Weight is never something I struggled with growing up. I was always just a tiny person and any weight that I gained would fall off just as naturally as I gained it. It was a cycle of gaining a few pounds and losing a few pounds, never being quite aware of what I was eating or not eating that contributed to the fluctuations. I ate relatively healthy, but like a lot of teenage girls, I had a magic metabolism that let me eat copious amount of sugar and not notice a difference.
To say that I struggle with my weight now would be a drastic overstatement and, in my opinion, an insult to people who do battle with weight loss. I gained roughly 20 pounds my freshman and sophomore years in college because I a) never paid attention to what I ate growing up so I made poor dietary choices thinking that I could always eat whatever I wanted and not gain weight, b) barely exercised, and c) drank alcohol for the first time, which as it turns out, makes you gain weight (both because alcohol is so sugary and because the first thing I want to do when my inhibitions are lowered is eat pizza).
It happened very gradually and, before I knew it, I looked in the mirror and realized that I hated the way that I looked. To clarify: I was not fat. I was at a respectable weight, a weight that I told myself so many people would strive to be, but I was a) very unhealthy and b) not used to having 20 extra pounds on my 5’4, small framed body. So, by my personal standards, I weighed too much and I wanted to be thinner.
The weight loss process happened very, very slowly because I lacked discipline and I also didn’t know what I was doing. I had never tried to lose weight before so I tried to drastically limit what I was eating and only pay attention to the number of calories (but not to the quality or lack thereof of the calories I was eating). Eventually I got the hang of it and I started running, cutting down my portion sizes, and eating mostly lean meats and vegetables. I also drastically reduced the amount of bread and deserts I was eating. I got into a pattern of eating a bowl of oatmeal every.single.morning for breakfast along with a skim latte, a salad with chicken for lunch, and chicken and veggies for dinner. I cut back way back on alcohol. And I guess I exercised pretty frequently.
Overall, I lost the 20 pounds and was feeling pretty good about it. I noticed, however, that I was absolutely terrified of gaining the weight back and didn’t allow myself to enjoy anything because I was worried that a brownie would send me over the edge. And I agonized over every piece of food that went into my mouth. One day I just realized that I was too small. I felt frail and, even though I was skinny, I wasn’t healthy.
Last summer I worked in a office job that required me to a) get up at the crack of dawn and b) sit in front of a computer all day. I was starving all day because I was tired and bored and I could feel whatever muscles I had deteriorating. Nothing I ate all day could satisfy me and when I got home I was so tired that I could only manage small workouts, if that. So I gained five pounds.
It wasn’t the number that freaked me out, but the fact that I felt like I had no control over it and that it happened so suddenly. Coming back to school this year, I think I initially lost a pound or two of the summer weight and then put on a pound or two as a result of stress eating (woo senior thesis). Either way, I am roughly the same weight as I was at the end of summer/coming into the school year.
However, a few things have changed. First, I am much healthier and have come to terms with food. I love food (if you couldn’t tell from reading this blog) and have thankfully developed a taste for healthier foods. I am eating much more than I ever did, but maintaining a healthy weight because I’m making better dietary choices (mostly). Second, I have much more muscle mass than I did before. I have annoying squishy layers like anyone does, but underneath I have these muscles that have never been there before (thank you, kettlebells). And I am in the best shape I have ever been in. I’m no athlete, but I have built myself up from barely being able to run a mile, to running a few 5ks and just under 8 miles at a pretty decent pace (and feeling good enough afterwards to continue. I haven’t tried running more than that because of time, the weather, and a hurting knee, but I definitely think I could).
Do I still wish I could lose those squishy layers? Yes. BUT, it’s not because I am afraid of being “fat”. It’s because I know they are there because I am making silly decisions. Like eating mindlessly when I am not hungry just because I am bored. Or eating three brownies instead of one (or even just two). Or cutting my workouts short (or not going at all) because I feel tired or bored. I can do better. I can live and enjoy myself and not feel any sense of deprivation, but I can do better. I can push harder, I can have a little more self-control. I can make better, more informed choices about what I eat. And if the pounds are still there afterwards? Fine, but at least I know its not because I am being lazy.
For example, lately I feel like I have been eating too much sugar (I blame microeconomics and my love of tootsie-rolls). So I joined myfitnesspal because I had heard a lot about it and (even though I hate counting calories), I thought it would be a worthwhile experiment to see what exactly I was eating. Turns out I was already over my target sugar intake for the day by lunch time, even when I thought I was eating a healthy breakfast of oatmeal with PB2 and honey, chobani, and coffee with a tbsp of creamer (and lots of water, I’ve been trying to drink a lot more of that). I made a concerted effort for the rest of the day to stay away from sugar, but then I discovered that carrots have sugar in them. Carrots?! Seriously? Even vegetables have sugar in them? Needless to say I went way over my quota. It’s not something I’m going to beat myself up about, but it’s eye opening to know that I was consuming so much sugar without even realizing it and just being slightly more aware of what I was putting in my body could make a difference in how my body looks, but–more importantly–my nutritional intake.
As someone who likes to read about food and fitness, I often read discussions about body-types and definitions of beauty. And just the other day I went to the mall and my friend made a comment about how many plus-sized mannequins there were (in the context of “this is a good thing that body-type idealizations are changing”). I’m often torn when it comes to extremes. I don’t like it when people judge others on their appearances, but I think there is a double standard to judging skinny people that is socially acceptable.
What I mean is, “fat shaming” is starting to be considered rude and inconsiderate, but “skinny shaming” isn’t. For example, I think it is incredibly refreshing to hear people talk about healthy body-types and embracing yourself, embracing food, and being healthy rather than skinny. But sometimes those people go to far (in my opinion) and make fun of people who are sometimes kind of extreme about their dietary choices. I know some people who eat never eat dessert or white flour. Who replace mashed potatoes with cauliflower puree, who make brownies with black beans, etc. But I don’t like it when people make those folks sound crazy, or rigid, or as if they eat that way because they are to into themselves and vapid for caring so much about their bodies.
It frustrates me that in a room full of twenty-something girls, no one will eat a whole cookie. Everyone wants to split one because it’s not cool to eat too much dessert (I am definitely guilty of this, but have gotten much more relaxed). But it also frustrates me if I go out to a burger place and people give me strange looks or even openly make fun of me when I order a salad. I won’t judge you based on what you order, so don’t judge me.
The bottom line is that I don’t think it should be cool to judge people’s diets. If they eat unhealthily, that is their choice. If it is someone you care about and you are concerned for their health, then that is a different story. But if someone strictly adheres to super clean eating, it’s not cool to judge them either.
I didn’t really know where to go with this post when I started writing it, but it started because I wanted to see how much sugar I was eating without knowing it. I think it should all be about balance. I want to exercise harder because I know that I can and I love knowing that I am pushing myself and that I am improving, but I will also take days off. Today I will eat my oatmeal, eggs, fish, and veggies and tomorrow I will have cake and mimosas for breakfast (because it’s my birthday!). Too much of one extreme makes me feel deprived and too much of the other makes me feel unhealthy.
I don’t know how you feel about all of this diet/food/exercise stuff, but I would love to hear your thoughts. I wish it were just as simple as “let people live their lives and hopefully we all will find balance in the end”.