Why I Don’t Diet (Anymore): The Case for Being A Little Fluffy
I want to start off by saying that this article is directed at a very specific group of people. I am not writing for those who, medically speaking, are obese, or are even very overweight. I have no expertise with being obese or very overweight so I believe I cannot speak to those experiences.
I am writing to those people who are currently working to maintain a certain level of leanness. I am also writing to those people who are working very, very hard to lose that last little bit of fluff – whether 5, 10, or heck, even 30 lbs. I am hoping that by this end of this, I have convinced you to put down the measuring cup, throw away your calipers, and hide your scale – at least for a little while. I would like to make the case for embracing your body as is because 1. I believe it will make you less crazy and 2. I am hoping to propel you toward actually living your life.
Now, I am not an expert on diets or losing weight, but I have had my own evolution during my fitness journey. When I first started my evolution during my senior year of college, I, very much, wanted to be lean. I was one of those who was highly motivated by fitspo. You know what I am talking about – the photos of fit women spread across the pages of magazines like Muscle and Fitness Hers and Oxygen; the pictures found on the “fitness” blog runs my 17 year old girls desperate to be “hot.”
You see, as the weird kid growing up with anxiety, I did things to exclude myself from other kids my age – mostly because they made me nervous. I wore weird clothes, dyed my hair dark, and I hit the books instead of making friends because, frankly, I just didn’t know how. Later, in college, after I joined a sorority, I began to let my shield down. After years of awkwardness and exclusion, I longed to be ‘normal.’ After years of dark makeup, weird clothes, dyed hair I cut myself, and a body that had been a slave to my pursuit of knowledge, I longed to be normal and I longed to be pretty.
I went full throttle, pedal-to-medal in the opposite direction. I let my natural (a light brown/blonde color) grow in, cut my hair in a preppy bob, and wore adorable, classic outfits. And, I started to exercise. Now, being the “realistic” person I am, I knew that I could never look like a Victoria’s Secret model. Seeing how I stopped growing at 5 feet tall and come from a long line of people built like tree trunks (short, stocky, and solid), being slender and graceful-looking has never been an option for me. So, instead, I chose what I thought was an achievable goal – I wanted to be lean. I wanted to have delts and abs you could see from a mile away. I wanted quad separation. I wanted to see my hamstrings instead of cellulite. So, I started lifting, and soon, I added in dieting.
What I find interesting, upon reflection, is that even after I swore to myself that because I had to restrict my dietary choices to not be smacked down by the devil that is gastroparesis, I would never “diet.” I would never restrict my food to lose weight. And here I was, measuring and weighing and planning my food. But to me, it wasn’t dieting because I gave it a different name. I called it “cutting.” I was cutting bodyfat, not weight. It didn’t matter what the scale said…as long as I got closer to having abs. I was being healthy because I wasn’t fretting about the scale. I was being healthy because I was eating a high protein diet to help my lifts. I was being healthy because I never did anything as drastic as eating only 1200 calories a day. I went from looking like this:
While I noticed a large difference, it still wasn’t what I wanted to see. So, I kept cutting. And I began blaming my lack of energy on my gastroparesis and my gastroparesis on stress. But where was all this stress coming from? I, of course, blamed school and then work. Now, yes, these things did create some stress in my life, but I had developed means to cope with the stress related with these necessary activities (lifting). So, why was I still so stressed? Because I was creating unnecessary stressors in my life!
And then I started getting really into powerlifting. Now, I am a really competitive person. I don’t make a habit out of doing things at which I am terrible (more realistically, I don’t make a habit out of doing things at which I am not the best). So, when I started competing at meets, I wanted to be the best. My dreams were squashed. There was this AMAZING woman and several other fantastic women lifting in my weight class. I wasn’t the best and I needed to be the best. Thus, I decided that I would compete in a different weight class. When I started competing, I competed comfortably in the 123 lbs weight class. After my first competition, I decided I wanted to compete in the 114 lbs class (meaning that I would have to weigh less than 114 lbs). My coach at the time warned me not to, but he also believed that I needed to discover why for myself. (He actually told me that I could probably stand to move up a weight class. Hint: he was correct).
And that is when the scale came into the picture. I don’t believe that I have weighed less than 119 lbs since right before I was diagnosed with GP and I don’t believe I have weighed less than 115 lbs since I was 10. But I was determined. Over the course of 5 months, I worked very hard to drop weight. My body does not easily get below 120 lbs. It took me 5 months to go from 123 lbs to 117 lbs. It was a terrible 5 months. I was even more tired than before. I was eating 1400-1500 calories a day and lifting 4 days a week and at the same time, I was very upset that I was not getting any stronger. I was digging myself into a hole and it was driving me crazy. Worst of all…it consumed all of my thoughts. My obsession with being pretty and normal manifested itself as working hard to get lean which then manifested itself as my need to be lean, while being the best.
But that is the thing about disordered eating, right? It’s always about something else. Remember that weird girl with the anxiety from my childhood? She was still there. It’s just that, because school was ending and she was entering the workforce, she no longer had her normal method by which to funnel and calm and soothe her anxieties (school work). So, she needed something new to obsess about – fat loss and strength gain.
It was in the beginning of 2013 that I realized my obsession with being lean and strong had gotten out of hand (understatement). I felt ill most of the time. I participated in the 2013 Washington State Championships and I failed lifts that I should have made and would have if, instead of “cutting” to make a weight class, I had properly fueled my body to lift. It was after this meet I realized I needed to make a change. I needed to do something that 1. scared me 2. challenged my need for control and 3. made me face my anxieties face first. I believed this to be the only way to break the “spell” I was under – the spell that told me that being leaner and stronger and better would be the magic bullet for my problems.
I decided to bulk. Now, bulking with a stomach condition is very difficult. If it weren’t for the energy levels (or lack thereof), cutting is much easier with GP because it means I am easily made full. Bulking with GP involves a lot of ingenuity and a lot of “sinful” foods; dirty foods; unhealthy foods; foods made of fat and sugar and calories. Let me tell you, bulking with GP involves very few vegetables. And who has time to fuck around with lean, skinless chicken breasts when eating more calories is on the line!? It took most of a year to reach 132 lbs. I went from 117 to 122 to 119 to 125 to 123 (it is really hard to get past the low 120s) to 128 to 123 and finally to 132 (I hadn’t had a flare in a while).
And in that time, it is as though my mind had finally found ability to relax. It was slow in the beginning, but I eventually was able to get by without measuring my food or counting my calories. I just began to eat – I ate when I am hungry and stopped when I was full. Now, without so much time and energy and stress spent on worrying what I am eating, I had time to think about other things – like gardening and what I wanted to do with my life. With all my free time and energy, I began to reflect; I reflected on what I really wanted. It was in this time I realized I was not happy with the way my life was. I didn’t end up going to grad school like I planned when I was in high school (because undergrad nearly killed me as is – talk about huge disappointment) and I was two and a half years into working a job I hated in a part of the country that I disliked.
It was with all my newfound energy and time and well-being that I began to make life changes; changes solely for the purpose of making me happy. I moved 1100 miles away to a new, beautiful, deliciously sunshiney state and completely switched industries. With all my newfound energy and time that I used to spend on researching macros and powerlifting programs, I began to live my life. Since I was detaching myself from being obsessed with being strong and lean, I explored other exercise options (side note: upon reflection this is the reason I took a break from powerlifting; I love lifting and I did not want to continue to taint it with this negativity. I wanted to be able to come back to it with a clean slate when I was ready). I learned that while street or treadmill running are not my thing, nothing beats hiking up a tall foothill and running down the other side.
Since stopping my bulk, my body has settled at about 129 lbs. Aesthetically, I don’t look how I would love to look. But, it doesn’t matter as much to me as it did (it bothers me some days more than others) because I have felt what it feel likes to live free without worrying about my abs or my “elite” strength levels.
I now know what it feels like to move for the sake of enjoying movement; it reminds me of how running and playing and sports felt when I was a kid – glorious and fun. With this extra bit of weight, lifting doesn’t wear me down nearly as much and I can have much more enjoyable lifting sessions because my legs aren’t burning with lactic acid during every rep; I also recover from DOMS much more quickly. With this extra bit of weight, I can take a spontaneous hike (i.e. without food or water) around the entirety of the Cherry Creek Reservoir (8 miles) and while a little dehydrated, be just fine.
With this extra bit of weight, I can hike my ass up the Manitou Incline (using hands and feet because I am so short) and then run/fly down the other side and enjoy the endorphins and nature instead of feeling weak and tired.
Honestly, I feel great. I want you to feel this way as well. I want you feel what it feel like to enjoy movement for movement’s sake; To feel like a kid again; To have the energy to climb a mountain and run down the other side and not care how it makes your abs look. I want you to enjoy cookies and cake and ice cream without determining how it fits into your diet, but to enjoy the taste and the memories made while making those cookies and to enjoy the fact that those cookies will later be used to fuel your PR squats. I wish you the time and energy for self-reflection; I wish you the time and energy and peace of mind to figure out what you want from life; to find what makes you happy. Because, let me tell you – on the scale of important to not important, those last 5 or 30 lbs don’t even register. Your happiness and sanity do matter – a lot. So, do yourself a favor: put away those measuring cups, throw away your calipers, hide your scale, and live your life.