Fitness, weight, fat, and my body

Talking about exercise, weight, and eating, in this post.

Why do I do that? Why do I mention, at the top of the post, that I will be talking about food, and weight lifting, and my body, in this post on my blog? It’s funny, how some things, some topics, some activities, some objects in the world such as my body, accrue psychic freight. But they do, and they have, and in the world of the internet it’s polite to warn people before going on about some topics.

This past weekend I ran a mile. I jogged a mile, with my nine-year-old daughter walking beside me. We chatted while I ran, which is this hither-to mythical state of working out in which one can hold a conversation while doing so. Granted, I was running slowly enough that my daughter was walking. But I, I was running. And I ran a mile.

I had my work-required physical this past week. My blood pressure was 124/80 and all other health-type-indicators were perfect.

This past week I completed two reps of a ninety-pound bench press. I managed a fifty-five pound clean-and-press. I did a 155-pound Romanian deadlift. I held a ninety-second plank. I can bicep curl my kids. I can hoist a forty-pound bag of dog food onto my shoulder and trot up the steps into the house with it. I can almost shoulder press my daughter.

In the past year I have lost twenty pounds. I have gone down four holes on my belt. My ring is looser than it ever has been. I am wondering how a person decides they need to buy clothes in a smaller size, because I have never done that in my entire life, and it’s occurring to me that I might need to.

I eat food that I mostly make myself. I make it from ingredients I can pronounce and can identify by looking at them. I eat food that is bright and smells good and tastes good to me. I eat food that agrees with my digestion. For the first time in about ten years I do not have a regularly upset stomach. (We’re gonna run with that euphemism, here. Make of it what you will.) I eat when I am hungry and I stop when I am not hungry, and I can tell the difference between the two states.

I wake up most mornings cheerful and reasonably alert, despite not having had a regular sleep schedule in fifteen years, without coffee. I have rare headaches, when I’m sick, instead of daily. When my muscles and joints ache (and they do) it’s because I worked out hard the day before and I need a rest.

I am in the best physical condition of my adult life.

This weight loss moves me from weighing 335 pounds to weighing about 315, more or less. I wear a 5x men’s t-shirt. I wear men’s 56×30 jeans. I cannot do a sit-up, push-up, or pull-up. My coworkers are surprised when I mention I work out three or four days every week. They cannot tell. They cannot tell because the measure that matters more than any other measure in my culture is weight, and I have not lost a visibly significant amount of weight.

I have weighed less, as an adult. Yet, when I did, I could not lift this amount of weight or run these distances. My blood pressure has been lower. Yet I was (and am) hypothyroid and when I went on medication for this, my blood pressure went up to 120/80. Now I can do more. I sheerly love the things my body can do. I revel in it, I want to talk about it all the time. I clearly have some sort of NRE (new relationship energy) with my body. With what it can do.

By the measures I want to support, I am healthy.

By the measure that my culture supports, I have wasted the last two years. I am a failure.

Before you comment, please, understand what I am saying here. I am not chiming in with how screwed-up my culture’s ideas of weight are. (Though I think they are profoundly messed-up.) I am for the love of god NOT asking for your validation. (Honestly, I am so tickled with the things I can do, I validate myself all the damn time. You don’t need to boost my ego, it’s high enough.) Nor am I requesting cheerleading in weight loss, or suggestions on dieting, or any other such thing. (I don’t diet and weight loss is not my goal.)

I am pointing out how odd it is to be in my head and my body right now. It’s odd, is what I am saying.

It’s odd, holding two contradictory truths in my head at the same time. And it’s odder still to contain them both in my flesh, in my fat and muscle and bone and skin. The contradiction rests inside the word “fat”.

I am fat.

This is not a, a thing that is contestible. It’s simply true. My body jiggles and wobbles and folds on itself. My kids tell me that they like snuggling with me because I am plump, and “plump” is one of the highest compliments they give.

Yet every time I say I am fat, I have a mental conversation, argument, a debate in my head.

“Don’t say that, you’re healthy.”
“Fat doesn’t automatically mean unhealthy.”
“Who are you kidding, of course it does, people won’t understand what you mean, you should explain.”
“It’s just a word.”
“Maybe if you’re one of those fat-acceptance activists, but not in the real world. Use a different word.”
“It describes me.”
“People will think you hate yourself.”
“But I don’t.”
“…”
“I don’t.”
“Well, okay, no, you don’t hate yourself, that’s true. But you have to re-check every time you call yourself fat.”
“Yeah. But that’s not on me, that’s on the culture.”
“Quibbling. I still think you should use a different word.”

And so it goes.

How can I be fat and healthy at the same time? How can I be proud of my newly-acquired strength if I still wear a 5x? How can I delight in running when my entire body sways and bounces and flops as I run?

I don’t know. I can be, it seems. I am.

I am healthy.

I am fat.

This is a strange, strange place to be.

.
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13 Responses

  1. I cannot resist a *little* ego-boosting! *high-fives* Hee.

    And THANK you for the “new relationship energy” phrase, because that’s PERFECT and I had not been able to put that into words! Yes, exactly, I can’t stop talking about My New Hottie Who is Named Working Out, and I feel that I may be beginning to bore people! (Clearly, YOU are not boring ME! Let us wax ecstatic together about our mutual hottie!)

  2. @spuffyduds :hi-five!:

  3. I really appreciate your posts on exercise and health. Through a link you posted I found http://www.stumptuous.com/. The author addresses many of the issues I care about most in exercise. Thank you! Check out her amazing photos of fit older women.

    I hear what you are saying about feeling good about your fitness and lifestyle while getting negative cultural messages. Our culture pushes SO hard for everyone to be young. slim and conventionally beautiful. It is hard to find role models for other ways to get recognition.

    I appreciate the encouragement to exercise you give just by saying how much you enjoy it. I usually don’t need much of a push to go to aikido or dancing, but PT/strength training is a different story. I like the feeling of connection for doing solo exercises over my lunch break. I have known since high school that my path is different than everyone else’s, but I am just finally getting comfortable with that. Now I can read about what you are doing and think how I can make my routine better. I am happy that working out is getting more popular among people I know. Unlike my younger self, I don’t feel any need to be competitive about it.

    Last week I started doing upper body strength training and some intervals. Not that I have not been a couch potato up til now. I’ve been doing shoulder exercises as part of PT since last summer. My knee exercises include squats and some odd-looking resistance moves. Both physical therapists had me doing planks. Adding aerobic endurance and weight training feels like a good way to round out my training.

    I kinda envy your NRE. I’ve done weight training several times over the years and never quite caught that. However, if it made my knees stop hurting I would pledge my undying devotion to it.

  4. @Lynn Yes, I love Stumptuous! And you and I can chat at Wiscon, yes?

  5. I totally get what you are saying about your body being able to do things. I love the feeling of having strength, stamina, flexibility, balance whatever that I now I have earned and didn’t have before. Its an amazing feeling.

    I read at least one study several years ago about how much more important heart health is as a measure of overall health than weight. Not saying a validation – just letting you know there’s science that backs up what you already know from living it. :D

  6. @Ck Thanks! :grins:

  7. Here via exercise_every_day.

    How does a person decide they need to buy smaller clothes? I found that there is a size where clothes (especially trousers) are tight. Then you go down one, and they are well-fitting. Another, and they are “casual”, but you need a belt or they will follow the call of gravity. And one day you look in the mirror and you look like a circus clown in over-wide trousers, your shirts are hanging so loose that your modest neckline suddenly very much isn’t and your warm winter coat has the wind blowing in on one side and out on the other. Your rings won’t hold even if you wrap sewing thread around them, and even your socks are starting to wander.

    That’s when you need new clothes :-)

    On “how can you be fat and healthy at the same time”… considering what I have observed, I could with just as much reason and more evidence ask,”how can one be thin and healthy at the same time”. In my limited experience, thin people (and thin cats, and dogs) die while fat people puff along. (I ran to half a dozen doctors when I started losing weight.)

    I’m a size 8 these days. Despite my strength (which I enjoy a lot!), I am more breakable than I was as a size 18 (or maybe I’m just older), and in a worse place mentally (or maybe I’m just stressed). And in my mind I am still fat. Strange, strange place.

  8. @Sigrid Yes, I would very much like to get together at WisCon. Email me or call when you know your schedule.

    The whole body image thing is very strange. For years I felt a little heavy most of the time. Not fat, but not as svelte as I wanted either. There was a stretch in my late 20s and early 30s when I was biking and doing aikido a lot and was in great shape. I was pretty happy about it at the time. I felt like I looked really good at 150-155. I had a goal of 145 in my head from when I was in high school and never quite managed to get past that number. In spite of being in good shape I still struggled with not being the popular body type and the usual social pressure on women to conform to an unrealistic standard.

    I kept in the 150-160 range until my mid-40s. One event that made me notice the world was changing and I was not updating along with it was at the Renaissance Festival. I was dancing with the Scots and needed a new bodice. I started working Fest when I was 18 and was still wearing the same costume that I made then. That alone should have been a clue. While my weight was the same or lower than when I was 18, my shape had changed to be broader through the ribcage. I was also losing the fight with gravity and wanted boning in my bodice. I went to Felix Needleworthy’s shop to check out the latest modern Renaissance fashions. He commented that I still had my girlish figure. I ended up wearing a size smaller than I expected. [And had trouble breathing during strenuous exercise, but the woman I had the hots for said I looked good in it. :)] My figure had not changed, so I had not noticed anything. Everyone else got older and changed shape while I was distracted by grad school.

    I emerged from the ivory tower with the same feeling that people report after spending seven years in Fairyland. The world had changed and I was out of step. Focusing specifically on body image issues, I had to come to terms with aging. For the last four years I have been struggling with a few extra pounds that make my clothes fit in ways I don’t like. I have to recognize that most of my cohort have put on more than a few pounds and are not staying in shape. Even the college students are heavier on average than I remember. The little voice in my head still remembers being the slowest member of the track team in high school. It is 30 years later and things have changed. I am turning into one of the older women I always admired in the dojo dressing room. The ones who complained about their aches and pains, but went out on the mat and moved amazingly smoothly. That makes me very happy. I want to be more fit and get 6-pack abs, and I have role models now to lead me along that path. I just need to figure out how to reset the little voices in my head.

  9. @Lynn The voices in the head are just *ODD* in what they fixate on! I entirely get that.

  10. @lyorn Yeah, that’s my thinking on the clothes. But I have *always* bought my clothes baggy, they were baggy to start, so it’s a matter of degree and not kind …. :)

  11. As a fellow baggy-clothes-wearer, when the pants start falling off through size or wear, time to get new ones! If they don’t get in your way, they’re still good.

  12. I wore the pants throught their falling-off stage with help of a belt. The circus clown transition was quite unexpected :-D

  13. [...] Acceptance] Sigrid talks about health over weight… My coworkers are surprised when I mention I work out three or four days every week. They [...]

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