A new machine in the gym – by Helen May

Helen-May-letterbox-150x150Media encourages us to be critical of our body image and I am not immune. I compare my body with photoshopped images and my (probably warped) memory of how I used to look when I was younger. As a result, I would like less wrinkles, I think some bits sag more than they should, I am paler than I would like, my fingers are fat, … the list goes on.

I exercise regularly. Partially for health reasons (which I consider important to stave off diabetes complications), but also in the hope that I can correct some of my “imperfections” or at least stop them getting worse.

Every three months, my gym offers an “assessment”: a chance to check whether I have reached my targets and to set new ones. These targets include flexibility and lung capacity as well as weight and various measurements. Recently, my gym have acquired a new machine to help with the measurements and, last week, I had the opportunity to try it out. Removing my shoes and socks, I stood on the platform with some trepidation and held onto the paddles. After some electronic pulsing, processor whirring and number crunching, it spat out the results.

The results were extensive: weight, fat composition, muscle composition, water retention, balance of most of these between the left side and right side, upper and lower body, metabolism, metabolic age (whatever that is), … those are the ones I remember. Most of these results were colour-coded: green for good, red for bad and yellow for in between.

Thankfully, most of my results were green but I had some yellows. My initial thoughts were “I need to work on those yellows”. Then I started to question these thoughts. Yes, I will continue to go to the gym and keep up my exercise regime but would I be any happier (or healthier) if my upper body was more “balanced” with my legs, or I retained a little less water or I slightly improved the strength of my left arm? Or should I focus on the greens? Should I be glad that I have low fat percentage, my visceral fat (the fat around my organs) is below average and my metabolic age (whatever that is) is 15 years younger than I am?

Having diabetes, we have many numbers to follow and watch: daily blood glucose readings and carb counting as well as the regular hB1AC and cholesterol and kidney function and liver function and … Sure, having a low fat percentage can help these measurements, but do I need another 20 targets, frustrations and guilt trips?  And would I be happier with my body image because I had more muscle in my right leg? I don’t think there is an exercise which would make my fingers long and slender. Instead, my targets will be to maintain my current fitness level, improve my average daily step count on my fitness tracker… and maybe cycle up the local hill in a higher gear.

I am not saying the new machine at the gym has no value: with diabetes, I want to track my health, be confident that I am working in the right areas and continue to keep active. Also, knowing my visceral fat is low means I won’t worry as I tuck into another blueberry muffin for breakfast or wonder if I should give up my vegaquarianism (vegetables and fish) for one of those lovely smelling bacon sandwiches. I resisted the bacon but not because it was unhealthy: despite the lovely smell, I remembered I didn’t liked bacon when I last ate meat twenty years ago,

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