Let’s play a game!
Well… before we play the game, I better tell you a couple of things. The units we use to measure this particular game are dubious at best, outright arbitrary at worst. The metrics we use won’t much reflect either of our respective efforts. Speaking of effort, even if you pour your entire life into this game, obsessing and looking for shortcuts, your odds of winning are dreadfully bad. If you don’t win, it’s likely your health and self worth could suffer. If you do happen to win, you probably won’t like the prize much anyways. And statistically, that prize won’t be around in a year.
Have you guessed the name of this horrible-sounding game? It’s mother effing WEIGHT LOSS.
As a strength and conditioning coach, there are few athlete goals I hate more than weight loss. And before you click away with indignance/disgust/disbelief, let me share my own transformation to make my point.
How I Gained 20 Lbs. and My Sanity
I want you to pay particular attention to the numbers associated with these photos.
Please-and-Thank-You Note: Please don’t reach out and tell me how beautiful I am at any weight. It does not personally pain me to share these photos. I’m sharing them to make a really, really important point about health and weight, not to get compliments.
- It’s from St. Patrick’s Day weekend, 2007
- I’m 21 years old, a college sophomore at the University of Montana
- My weight is 123 lbs.
- Silver brand jeans waist size: 29
- D bra size (RIP, boobies)
- Fitness: All I wanted was to be toned, the worst word ever foisted upon women. I hated the thought of putting on more muscle (see here). I was doing a 5am hour-long spin class twice per week, Ashtanga yoga class twice per week, hitting some half-assed bodybuilding weight room time 3-4 times per week, and trail running several times per week. This photo was the result.
- Other Health Notes: I was depressed and lethargic. A former high school athlete completely adrift with no idea how to eat for my new life as a normal person.
- Fun fact: That’s my pop playing guitar!
Let’s fast forward.
Ha! I heard you gasp, assholes. 😉
- It’s from July 4th, 2011. I was a producer at Bay News 9, working overnights.
- My weight is 130 lbs.
- To this day, this is the largest I’ve ever been in my life. My pants waist size was probably 30, but I was cinching myself into old clothes because I couldn’t afford new ones on a journalist’s salary.
- Having recently watched Forks Over Knives, I was five months into a 10-month stint as a vegan. Soy vey, I say in retrospect. Not for me.
- Other Health Notes: I was bloated all the time. I had little to no energy. I was endlessly stressed over work and how to feed myself and pay bills. My insomnia was unchecked. I was completely out of touch with caring for myself. When I could drag myself to Gold’s Gym for a workout torn out of Oxygen or Muscle and Fitness Hers, it was a heartless endeavor. I was completely miserable.
In August 2012, I started CrossFit. I screwed around and suddenly started getting strong. And fast. Before I knew it, excess fat was falling off of me. This is from about four months into my time at CrossFit9, December 2012:
Yes, my Nike Metcon-wearing friends, those are real Vibram toe shoes. And CrossFitters loved them in the olden days!
Pretty soon, I looked like this:
- Taken in the summer of 2013
- 142 Goddamn lbs. (That’s what I weigh today, give or take couple of pounds.)
- I had to buy size 27 waist pants because my old ones were falling off of my body.
- C Bra. Perfectly respectable boobs, even if a shadow of their former selves.
- I slept well, a huge accomplishment for someone who goes through insomnia.
- Plenty of energy to take CrossFit classes 4-6 times per week.
- I was eating fairly well, but nothing regimented. (No Paleo, no macros, still drinking on weekends, etc.)
I know the math might have slipped by unnoticed. Let’s talk numbers, shall we?
Let those numbers process in your noggin for a moment. A 19 lbs. gain in weight marks the difference between the left photo and the right.
As I continued to CrossFit, my weight kept going up, though I stayed in those same 27-inch waist pants. My bod was lean as ever, I occupied less actual space, and my weight went up to 152 lbs. I rarely stepped on a scale.
(Reference: I tore my ACL during the CrossFit Open in 2014, and I immediately dropped 17 lbs as my left leg atrophied. That’s how much muscle weighs on just a single leg. I’m still not even close to being back to that pre-surgery weight. It’s that hard to put on muscular “bulk”.)
An Arbitrary, Even Harmful Measure
Having seen these photos, you’ll get exactly why I think weight is a bullshit measure of anything except how much force gravity is exerting on your body.
Here’s where we get a touch science-y: Your body will burn calories more effeciently– even when you’re in your underwear watching Broad City— if you have lean muscle. Your resting metabolism will thank you for it.
That’s it. That’s the secret. You need muscle for effective, long term fat loss. It won’t look pretty on the scale for a little while because muscle is denser than fat, so it weighs more per volume.
The Incredible Bulk
If you are still afraid of getting bulky, I highly suggest this read from CrossFit SouthBay, which is an oldie but so good it had me clutching my laptop and screaming YES! so loud it probably scandalized my neighbors.
In retrospect, I was floundering in my fitness in the first two photos because I was worried about getting “bulky”, though clearly I was much more bulky for that worrying. (I’d laugh at the irony, if it weren’t so sad and such an incessant fear that I hear from other women.) I stepped on a scale daily, giving me little to no real information about my health, and in fact distracting me from things that could help my health. I was buying Shape Magazine and eating whatever low fat crap was in its pages. I thought losing weight was the answer to something, but I was asking the wrong question altogether.
What’s Your “Why”?
In the end, my “what” (weight loss goal) was not in line with my “why” (reason for wanting to lose it in the first place). I wanted to look good and feel good, so why was I wasting my time worrying about measuring with a scale? Ironically, the only reason I wanted to lose weight was to end up with the body I finally had when I gained 19 lbs.
It took me years to figure out I’m not even motivated by what the scale says. I’m a goddamn savage around food, and I won’t set down a piece of pizza because of how I’ll look or not look in a bikini. At the end of the day, I just don’t have enough fucks to give about bikinis. Pizza is delicious. Life’s too short. What does motivate me to keep my body fat low is athletic endeavors: Needing to be able to haul my ass up to a pull-up rig many times in a row, or up and over gymnastic rings, or through hundreds of push-ups. Gravity is my main motivator to say “maybe I’ll make a meatza instead”.
What Are You Losing Out On?
This past week I stumbled across this Instagram entry by Steph Gaudreau, creator of Stupid Easy Paleo. And man, did it resonate with me.
…you’re squandering your precious time and talents on shit that keeps you playing small. Oh God, it stings because it’s so effing true!
I wish I could have all the time back that I spent poring over women’s health magazines, hating myself, plotting and wishing for a smaller, more ladylike existence that would be less offensive to other people. Instead of thinking happiness was 10 lbs away, I could have been getting my Master’s degree, or volunteering, or confronting the personal issues that were plaguing me.
I can’t help but think the reason weight loss marketing is so pervasive is because it keeps women dumb, unhappy, and placated by capitalistic, external fixes instead of internal ones. Can you imagine if every otherwise capable woman you’ve heard complain about her weight this year — or hell, just this week — put the same time, energy, passion, and financial resources into something positive?
That’s a life-changing, possibly world-changing thought. Time to rise up, ladies.