Ironwoman Dreams

If I can do this, anyone can.


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The Mind of a Lifelong Fat Person: A Weight Loss Story

So, this post is going to be brutally honest. I’m setting aside all of my insecurities about revealing my insecurities, mainly because I hope to both shed some light on the inner workings of someone with a lifelong weight issue, and also to let other people who think like me feel like they aren’t alone.

If you were to see my weight on a graph throughout my life, it’d look something like this:

 

From Age 8 to Age 34

From Age 8 to Age 34

 

As you can see, I’ve had my ups and downs. And now, at 20-25 lbs more than my ideal, it’s definitely not the heaviest I’ve ever been, but it certainly makes me feel nervous. Nervous because I remember vividly what it’s like to be unquestionably obese, and I never want to be there again.

 

For much of my adolescent life, as a middle-class, Franco-American white kid, I internalized all of the prescribed standards of beauty. I never felt confident because I was awkward, clumsy, without the lithe, lean form of my peers. I had no friends in middle school. I secretly thought that, if I could just be “thin” that all of my social problems would melt away, along with the layers of fat that kept me relegated to sit alone in the cafeteria. I thought that it was my body that made me unlovable. Yet, in a twisted way, food became this comfort for me.

 

Every ice cream sundae, or doughnut, or chocolate bar became a treasure trove of delight, and the more my body expanded, the more adults commented on how I “should not be eating” something or another. My babysitter attempted to put me on a diet at age 8. My first official diet was Weight Watchers, at age 13, where I finally felt in control, after earning my “25 lbs” ribbon, a trophy that marked the dawn of a lifelong, arduous battle, fueled by self-loathing and attributing self worth to the numbers on the scale.

 

While, as an adult, I’ve gained more confidence and wisdom than that 13-year-old me, specters of the old me still haunt my life, and the mental habits of a lifelong dieter are tough to kill.

 

For instance, at every meal, I mentally tabulate all of the calories in my food before taking a bite. I often strategize how I’m going to eat said meal (start with veggies, eat half of the meat, drink lots of water). If I’m dining with others, I instantly silently compare not only what they’re eating, but how much of it they eat. I make doubly sure never to eat more than the other person (don’t want to look like a pig, right?).

At every exercise class, if there’s a mirror, I find myself looking at me and comparing my body with everyone else around me. Actually, I compare myself everywhere to other people. Why? Just to see if I’m the biggest one there. If I’m not, it’s a slight relief. If I am, there’s a small prickle of anxiety and discomfort with being the fatty in the room.

Every time I look in the mirror in the morning, I lift up my t-shirt to look at my stomach and hips. I turn to various angles to see if, possibly, by some miracle, my body has changed. When I’m making progress with weight loss and getting down to my goal weight, I can see definition in my abs and I can see my ribcage when I suck in. Before leaving the house, I make sure that I look at myself from every angle, ensuring that my clothing hides all of my “problem” areas. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten keener at what works for my body, so, typically I don’t have to change.

I may even leave the house with the idea, “Hey, I’m looking pretty good today!”

That belief is often shattered when I see a picture of myself, particularly in group shots, where the clothes I thought were flattering really do reveal all of my lumps and bumps, and, further, my 5’7”, size 10 frame hulks over other folks in the shot.

In which I look way fatter than I thought I looked in the morning.

In which I look way fatter than I thought I looked in the morning.

Seeing myself on camera is the only time when all of my sensible adult self-affirmation does no good. In rare cases, I panic slightly. Seeing the video version of myself giving a presentation from last week, here were my exact thoughts:

Omg, I’m fat.

Everything jiggles when I move around.

Where did that terrible posture come from?

Omg, I have a lower belly pooch.

I don’t even have a waist from the side, I’m just a big lump.

Wow, I had no idea I was THIS fat.

OMG, am I waddling?

 

 

It sounds insane, given that, really, compared to lots of Americans, I’m not THAT fat. I’m smaller than the average size 14 woman. I sound insane.

More insanity for you: When I ask friends if they think I’m fat, they squirm uncomfortably and say, “That’s not something I even notice about my friends.” Or, “No, you’re not fat.” In my head, I think, Liars. They might be lying, but they’re doing it to be nice.

On the other hand, when they are truthful, like my friend, who said, “Well, you’re on the heavier side, obviously…” Wait. What do you MEAN, “obviously”? Does that mean I’m unquestionably, undeniably fat? I never win with this question, but, still, I’m insecure enough to ask it when I’m struggling with my weight.

My mind is always churning, trying to figure out how to slay this unslayable beast, this fat monster who has not only affected, but undoubtedly altered my entire life. What would I have accomplished, what would I have said or done, if I hadn’t let my weight hold me back, undermine my confidence, and make me believe that I was less of a person, unworthy of love and friendship, because of it.

To so many of us, the state of being fat is a loaded one. Sure, the outside world may judge us based on our outer appearance, assuming sloth, low willpower, overindulgence, ugliness, messiness, bad habits, and more. The state of being fat is scary to everyone. We are afraid of losing control.

Every time I struggle to lose weight, in spite of my best efforts, the panic sets in. Every time, I have to talk myself down, reaffirm patience, and reaffirm that my body is healthy, in spite of a few extra pounds. I have to reassure myself that fat is not a value judgment of me. Every time I talk myself down, it gets easier.

The truth is, in life, sometimes we take giant broad jumps forward, only be dragged back a few feet by our old habits and insecurities. The only way to slay the monsters that set us back is to keep moving toward them, with less fear, every time.


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Finding No Meaning: A Training Story

Easter holiday time, no matter what your religion, can be a good opportunity to refresh: to make new goals or re-double our efforts toward the ones we set earlier in the year. Life happens pretty fast, and, if we don’t take these chances to pop our heads up and assess how we’re doing, like any open water swimmer can tell you, we can end up way off course.

However, while we assess our goals, we should also take a moment to  ask ourselves: are we packaging our goals with a degree of self care and objectivity?

I ask this question because most athletes that I know work very hard to achieve certain goals. In working toward a goal, taking measurements, striving day after day, we tend to grow emotionally attached to our goals. While these emotions become attached to goals, they are often deeply rooted within ourselves, frequently attached to certain perceptions we have about ourselves, the same perceptions that create inner monologues and value judgements based on what we do or don’t do. These perceptions have been honed over time, and I have yet to meet a person who lacks any. Still, it’s what you do with these perceptions and feelings that have a profound affect on your overall well-being as you work to reach your goals.

A few weeks ago, Coach Mikey had us doing my least favorite breathing exercise: 50 yd breathing every 3, 50 yd breathing every 5, 50 yd breathing every 7, 50 yd breathing every 5. Even though I can do 25 yards without breathing at all, somehow, the counting trips me up, and I find myself gasping for air after the second 50.

Stopping for a second to look up at Mikey, I shook my head and said, “I don’t know why I can’t seem to handle this drill.”

Mikey, completely unconcerned, looked at me briefly, and said, “Don’t make it mean anything.”

Oh. Okay. I shrugged off my concerns and kept swimming, caring less about how crappy I was at the drill, and moving forward, relieved from the burden of over-thinking, without much emotion toward it at all.

But that moment was poignant. Her words were like an arrow plunging straight into the roots and earth of every problem I ever had. Hadn’t I always made pretty much everything mean something? Hadn’t I always related every goal and every interaction with other people to some deep insecurity or value judgment of myself?

While racing, every DNF, while I gave my best speeches about how I tried my best and that’s what counted, somehow, deeply, meant that I just didn’t have it in me to be a real triathlete, that I was foolish for thinking so. While at work, every time I tripped up during a big presentation meant that I just didn’t have what it took to be successful. While dating, every guy who wasn’t in the right place to have a relationship, I secretly thought, “…with me.” Sense a theme here?

I have attached so much meaning to tiny, little blips in the grand scheme of things, that every time I have not been absolutely perfect has threatened to rip down the grand scheme of my life. In reality, the stakes are not that high. Furthermore, stumbles and blips are natural, and can sometimes mean, counterintuitively, that  you ARE making progress.

So, lately, when I’ve caught myself getting wrapped up in those emotional roots over a tiny blip, I pop my head up, look around, take a deep breath, and keep swimming.

Waves have their ups and downs. Keep on swimming!

Waves have their ups and downs. Keep on swimming!


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Ad-Libbing My Exercise: A Travel Story

Like me, many professionals have to add the sometimes fun, but mostly burdensome travel to their regular schedules. I pop up to headquarters at least once a month, far away from my usual yoga studio, my bootcamps, my swim class, and my regular running route. Plus, travel usually has me on a tight agenda, making fitting in workouts slightly more challenging than it is at home.  Not only are workouts an issue, but, with business lunches, dinners, all day catered meetings, and other meal obstacles, traveling is a recipe for ruining the progress you have made at home.

See what I'm up against? This is not fair.

See what I’m up against? This is not fair.

Now, I am no saint when it comes to travel-based diet and exercise slip-ups. I’ve definitely had my share of “I shouldn’t have eaten that” or, “I’m too exhausted from traveling to hit the treadmill” moments, but I’m trying to work through these things because, hey, this is real life, and we have to learn to navigate every day, real life obstacles without being psycho or obsessive about it.

For every trip, I come armed. Here’s what I do to make sure my trip doesn’t trip up my healthy routine:

  1. No ‘fitness center’, no love. I always book a hotel that has a fitness room, and I try to book one that has at least multiple machines, so there’s less chance of a ‘machine hog’ situation. Sometimes it’s easier to get motivated to workout in a strange place if all you have to do is walk down a hallway or take the elevator.
  2. Plan your workout days. I bring a print out of strength training exercises from my trainer that I’m supposed to do, and I do what I can (depending on whether there are weights available to me or not). I figure out which days I’m going to do what type of workout, and I do them. Also, if you exercise in the a.m., you can explore the city after work, worry-free.
  3. Bring back-up. One of the biggest problems I have is with catered meals or business dinners. I’ve learned to pack my suitcase with healthy,low-sugar bars, raw nuts, and other non-refrigerated items to carry in my purse to keep me satiated throughout the day. That way, I can grab a little bit of salad at these things, and avoid the ravenous monster that threatens my ability to stay on track.
  4. Sleep. I know it’s tough to sleep in a new place. Usually, the first night, I toss and turn, which makes getting up early to work out that day seem horrible. I always designate Day 1 of my trip as my weekly “rest” day, whenever possible, simply because I know that my sleep will be interrupted. If I wake up feeling okay, I might jump on an exercise machine for some lighter, less intense activity.
  5. Know the workout spots. If you frequent a place often, sometimes it works to find some local fitness classes, or a running trail, just to keep you going in the right direction.

    Pre-printed exercises are portable, and FUN (okay, maybe not fun, but portable)

    Pre-printed exercises are portable, and FUN (okay, maybe not fun, but portable)

Like I said, I am no angel, and I do slip up, but I try to use these tools to keep the slip-ups pretty minimal.

Have a favorite hotel workout routine? Please share!


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Push It: A Strength Training Story

The more I learn about fitness and my body, the more I realize that I went into this whole Ironman thing all wrong. While, yes, some of my IronTeammates had never competed in a triathlon prior to starting last season, and most of them finished their first Ironman several months later, it was kind of a long shot to imagine that a person with no base or foundation in a sport could compete in and finish the highest level of the sport nine months later.

As someone who grew up with her head in the clouds, nose in a book, and to whom sports (besides horseback riding) were a primitive and unnecessary activity, my body had learned to adapt to using the least amount of muscle to do anything. A smooshy endomorph, no matter how active I became in later years, I was never REALLY strong.

Strength training, to me, was never something I loved. Although I would spend some obligatory time on weight machines, and, at one time, worked my way up to being able to do 15 knee push-ups, I found the repetitive motions boring, unexciting, and pointless. I always lost weight primarily by running and other cardio.

When Beth told me that, to lean out, I would need to stop the long, slow cardio, and rev up my metabolism with strength training, I wasn’t thrilled, nor was I sure if I’d achieve the same fast-acting results that I did with running my booty off, but, seeing as I was dealing with tendinitis at the moment, I figured that I might as well try.

Results are coming. Not as quickly as they did with running, but I’m getting stronger, and starting to see my weight slide back down the scale. Phew!

And I have new goals. For example, jumping. Being airborne and bottom-heavy are things that do not mix. I’m lucky if I can get six inches off the ground, and that’s trying my very best. I know it’s going to take some time to be able to box jump like a pro, but I’m sticking with it.

My road to becoming a real IronWoman is long, but I hope to reach superhero status, and to do it the right way!