Adele - the singer - has posted a thank you message to the carers and health staff of the UK for their unstinting work during the Covid-19 pandemic. A marvellous thing to do, you’d think - but it has caused a storm of comment and controversy across the internet, and on social media (so we’re told - we hardly use it). What has caused the storm is the photo of her which accompanies the thank you, which shows her having lost seven stone in weight!
The controversy comes because while half the comments are wildly enthusiastic, as if losing that much weight is what puts the final seal on an already glittering career, the other half are lamenting the fact that a former poster-girl for ‘Fat is Fab’ (we made that name up!) has in losing all that weight ‘gone over to the dark side’.
A discussion on the radio, for instance - on The Emma Barnett Show BBC Radio 5 Live - focused on one Adele fan’s irrational (as she admitted) feelings of abandonment on just that basis. Others bemoan the fact that this wild enthusiasm for Adele’s weight loss plays into the hands of those who would project an extremely narrow range of acceptability for the shape of a woman’s body - symbolic of all the accompanying conventions around gender stereotypes.
The first of these is that human bodies are not things, they are living organisms. They are not inanimate objects that have been constructed to a blueprint with specific dimensions, dimensions that will remain constant once the construction is finished, such as with a building, a table or a chair! Bodies are a collection of processes, processes which go on all the time - metabolism, growth, respiration, digestion and excretion and others - and the upshot of this is that the body is a constantly changing environment, in a constant state of flux, constantly growing or shrinking. Nothing about the body ever stays the same, even if daily changes might be too small to be noticed.
In this situation, with energy being put into the body and energy being consumed, it is most likely that the two halves of that process will never exactly balance. Therefore a person’s weight, as with every other aspect of their existence, is also dynamic - it is changing all the time, it is never static. It is not as if you achieve a certain weight, whether an increase or a decrease, and that’s it, it will never change again.
A brilliant observation from one of our previous interviews says “If you don’t spend the time taking care of your health, you’ll spend that time taking care of your illness” and this absolutely applies to your bodyweight. Without constant management, the sum total of the number of very small daily changes might easily result in your body significantly increasing in size over time, or decreasing. Or the changes might balance each other out so over a period your body might stay roughly the same size. Every single person who eats and excretes is on a constant roller-coaster ride of managing the fluctuating size and composition of their body. So if Adele has reduced her weight and wants to stay at the new level she, along with every other living human being, will need to spend the rest of her life managing that aspect of her body.
The idea that body maintenance will last a lifetime brings up the second factor which is overlooked in discussions about body-size and health, one that is particularly relevant to SGSC. Your current body, which you are hopefully looking after in the best way you can, is the same body that you’ll have when you reach sixty, seventy, eighty... it’s the only one you’ll have. And the relevance of this idea is that what you do with your body now, while you are younger - because whatever age you are today you certainly are younger today than you’ll be next year, or in ten years’ time and so on... will affect the development of your body through the subsequent years, will affect how you spend what we’ll call for the sake of this article your Silver Grey years.
In these days of social media, where everyone is constantly putting forward the best image of themselves there is an erroneous confusion between how someone looks with what their value is as a human being. A negative comment on their appearance or physical condition is seen as a negative comment on their worth as a person. Conversely, praising someone for losing so much weight is seen as a way of saying that the only good person is a thin person. But this is not the case, people are worth the same whatever they look like. On the other hand, there are real reasons in terms of health outcomes why maintaining a healthy weight is a better idea for successful ageing.
It may be possible to be both fat and fit at twenty-five, thirty or thirty-four as Adele is now. But long-term the effects of being overweight - and if she did indeed lose seven stone then that’s seriously over - will certainly be in the negative column. The extra weight will put additional strain on your joints, which by the time you reach fifty or sixty for instance will most surely be wearing out more quickly. And the excess body fat will no doubt leak into your arteries, clogging them up and preventing them from supplying the necessary nutrients to all parts of your body - along with many other well-documented negative health effects.
Furthermore, anyone who wants to look after their body will have other issues to face up to along the way. Giving up smoking, for instance, is a decision that people might make in order to be healthier, particularly as they age. No-one would think of criticising that decision on the basis that it was supporting a socially restrictive viewpoint. Whereas at one point in time smoking was a very ‘sexy’ thing to do - not any more.
So leave aside aesthetic and social judgements about appearance. Maintaining good body-weight is about giving yourself the best chance of being healthy deep into older age. And if you can do that alongside putting in the hard work to have a functional amount of muscle - as we often emphasise that you need - that is something positive that you can do for your own good health in age, and is a huge step in being able to follow our mantra at SGSC ‘Life’s a Game, Keep Playing!’