So, like, here’s the thing about realizing I’m fat: I know exactly how to apply the science of weight loss to my own self in order to lose fat. I know the best sources to get my information from (who), I know the best types of exercise for high caloric burn, muscle retention, and the best macro set-up for my body to feel fueled and energized to sustain said exercise (what), I know that right now I’m most comfortable either going for a run outside or doing a strength workout at home vs the gym (where), and I know the time of time I’m most motivated to do said exercise (when).
Maybe I should blame my menstrual cycle and where I’m currently at in it, but this last 4-5 days has been a real struggle to steer myself away from negative thoughts regarding my weight, my shape, my clothing size… and stupid Facebook “Memories” isn’t helping.
In 2014, for my 30th birthday, I ran my first 5k. Which was great! Really! I had just recently really fallen in love with running and I was SUPER proud of myself for doing it and had a bunch of friends who did it with me (and my dad!) and it was just really super duper. It was a great memory. …but one that seems to regularly be tainted with feeling like I “looked so much better” then. Even though, at the time, I was incredibly frustrated with how “fat” I was and how much I was struggling to lose weight.
Isn’t that funny?
There’s a quote that I throw around every now-and-then that goes something like, “I wish I were as fat as the first time I thought I was fat.” To which the solution is: stop thinking about whether or not you’re fat. (Easier said than done, right?)
That race was two years ago today. 3 months later my grandfather would pass away very suddenly from a stroke after beating lung cancer and I would begin packing on the 30 extra pounds I’m currently carrying around. Like a sandbag of grief evenly sprinkled over my thighs, hips, and belly that maybe I’m not ready to let go of. But nonetheless, seeing the photos this morning from that race sent me on a quest… a quest to find exactly how much I was eating/drinking/sleeping, what type of exercise I was doing (outside of running) and how often, but, most importantly… how much I weighed.
I quickly stopped my pointless searching in an effort to calm the crazy… and, besides, I can tell you right now it was around 189lbs. I can tell you that because that’s the lightest I’ve been since my second son was born in 2011 and, boy, I sure did and do cling to that. Hard. Sometimes I think someone is going to have to pry that little piece of “victory” (and the ever-remaining “guilt” of no longer being that weight) from my cold, dead hands.
I find myself trying to relive or recapture the past often and that’s what today’s frantic search was about. If I could just read back through my blog entries, my food and exercise diary on MyFitnessPal, then I could find that “magic” to shrink myself again. But the reality is, what worked over the course of 3 years in my late 20′s leading to my turning 30, isn’t necessarily going to work now as I come into my 32nd year. It could! But my hormone profile is completely different, the amount of sleep, stress management, and general time I require to recover from a hard workout is different. I need to find what works for me now. Not two, three, four, five years ago. More importantly, I need to continue to focus on liking who I am now as a person and taking the focus off of what my body looks like.
For the last two years (or so) I have on-and-off pursued a healthier mindset in relation to body image and my inner (and outer) monologue regarding my own body. For the last two weeks I’ve being taking that mindset adjustment a little more seriously and practiced near-daily “affirmations” about my body and avoiding fat-talk as much as possible. It is early yet, but I feel a lot better about most things most days. However, I have a lot more work to do and a lot more to learn about being kind to myself.
Those of you that follow me have probably noticed that I share photos and blurbs about most of my workouts on Instagram. In fact, you may have seen this photo come through yesterday:
…I’m going to be 110% honest here and tell you all: I hate this photo.
Here is the on-purpose photo I had taken for my workout share:
Okay, so, this one really isn’t that much better… but, let me explain…
That first photo I snapped while stretching, I didn’t even fully intend to take it – it was a bit of an accidental shot. And when I pulled up my photos to make my post, I saw it and immediately began picking out all the things “wrong” with me in that first photo.
…my arms look fat
…my legs look fat
…my belly is hanging down
That’s when I realized, this is absolutely the photo I need to share. Because those are really my arms, those are really my legs, and that is really my belly… and all of those things are really okay. There is nothing inherently wrong with that photo or the body represented in it.
Much as I talked about my up and downs with fitness tracking and the technology that fuels that and how it affects my emotional well-being and how I feel about myself and my body, I’m now going to talk a little bit about my up and downs with body positivity and my near-daily struggle to accept myself as I am and settle in and be okay with the possibility that I may remain exactly this same weight, shape, and clothing size for the rest of my life, and to own that and love that instead of feeling like I deserve to be miserable and that I should somehow be punished for “letting myself go.”
Let’s just say I’ve “dabbled” in the body positive movement off and on for the past few years. There have been times where I’ve been so okay with my body and my size and my weight and there have been (many more) times where I have been so NOT okay with any of those things and was generally disgusted with myself.
Recently I find myself worrying that by accepting myself and choosing to love my current body that I’m somehow making excuses and in denial about the “health” of my body. I’m really doing okay. I really, really am.
Over the last couple months I’ve come to see the amazing and powerful affect that near-daily aerobic exercise has had on my emotional health and my outlook on life; that alone should be, and sometimes is, enough to make me want to exercise regularly. But I also find myself regularly discouraged that my body isn’t changing the way (or, more realistically, as quickly as) I want it to.
The more discouraged I become the more I shift my focus toward wanting to “look good” and generally pursue this goal by following a specified program for “weight loss” or “fat loss.” The harder the pursuit, the harder it becomes to enjoy whatever type of movement I’m choosing to participate in and the more bored I become. The more bored I get, the more I begin thinking I should just move in the ways I enjoy in that moment, so I will begin to haphazardly choose my movement with no real direction. The longer this goes on the more I get stuck in a place of “this isn’t working” (meaning: I’m not losing weight or fat) and the more I begin to shift my focus toward that look-good piece of everything. Wash, rinse, repeat. Sprinkled around in there is the loss of control when it comes to food and purposely eating things that don’t make my mind or my body feel good in much larger quantities than necessary. In the midst of all of this the legitimate health benefits (both mental and physical) of movement/purposeful exercise are thrown to the wayside and ignored… because deep down it is ingrained in me that eating well and exercising are only to achieve or maintain a certain body aesthetic; that a thin, lean, toned body is the most important piece and really the only goal to pursue. Better blood panels, a healthier heart, and the possibility of longer life are just added bonuses to having a rockin’ hot bod that others covet and enjoy looking at.
This is a fundamentally fucked up way of thinking about my body. I know this. We all know this somewhere deep inside.
The reality is this:
Being thinner or more “toned” or whatever isn’t going to fix how you feel about yourself. Those feelings don’t come from the fat you carry around every day. In fact, that body fat or weight or whatever you want to call it, may actually be a product of the way you feel about yourself.
I believe my current extra fluff is a manifestation of stress, depression, anxiety, and grief. Which is why I, occasionally, put a lot of thought into being okay with my current size and shape and being accepting of the idea that I may be this size and shape for the remainder of my life. But most importantly, in that acceptance, as part of the acceptance, I should continue to participate in purposeful exercise not for the purpose of becoming a smaller version of myself, but to support a healthier heart and a healthier mind, to be a happier version of myself regardless of whether or not my body shape changes in the process.
At least a couple times during the year I have an existential crisis surrounding all the “fitness” tracking devices I use and the role they play in my “health”. The first one of 2016 has begun! Friends, Readers, Random Strangers On The Internet: I have ditched my FitBit (again) and have quit using MyFitnessPal (for the time being) in order to, once again, for the millionth time in six years, focus on my relationship with my body, my hunger/satiety levels, intuitive eating, and finding joy in movement instead of striving for a certain step count in order to win imaginary competitions with my friends.
I came around to this is a kind of bizarre way this time around. Come. Have a seat. Let me tell you a story!
At the beginning of March I started experiencing some dizzy spells on-and-off as a result of a condition called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo which is a pretty common, though bizarre, thing where the little crystals inside of your inner-ear (no, really!) that determine the effect of gravity on your head/body position escape from their little inner-ear-crystal-pod and start wrecking havoc on your sense of balance! And there’s nothing you can do about it except wait for it to correct itself!
There’s not really a whole lot of explanation for why this happens. Some people get it after head trauma and some people just develop it kind of out of nowhere (like me!) One study suggests there may be a link to the recurrence of BPPV episodes and Vitamin D deficiency (which I have), but experts have said regularly more research needs to be done before they’re willing to list that as an actual cause.
In the past my BPPV episodes have lasted a 1-2 weeks and haven’t really been all that bad with most of the dizziness happening first thing in the morning when getting out of bed and occasionally throughout the day after standing up after sitting for a prolonged period of time. It didn’t really affect my day-to-day life all that much. …but this most recent episode was a doozy! I almost fell over a few times. There were times that it didn’t seem to matter how I was sitting, standing, lying, how my head was positioned… I just always had this subtle feeling of the room spinning around me.
Basically I was just going through every day hoping it would hurry up and go away.
Then, last Sunday, kind of on a whim… I started Googling around for a connection to vertigo and wearing fitness trackers. Lots of FitBit users reported incidents of vertigo that eased after taking their devices off for a few days.
…I was feeling a little desperate. I’m not one to trust internet forum anecdotes over sound science, but it wasn’t going to hurt me to retire my FitBit for a few days and just see what happened. And there is science to suggest some people have a higher sensitivity to the electromagnetic signals from things like cell phones and computers that can cause things like insomnia and vertigo for certain individuals.
Right then, I took off my beloved Flex and put it in my purse. Within three days my vertigo was significantly less noticeable. Today it’s almost completely gone.
I will be the first person to say this is likely just coincidence. But, nonetheless, it got me thinking about my various methods of tracking the way I move and the things I eat and why that data is so important to me and if it should be.
Recent research and studies have shown that people who wear fitness trackers have a tendency to actually move less than they would without – not to mention that almost all of these devices are highly inaccurate when it comes to all those counted steps, sleep quality, and estimated calorie burn.
But maybe most important for me and the way my brain works: comparison is the thief of joy and these various devices thrive on the “challenge” of competing against friends and family to see who can get the most steps in a week and even in the work environment by offering monetary bonuses and credits if you’re the most-steppiest-stepper in the office.
Am I less of a person if I don’t hit my 10,000 step goal in a day? Am I somehow a lower quality worker? (On this my answer would probably be “yes”, but simply because the less physical activity throughout the day the harder for your brain to function the way it’s supposed to – but that’s a whole other essay.)
No. My fitness tracking devices do not define my worth. Just as my fitness level, my body fat percentage, and my food choices do not define my level of intelligence, my sense of humor, or my ability to offer love and kindness to others.
So I’m taking a break. I’m not saying it will stick, as I’ve taken so many breaks in the past and always come back to it. But I’m continuing to “track” my “health and fitness” by journaling about how I’m feeling around food and what is offering me satisfaction from a meal, how I feel when I move my body in certain ways, and how my emotional state affects my choices when it comes to what I’m eating and how/if I’m moving. My hope with these exercises is to one day soon be in a place where I can trust my mind and my body to be in sync with one another that eating and moving are second-nature and not something I really have to think about much at all.