Throwback Thursday

Before I get into the meet of the post, I have to say…I HATE rest days before races! I think the problem is that I’ve been working out SO MUCH that I feel relatively lazy. Think about it: for the last month, I’ve been running 30 miles per week (ok, so “only” like 29 3/4 some weeks) and bike commuting 3-4 times per week (except the week my bike was immobilized). This week, I’ve run 6 miles and bike commuted twice. I was going to bike commute today, but it is rainy, so I can’t. If it clears up I’ll take the dog for a long walk or something. I also plan to get in about 30 minutes of light, non-running activity tomorrow to keep my legs from being stiff for the half marathon.

I don’t think I’ve ever officially done a “Throwback Thursday” before but I was looking through some old pictures yesterday and I came across two that I just could not keep myself from talking about.

Picture #1: June 1, 2011

Now, I’ve shown before pictures before, so what is important is not necessarily what I look like in this picture – it is the context of this picture. If you go look at my “progress pics” page, you will not see this one on there. This is because I had not found it before and had to scrounge around to try to find full body lifestyle type pictures to include with my official “before” photo, and I hadn’t really done very well at it. That is, until I came across this picture, which is basically like the perfect before picture once you know the story behind it.

In this picture, I am standing in my parents’ garage wearing my old girl scout badges – my mom just took it because I was being silly. We were in the process of going through a bunch of my old things. Over the last few years, I had been operating under the assumption that because I was “barely” plus-sized (I am wearing one of Kris’s mens XL shirts and size 20 shorts in this photo) I could get back into straight sizes “in a few weeks if I tried,” and at this point in time I was trying to come to terms with the fact that I was going to be plus-sized for the rest of my life. This day was a major turning point on that front, as I “got rid of” most of my “skinny clothes” (about size 10-12) since I was “never going to be that skinny again.” I say “got rid of” because they somehow magically reappeared whenever I got near those sizes again. Thanks, mom (I still don’t want them, because they are from my weird emo phase).

A few days after this picture was taken, though, I went to the doctor. This was where I had my official 240 pound weigh in. That didn’t bother me as much as the other things the doctor said, though. This was the third appointment in a row where the doctor pointed out my high blood pressure, and she called a day or two afterwards to tell me that I had high cholesterol as well. I wasn’t worried so much about being heavy as being healthy, so I started researching on the internet to see what I could do to help with my high blood pressure and cholesterol. A mere two weeks after this photo was taken, I joined MyFitnessPal as a way to keep track of my diet and exercise. By the end of the summer,I was back into a size 14 or 16, letting me safely shop at most clothing stores again. Oh, and if you are wondering, my blood pressure and cholesterol are totally fine, now. My new doctor was actually confused when I wanted him to check my cholesterol and fasting glucose levels!

Picture #2: October 16, 2012

Now, this picture seems to be an entirely unexceptional mirror-selfie taken with a potato at first glance. But in reality, it is MUCH more exciting than that. You see, this picture was taken right before I wore size 4 pants out in public for the first time. Additionally, if you look at the date, this picture means that this week marks the milestone of me maintaining at least my size for entire year, as there has never been a point during this year at which I could not wear these pants (and I am, in fact, wearing them today)!! During this last year, my weight has gone up and down a bit -from as low as 121 to as “high” as 132, but I have been able to get through the year without going back to some of the slightly larger clothes I have kept around (I have at least 5-6 pairs of size 6 and 8 pants laying around, mostly because they were so new I didn’t want to get rid of them).

I’ve felt really down on myself for my maintenance progress lately, as I’ve been hovering in the upper end of my acceptable weight range, even though I know it is an artifact of actually eating enough while I train for this half marathon. Last time I trained for a half, I got down to my aforementioned low weight (keep in mind that at 5’5″, 117 lbs is considered underweight, and I was nearly there) and lost my period for months on end; I should be rejoicing that I was able to manage my health better this time. Instead, all I see is days of eating like a teenage boy (because I am typically biking 6-8 miles and running 3-6 every day, so that makes sense). So today is a great reminder of how far I have come and what I have accomplished – a whole year of staying the same size is really quite the achievement in the weight loss maintenance world, where we know there is something like a 90% chance of us regaining all the weight and more. I accept that I won’t stay a 120-something pound size 4 forever, ESPECIALLY after I have children, but every year that I maintain that I am fighting the statistic. Side note: as a person who in practice does statistics for a living (even if I am technically a political scientist) I would REALLY like to get a hold of that data….


Talking About Body Image

My half marathon is officially very close – I ran the first run of my “taper” week this morning. Hopefully it is less humid this Saturday – when I ran this morning it was only in the 60s and I ran at a pace that is typically pretty normal for me for 3 miles (~ 8:30/mile), but I was having trouble breathing near the end and sweat was dripping down into my eyes and stinging them. The culprit: 89% humidity, at least according to my Weather Underground app (the Weather Channel claims the humidity is ONLY 74%).

But today’s post isn’t really about my half marathon or the weather. It is inspired by a couple of articles that I read lately. The first was in the New York Times Well blog, and the second  was some random article I saw linked on Reddit last night. Both discuss women discussing body image with each other and the social impact of that, and that is what I’d like to talk about today.

The NYT one was about “fat talk” among women. It basically talks about how women often bond by shaming their own bodies while at the same time assuring other women that their own bodies are fine (or at least flawed at a similar level). An example from the article:

First friend: “I can’t believe I ate that brownie. I am so fat!”

Second friend: “You must be joking — you are so not fat. Just look at my thighs.”

One of the things they point out is that women often say not what they actually think about their own bodies but what they think they are expected to think about their own bodies. This really hit home for me because I do this A LOT. As an adult, I have had very positive body image (I did struggle in high school when many of the other girls on my soccer team were very waif-like, and I didn’t realize I simply had a different body shape than them, and instead thought they were just more fit than me). Most women, however, don’t have very positive body image (or are perhaps in the same trap as me). This leads to very awkward conversations.

For example, I will say, in a factual sense, something like “oh, I have trouble finding slacks and boots because my legs are sort of big for the rest of my body size.” I don’t say these things to make negative comments about my body – I say them to make negative comments about availability of clothing! Still, the usual response isn’t something like “I know, I hate that – I can never find cute blazers because my shoulders are sort of broad! Why can’t they just make a few different cuts of clothing!” but rather something like “Oh, no, Chelsea! Your legs aren’t big! Look at how muscular and shapely they are! I would looooooove to have legs like yours!” Ok, well you are correct that my legs are pretty awesome – running miles and miles will do that to them. But that is also exactly why they are so big! Big and nice looking are not mutually exclusive, and I don’t need you to reassure me when I’m not even putting myself down.

I don’t blame these other women for making these comments, however, because honestly I usually respond in the same way as well. I am never sure when another woman says to me “I wish that they would make more [insert hard to find clothing item here] because of [idiosyncracy of my body]” what sort of response she is looking for, so I almost always go for reassurance about her body, just because I feel it is the safest route – what if she was feeling down about herself and I failed to reassure her? I would be a terrible friend! So I go with the better safe than sorry route.

I sometimes also feel pressure to put down my own body because of this phenomenon. This happens most when I am talking about my weight loss to people. People often assume that I thought I was “ugly” before and that I must feel like I look so much “better” now. Usually, I do not bother correcting them.

I make a very conscious effort to never bring up anything negative about my former body without being prompted – I did not dislike that body and I still don’t. I was never embarrassed to be  in pictures, wear bathing suits, or wear other revealing clothing. I honestly felt beautiful and still think I was beautiful. I do slightly prefer how I look now, but honestly the body I liked best was when I was about medium sized and curvy (and still overweight). My body type is very straight now and I have no idea how to dress it. Also, at that point I hadn’t really lost enough weight for the loose skin to set in yet. I now for the first time in my life feel like I need to cover up – I was never concerned about people seeing stretch marks or cellulite (honestly I’m sure most people don’t notice it on others), but now my skin literally flops around and hangs strangely and looks sort of deformed and I am self conscious of it. It’s improving vastly as I gain muscle and time rejuvenates my skin, but I can honestly say that this is not the most beautiful I have felt in my life (don’t worry guys, I still know I’m hot – just not the hottest!). Still, others expect me to feel most beautiful now, because thin=beautiful and now I am very thin. I said before I don’t correct them. Can you imagine with the culture of “fat talk” trying to explain to most people that I thought I was hot when I was 240 lbs? I’m sure they would just think there was something wrong with me.

Note that I do have to tread a fine line with this thinking I am awesome looking now, though – I would never talk as positively about my body in person as I am here on my blog, for fear of appearing like I was bragging or making the other person feel like I don’t think that they are pretty/hot/beautiful whatever because of some perceived difference between us. From what I can tell, women tend to perceive their own bodies inaccurately and judge them more negatively than a stranger would. Yesterday, a friend was feeling down about her body because she has gained weight as she has become older.  This friend began insisting that I was thinner than her and weighed less even though I am 100% certain that we are the same size – we seriously wear the EXACT SAME clothing size down to shoe size and are the same height! Because she perceives that she is fatter than me and therefore uglier than me, saying something positive about myself in front of her might offend her because she would see that as “well Chelsea thinks she looks good with her legs the way they are, but my legs are fatter so she must think my legs look bad” even though I have no freaking clue what her legs really look like because I have never really paid attention. I would like to think that these perceived offenses aren’t just things I have made up in my head – I have felt them before! I understand, now, however, that comments on one’s own body rarely apply to the other person in the conversation – they are usually relative to some past body or ideal body that the individual has in mind for themselves, and they are not even paying attention to the offendee’s body.

The reason that the second article inspired me to write this post is that it provides a link to perhaps how we could stop this “fat talk” from occurring. The article is about the mind blowing experience of a little girl hearing her mother refer to herself as “fat, horrible and ugly” for the first time. I don’t remember the first time my mother did this, but I know that she does it. And I’m sure that most mothers do. And I also know that this is incredibly inappropriate behavior that only perpetuates the cycle of “fat talk:” if you teach little girls that it is normal to talk about your body image in a negative manner, then they will think that is how you communicate to other girls and women!

I don’t blame mothers for doing this, as it is so normalized (it probably does not occur to most people that saying such things to their daughters shapes them – they have been engaging in fat talk for so long that they probably don’t realize that their daughters would have to learn about it to engage in it). I have long been a person that has thought about how I will try my hardest to not transmit certain ideas to my children, normalization of negative body image discussion being among them (another example would be accidental gender role transmission). I know I won’t be perfect, but I want to make a conscious effort – one of my biggest fears is that by focusing too much on fitness and calorie counting that I will cause one of my children (of any gender) to develop an eating disorder, regardless of how hard I try to teach them body positivity. Even without reading these articles, I know how painful it is as an adult child to listen to your own mother say such horrible things about herself and feel helpless to change her mind (my mom frequently calls me to talk about how awful and bad she is even though she is only slightly overweight and exercises near daily). As an adult only child who is quite close in age to my mom (she is only a few years older than some of my actual friends), I try my best to remember she means it as a friend and not as a mother and that I am there to support and reassure her, not necessarily to be her daughter, which makes it more appropriate. Still, I would never want to put an actual child child in such a position!

The take home point here: try your hardest not to engage in this destructive fat talk and not to contribute to perpetuation of the cycle. I don’t expect you to be perfect (I admit right in this blog that I struggle with it!), but remember the impact of your words, and remember that we all have positive and negative aspects of our bodies – try to dwell on the positive 🙂

My Other Half

I was thinking about doing a post today about things I missed from when I was overweight, inspired by a similar series atcanyoustayfordinner? When I went back to look over this, though (it was one of the first things I read when I started maintenance and realized I had a whole new struggle ahead of me), I noticed something I hadn’t before: a reader had asked her how she could look back so positively on her fat past.

Most people, I’m guessing, would not be surpised by this question. A lot of people that I see on forums and blogs talk about their past (or, if they are still losing, their future) as though there is a terrible, negative “fat” version of them and a wonderful skinny version. Once skinny, one should just forget about the whole fat part of life, only mention it with the greatest shame, and try to move on.

I am not one of those people. I loved myself when I was heavy, and I love myself now. I am not a completely different person than I was then. “She” is not someone I used to know but it would be embarrassing if people knew that so I hide it. Yes, some aspects of me have changed, but I am the same person. I simply weigh half of what I used to, which is what my blog title refers to. When I say that there were two of me, I don’t mean that there is a past “bad” fat me and new “good” skinny me. I simply mean that I wish that I had that extra half of my body around to like clean my bathroom when I’m lazy or something.

My main point here: there are a lot of things I miss from 110 pounds ago, and this stems from the fact that I was at peace with what I was like then, and I am at peace with what I am like now.

I am not a better person just because I lost 110 pounds. If anything, it is the other way around. I didn’t make positive changes to my character because I became thin; I became thin due to positive changes that I made. And keep in mind that I only feel like I made 2 positive changes: I added physical activity to my life and began eating proper portions of nutritious foods in order to help to solve my health problems. Pretty much nothing else about me changed. Doing these two things, for many people, does not lead to the same amount of massive weight loss that I had. I know plenty of people who do these positive things yet remain slightly overweight. Many of them feel like failures, or feel inadquate, simply because they are “fat,” but I never felt that way, and I hope talking about this can inspire those who do to think more positively of themselves. If you are happy with everything in your life, including your health (and no, unless you have weight associated health problems, as I did, being fat itself does not count!), then what will losing 10-20 pounds fix? Nothing.

So instead of a list of things I miss from 110 pounds ago, here is a list of ways I have not changed due to losing weight, some good, some bad:

  • My favorite food is still pizza. To be fair, this used to be followed by ice cream, but is now followed by Greek yogurt.
  • My favorite color is still pink.
  • I still like the same music. In fact, I’m so stuck on my musical tastes that people have been known to get into my car and remark “I haven’t heard this song since high school!” when I put in a CD I have laying around.
  • I’m still mostly happy with my career choices.
  • I still have the same wonderful family and friends.
  • I’m still a dog person.
  • I still cold all the time (just even colder now).
  • Probably due to my cold nature, I still love curling up in multiple blankets with a cup of tea.
  • I still love to talk, loudly and often.
  • I still love to take long walks with my husband, even if I don’t particularly enjoy running with him.
  • I still love how easy it is to take care of my curly hair.
  • I still love the same clothing. It’s just cheaper and easier to find now.
  • Not that much cheaper, though, because I still have expensive taste.
  • I’m still clumsy, though I’m hoping my coordination improves a bit.
  • I still love sewing.
  • I still love baking.
  • I’m still terrified of driving in inclement weather.
  • I still bite my nails (though I’m doing better).
  • I still need coffee to function.
  • My favorite place to drink coffee is still when I visit home, because everyone in my family buys nicer creamer than I do. My parents and my grandparents on my dad’s side always buy fancy flavored ones (sugar free for me) and my grandpa on my mom’s side always buys it from a local dairy.
  • I still have all of the same memories, happy and sad.

I think I’ll take this list as pretty definitive evidence that I’m still the same person.I’m guessing that more people would describe me as loud and clumsy before they would describe me as skinny. I simply cannot believe that in the face of all of these things that seem to matter so much more on a daily basis, that my weight is the one thing that defines who I am.