1st started following a yoga class which incorporated new postures that day. He had joined yoga after a big lay off from all physical activity due to multiple exams. Prior to that he was a very active person and considered himself very fit with regular gym based training and football. On detailed discussion, he realised he had pushed himself beyond his capacity on that day, probably because he saw most other people (many ladies) in class do it. Group classes are great and encouraging, but due to lack of personalisation and competitive spirit among attendees, very often people do not listen to their own body but see others’ body. Also, since my patient was very fit earlier, he thought his body would handle it even after. But the very act of sitting non-stop for hours while studying without any physical activity for 6 months detrains the body. It would be unfair to compare own abilities of past too with the current unless one systematically retrains the body.

Just the way TV shows have a ‘Recap’ to remind us of the past if there is a time gap, the body needs a ‘recap’ before starting after a gap.

A regularly exercising 50-year-old can be fitter than a 20-year-old who is not a regular exerciser – Age matters but it can be overcome to some extent.

 

Writing again about my experiences from recent consultations. Whether it was the 16-year-old sprinter, a 21-year-old yoga student, the 30-year-old overweight business lady or 50-year-old marathoner – new CEO, I noticed a common problem of “Comparison with peers and old self” in all of them. None of them came to me with this complaint or even mentioned it for initial consultation. But it was the comparison that was causing their complaint / physical distress that they needed to visit me.

Case 1: The sprinter visited for understanding safety of whey protein which he was recommended to improve muscle mass and ultimately boost his declining sports performance. He and his parents expressed that recently, his peers were performing better than him. His timing was improving too, but not as much as he expected. As an Exercise and Sports Medicine Physician, I did my thorough assessment. My analysis actually revealed that the kid was comparing himself to his fellow sprinters (which is obvious because they all compete), but it was not a valid comparison. Sure, some athletes are going to fare better than others but in this particular case I noticed many expectation mismatches. Few being: Due to school commitments, my patient was able to give a day less for training than his peers. Also, he had suffered injuries in the last 1 year which he did not treat completely. None of these issues were considered significant by athlete. The parent’s concern was that he has a pathology where his muscle mass is naturally lesser than his peers.

But the fact was that he ended up devoting less time to train his muscles and even when he trained, it was not efficient due to the pre-existing injury.

Very often athletes look for external reasons and solutions, whereas, the solution lies in correcting our basics of training – and setting our own expectations correct.

Coming up next – The 3 other cases.

This week saw the sudden demise of an anaesthetist, in which post mortem reports suspect steroids. I am not going to write on whether steroids actually caused his death, but the media has mentioned of him being a ‘fitness freak’ and probably ‘obsessed’ with his gym. With that background, I want to discuss about ‘body image obsession’ among both genders, and all ages. Being an Exercise and Sports Medicine Physician, luckily many people have been approaching me for related complaints. I say luckily, because the awareness about the need of taking professional medical advice regarding our body is slowly increasing.

Increasing muscle bulk and definition” – This is the reason many of my patients/clients give me for going to the gym. Whereas it is reasonable to have such a dream, the problem arises when they are willing to go to the extent of manipulating their body using artificial means like drugs for faster results (results which they have observed on others who also most probably used artificial means). As a Sports Physician, I engage in education on Anti-Doping for athletes. Besides doping being against spirit of sport, an important reason for it being prohibited is that it HARMS the body. Unfortunately, those who go to the gym, do not have any such regulation which bans them from taking any drugs. Also, people have an incorrect perception about fitness. I am sure all my professional colleagues will agree with me that fitness is not just having a bulked up musculature which can lift heavy weights- often compromising everything including muscle and joint health. It is lovely to see well built biceps, but obsession with it is not normal. “Anything in excess, is poison” – said someone. Let’s teach to focus on fitness for what it stands, rather than just physical appearance.

Lose weight” – Another common reason for going to the gym. Whereas many people acknowledge the medical benefits of losing weight, for some people it is body image obsession. Often, exercise doesn’t show them weight loss results they want (Mark my words-“they want”- because very often the desire and obsession is unnatural). In the bid for quick fixes, people often try products even if there is a remote claim of them causing weight loss. Again, due to poor regulation of this industry, people could be doing harm to their body by consuming these. Eg: some products may contain drugs that cause rapid weight loss, may not be approved by any regulatory body, and have short or long term side effects on the body. Also, they overdo exercises in the weight loss obsession and injure their joints or muscles. Additionally, people are always hunting for that miracle exercise which ensures maximum weight loss and fastest. I again emphasize, it is fitness which needs to be focussed on rather than only weight loss and body image, as a motive to visit the gym. Once the desired weight loss is achieved, the person must continue exercising for health and fitness benefits.

Take home message: Not to be obsessed about body image because that may drive one to do harmful things. Embrace the culture of exercising (within gym or otherwise) as a mode for fitness. BEWARE of products with high claims. There is no Short Cut.