When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s nearly impossible to keep a realistic view of yourself in comparison to others. I like to think at this point in the game I have a pretty solid, healthy concept of how I look, how far I have to go, and how far I’ve come. While I can’t help weighing myself a few times a week at the gym, I try and judge my progress via pictures and jeans size over a number on the scale because – as stated before – the scale is a dirty rotten bitch liar for the most part. (Oh, didn’t I say that before? I meant to. Seriously. That thing can suck it.) I was looking through some old pictures the other day that really made me stop and think. About ten and fifteen years ago – two separate occasions, as I gained and lost nearly forty pounds during that timeframe – I was at what I would consider my ideal weight. A size eight or ten, about 145-150 pounds, comfortable enough to wear shorts without fear of offending passerby. But I still remember consistently trying to lose weight, or at the very least always being conscious of my size in comparison to everyone else. My friends were almost all smaller than me, and it was impossible to see myself outside of that. I know I wasn’t healthy – I fought vegetables vehemently until this past year, had an affection for McDonald’s that bordered on stalker-like, smoked a pack and a half a day, and any and all activity was regarded suspiciously; i.e., “What do you mean, we’re going to walk? Like how far? Because no, that does not sound like fun and it’s hot out and we have a car, so really, no need.” But to most people, I looked more healthy than I do now. If you passed me on the street during one of those stretches of my life, your first thought wouldn’t be, “overweight,” “or “unhealthy.” But I was both of those things. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’d passed me on the street between 2011 and 2013, your first assessment would have been “fat.” There is no other word to describe it. A lot of people shy away from the word – to this day, when I say it, people cringe and immediately say, “You weren’t fat.” Yes, I was. It’s a descriptor. Take it however you want – it doesn’t have to be negative or positive, but it’s a real word that can describe someone’s body. Does it describe everything about the person? No. Can it be a distinguishing factor? Yes. I remember hearing someone mention me at work when I was new – they didn’t know I was listening – and said, “You know, the new girl. She’s blonde – the heavy-set one.” And despite what my mirror and growing pants size was telling me, I was still surprised. Like, wait, that’s the first impression I give off? That’s not me. It didn’t get me off the couch, however. I still had a year or so before my head caught up with me. When I finally did get my (fat) ass off of the couch, last January, I think my head was finally in the right place. I was tired. I was so heavy I didn’t want to do things, and I knew I was missing out because of my weight. I could joke about it, but the truth was there – I was getting to the point that life was passing me up, and if I didn’t make changes, my world was going to get smaller and smaller. Everyday activities left me breathless, and more than once the thought of just walking up the stairs to my third floor apartment exhausted me. (In fairness, I will still take the escalator instead of the stairs and always hope the person in front of me just stands instead of walking up them because stairs still suck. Seriously, those races to the top of the Sears Tower? I would sooner run a marathon than consider participating.) I couldn’t shop in most regular stores anymore, fighting a size 20, and had to hold onto the wall for support just getting out of bed because my feet hurt so much from supporting all of this extra weight. So I wanted to get healthy. I couldn’t even fathom being thin. I couldn’t get my head around it; it was so far out of my realm I couldn’t see it. I’ve written about how and why I started before on this blog so won’t go into it again, but mostly I just wanted to not be so unhappy, so out of place, so fucking out of breath and exhausted all the time. I had a niece on the way and wanted to be able to play and move with her, not just sit in a chair in the corner because I couldn’t even get up and down from the floor. I read somewhere that the average woman is a size 16. Then I read somewhere else that the average woman is a size 12. Then somewhere else, I read that the average woman is a size 14. About a month ago, I bought a pair of size 12 jeans. I cried, I was so happy. After fighting my way into a pair of size 20s last year, a 12 signified everything I was hoping for. Average! At last! I called my mom on the way back from Old Navy, elated. I was average!! According to some magazines, I was below average!!! After years of being overweight and out of sorts in my own skin, I was – at least according to the media – normal! Average!!! What a beautiful word! And I feel great about that. I’m not going to lie. I’m happy to be there. But here’s the thing. According to those same magazines, according to that same media, if you look at my weight versus my height, I’m still obese. Not average. Not even overweight. Obese. Based on just the numbers, I’m no better off than I was a year and a half ago. How does that make sense? How can the same scale that measures me normal in pants size call me obese by weight standards? I don’t feel obese. I work too damn hard to still have that label, right? I was talking to my sister the other day about exercising and eating well and what it means to different people. On average, I work out or run six days a week. I Iift weights, I take a spin class, I ride a bike to and from work ten miles a day. I run a 5K twice a week. I haul that bike up and down three flights of stairs every damn day. I haven’t missed a 10K step day on this damn Fitbit more than three times since I’ve had it. My diet is about 85 percent clean. I don’t eat processed foods, have veggies with every meal, skip fast food, and haven’t had a fucking potato in fourteen months. And that’s to lose maybe – MAYBE – a couple pounds every month or so. She made a point of how some people when asked if they work out might say they take a yoga class once or twice a week and that keeps them fit. We were both like, “Everything I do just barely maintains where I’m at. Can you imagine?” (So unfair. If this is what you can do, good on you, don’t get me wrong. But just know in the back of my head, I want to hit you a little bit.) What’s my point, you ask? There is no average. Everyone’s body is different. Everyone carries weight differently. Judging and basing yourself on anyone else’s standard – be it the media, your friends, your workout buddy, your husband, your sister, that girl in the magazine you wish you looked like, a number on the scale – is futile. You’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. Your average is the only one that counts. Are you happy where you’re at? Are you healthy? Do you make good choices most of the time? If you’re not there and want to be, are you working to get there the best way you can? If the answer to the above questions is yes, then you’re okay. You are your own best average. Don’t look at the numbers, because they all tell a different story. And it’s not always yours.
I feel like a lot of the posts I write on here are all, “Rah, rah, you can do anything! Just give it a try! I did and it was great!” I suspect to anyone not interested in working out or trying gluten free mac and cheese, I can be annoying as hell. But I do believe these are great sentiments. I’m a big proponent of trying new things because truly, you don’t know until you try, right?
Sometimes, though, in the spirit of being positive, I gloss over the misses and failures. There are plenty, believe me. My fastest mile run, to date, is still over 13 minutes long. I ran a 5K over the summer at which one of the guys was running had not run or exercised in several years. He had been up drinking the night before, was relatively out of shape, and had eaten a giant breakfast. I had carefully prepared, been running for six months, cut off my alcohol consumption early the night before, and drank my super healthy protein shake for breakfast. He finished a full seven minutes faster than me. Disheartening, to say the least. Another example – I tried a Zumba class a couple of months ago. I have never in my life felt so awkward, uncoordinated, and sorry for myself as I did during that hour. You want to cheer yourself up? Watch me in a Zumba class. I went to the circus recently and there were elephants on roller skates that were significantly more graceful.
But I do keep trying. That being said, I tried two new things today that we shall never speak of again. The thought? I would like to trim up my midsection a bit – okay, a lot – and yes, I know, everyone says just keep doing planks because they’re the best thing for them. However, I hate planks with a white hot fury I didn’t know I possessed, so I’m up for about anything else. The result? Utter, complete failure.
Makes it look easy, doesn’t she? LIES.
So, the premise of this is relatively simple. Place your arms on the comfy padded arm rests, grip the handy hand grips, take your feet off of the steps, and lift your legs repeatedly. Sometimes in a sideways motion, if you want to get all fancy like this bitch.
Here’s how it went for me.
Hmm. Now that I’ve climbed up these step things, I can’t seem to turn around.
***awkwardly turning around, only slipping off of the steps once***
Okay. So these handy hand grips are a little further away from the back pad than I thought. Probably to make it easier to lean back when you pull your legs up.
So just take your feet off of the steps, already, and give it a shot, spaz.
HOLY FUCK! CAN YOUR ELBOWS ACTUALLY COLLAPSE?
I can’t even hold myself up – how do people move their legs?
Okay. That little tiny dude did it. You watched him. Surely you have more strength than him. Maybe lean back and try and swing them up?
I wonder how long I can stand here pretending to be in between sets before everyone realizes I’m a big fraud.
Try again. Maybe if you try one leg at a time?
Right. Everyone can do that, dumbass. You’re just standing on one foot. While supporting yourself with both arms.
I’m so super glad there’s a mirror right in front of me.
GET DOWN. GET DOWN RIGHT NOW.
Okay. So that didn’t work. Let’s try this other option, shall we?
Anyone can do this, right? MORE LIES!!!
Here’s how this goes.
Okay. Even I know I don’t want that much of an incline. I’ll just adjust it a bit so I’m not hanging upside down when I get tired.
Hmm, this knob doesnt seem to want to come out. I’ll just pull on it a little harder.
***Flying backwards onto my ass after it snaps out at me like a snake***
Right. It wasn’t graceful, but this seems like a manageable angle.
Maybe no one saw?
Of course everyone saw, asshole. You’re surrounded by mirrors.
Okay. Climb on up.
***Awkwardly attempting to bend myself into a pretzel***
Got it! Now, other leg.
Yes! Okay. Now, sit up!
Courtney. You have to do this.
Able to sit up, but does not work any muscles other than the horrified sector of my brain that caught a glimpse of this in the mirror.
WHY DID YOU LIE BACK DOWN? GET OFF OF THIS TORTURE CHAMBER AND STOP THIS MADNESS IMMEDIATELY.
Right. You’re going to have to either A)Yell for help while lying upside down in gym clothes and being suffocated by your own boobs or B) Die here.
Sit. UP. Do it now.
Summoning every single muscle in my body and every prayer that I’ve ever heard, I managed to get myself up far enough that I could untangle myself from the horror bench and limp, dejected, toward the door.
I guess planks aren’t so bad, after all?
Recently I posted here about joining the gym as an overweight girl and how intimidating it was. Since it didn’t kill me as expected, I kept going, and found out it I really liked it. Despite still being the biggest girl I’ve seen there, no one has laughed me out of the place yet and curiously, being surrounded by people fitter than me has been motivating. It’s amazing what a change in mindset can do – instead of seeing these fit people and despairing of how far I have to go, I think, “Look how great l will be if I keep this up! ”
Last week while I was on the floor, still desperately trying to do a pushup, a girl caught my eye. She was exactly what I want to look like. Not skinny, but solid. Not teeny tiny like my hips won’t ever allow me to be, but lean muscles, strong legs, and awesome shoulders. I watched as she walked over to the weights area, hefted some weights onto a barbell, and proceeded to bench press what I now know to be almost a hundred pounds. (More on that explanation later.) She was the only female in the area.
Because I am a glutton for punishment, I immediately thought, “That. THAT is what I want to do here.”
Here’s the thing. I’ve never really lifted a weight in my life. I have some dumbbells, but my heaviest ones are eight pounds and I struggled to use those in my at home workouts. I know how to work all of the machines, but I get bored with them. I feel like I’m just playing at working out instead of actually accomplishing anything. (Not that there is anything wrong with using the machines. There’s a very good chance it’s operator error.)
So I went home and did some research. And then I did more. I Googled beginner’s programs, I watched endless YouTube videos on proper form. And then last week, I grabbed my towel and water bottle, and walked confidently over to the weights area, ready to start.
Unfortunately, it was a Monday. Do you know how many people start a new exercise program on a Monday? All of them. So the weights area was full of all shapes and sizes of men, grunting and sweating and dropping weights on the ground after their sets, even though there are clearly posted signs stating this is unsafe. (Rebels.) It also must be noted about 75 percent of them did not appear to be following proper form, according to my research. (I firmly believe Google makes me an expert in everything. Seriously. I once fixed a car after watching a YouTube video.)
But none of my research prepared me for there literally not being room for me. So I stood around like a dolt, pretending to stretch, until one of the benches opened up. Which brings me to my first lesson.
Start with Weights Much Lower than You Think You Can Lift
Did you know the bar itself weighs 45 pounds? I sure didn’t. I thought I’d add 15 pounds to each side just to be on the safe side. Luckily, before I laid down I had to move the bar to the lower rung. (That’s probably not the right word, but you know what I mean. I hope.) When I almost dropped that on my foot, I quickly realized that if I’d added thirty pounds, I would for sure have ended up on YouTube myself as one of those gym fails entitled, “Stupid Girl Nearly Crushes Windpipe on First Bench Press.”)
Ask. For. Help.
Seriously. The gym employees really are there to help you. The first time I did back squats, the bar just happened to be at the height I thought was good for me, which was right above my ears. The next day I was set to do them, it was about six inches above my head. I stood there debating how hard it would actually be to just do them from that height or whether I should just skip them before I screwed up my courage and went and asked one of the trainers for help. Rodrigo not only showed me how to safely move the bar down, but that the best height for me was actually just below my shoulders. Of course, then he made me do a few while he watched, during which time I prayed to everything in the universe I didn’t drop the bar or worse, fart, and he adjusted my form a little too. (I guess YouTube doesn’t know everything.)
Don’t Be a Dick.
This isn’t gym etiquette, it’s just basic manners, but apparently it needs to be said. If you sweat all over something, wipe it up. If you’re a big strong man lifting sixty five pound dumbells, put them back in their proper spot instead of on the top shelf where twenty pound weights go so people (read, me) don’t pick them up, unsuspecting, and nearly throw out a shoulder. If it’s time for your weekly conference call, don’t conduct it while lying on a weight bench as though you’re lounging in a hammock. If you’re going to drop the weights – defiantly against the aforementioned posted signs – be sure no one is trying to navigate around you because if anyone is going to get their foot broken that way, it is me.
Most importantly, find a program that works for you, and do your research, YouTube or otherwise. I used this particular one, and checked out all of the videos on proper form on bodybuilding.com. It does bear mentioning that this really isn’t something you should just jump into, because all joking aside, it’s easy to see how one could really get hurt if they’re not sure what to do. Despite my belief that YouTube makes me an expert, your doctor would probably disagree.
That being said, don’t let it intimidate you. Everyone had to pick up that barbell for the first time, and everyone has laid down on that bench and initially thought, “Wait, why am I doing this?” There’s no reason you can’t be one of them. Cmon, drink the Kool Aid! It’s fantastic.
**Also, you’re going to be sore. Really sore. Be ready. **
*****ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON XOJANE.COM******
I’m the biggest girl at my gym.
I first got the idea to join a couple of months ago when I saw all of the classes that the gym closest to me offered. Apparently I need some variety in my workouts and I loved the idea of having a whole bunch of different classes available to me. I liked the idea of being able to try one out and if I didn’t enjoy it, oh well, move along. And if I couldn’t find one I liked, there were still treadmills and elliptical machines I could use instead of trying to run around Humboldt Park all winter, decreasing (hopefully) my chances of falling on my ass on black ice.
I was hesitant though; what if the whole gym was filled with little tiny girls in spandex? What if they were all 22? What if everyone in the class I wanted to try was awesome at it and I would look like a hippopotamus trying to roller skate? What if I got to a machine, sat down, and then couldn’t press the weight I picked because I apparently have the arm strength of a weak six year old? What if I was the biggest girl there?
Telling myself I was being ridiculous, I got on my bike a few weeks ago and headed up there, determined to join and not even look at anyone before signing up. Though I was slightly thrown off by the stunning membership advisor named Myles, (female) I persevered. I was joining the gym!
You know that feeling you have when you go into a new situation and realize that all of your fears of the unknown were completely unwarranted and you’re totally fine and feel silly for even worrying?
This was the exact opposite of that.
I was the oldest person there. I was the biggest person there. I didn’t know how to turn on the TV or where to put my water bottle. I almost face planted on the treadmill because treadmills have gotten fancy in the fifteen years since I’ve been in a gym.
But I ran on the treadmill for my thirty minutes, feeling great until I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and realized that I looked like I was only pretending to run.
But still. Workout complete!
The following day was the day of my first class. The class is called Body Combat – a mix of different martial arts combined with cardio. It started at 6:30. Between 6:15 and 6:25, I went to the bathroom three times. There’s something uniquely weird about being an adult in a brand new situation. I don’t know what I was afraid of – I didn’t really think anyone was going to laugh and point – but still, I was nervous as hell. The class was an hour long; what if I literally couldn’t keep up?? Seeing all of the people lining up outside the door, with their gloves – what? No one told me I needed gloves!! – and their overall…. Fitness, I suppose, I second guessed myself. And I almost didn’t go in.
But I had been so excited about it. And everyone has to start somewhere, right? So I went in.
Terror. The only spot left – because OF COURSE I had been in the bathroom when the doors opened – was right in the front to the left of the instructor. Floor to ceiling mirrors and now there were people behind me to witness? Ugh. I had to pee again and we hadn’t started.
Then the music started and the first song was a remix of “Wrecking Ball.” I love me some Miley and got all into it, punching and kicking with all I had.
We went through a whole series and I was so proud – I was keeping up!
Two things happened simultaneously here that were hurtful to my feelings. 1) I caught a glimpse of myself in one of the many, many mirrors and realized that I looked less like the warrior I felt like and more like an octopus that had lost control of itself and 2) the instructor yelled, “Okay! Warmup is almost done!”
It had been ten minutes. I was sweating and already sore. 50 more minutes??
But I kept on. I couldn’t always keep up, but I was close. I concentrated on the girl in front of me who seemed to know all of the routine. I was concentrating so hard on not looking like an idiot that I forgot to look at myself in the mirrors.
During a set of particularly awkward – for me – kicks in which I was sure everyone was laughing at me because I looked like I was trying to pee on a fire hydrant whilst jumping, I glanced up to look around the room.
Not one person was looking at me.
They were all looking at themselves in the mirror or at the instructor, and that’s when it hit me. These people are just like me!
The only one concerned with how I looked was me. Everyone was here for the same reason. Guess what? It wasn’t to laugh at newbies.
After the class, everyone was smiling and congratulating each other. Everyone was sweating. It wasn’t just me. And every single one of them came up and welcomed me to the class, telling me to keep it up and keep coming back.
Maybe they noticed my shape in comparison to theirs. In fact, I’m sure they did. But how is that really different from me noticing their body in comparison to me? You are smaller than me, I am larger than you. Both of us look stupid trying to do that back kick thing, right?
If you have boobs and have ever tried yoga, you are probably already laughing right now. If you don’t have boobs and have tried yoga, you probably are better at yoga than I am.
So I started the PiYo DVD’s on Monday and am loving them. I love the trainer, love the workouts, love everything about it. I already feel like it’s made a difference in the way I carry myself and I catch myself sitting up straight almost all the time, which is no small feat for someone who sits at a desk all day long. PiYo combines pilates and yoga in a way that forces you to use your own body weight as resistance. It’s more fast paced than yoga is as well, in PiYo you aren’t holding poses for as long but instead fluidly moving from pose to pose. (Well, that’s the idea. The people on the video move fluidly. I do a lot of clomping onto my hands and collapsing.) It’s a good fit for me because while I’ve always loved the idea of yoga, the reality of it stressed me out. All of the quietness and concentrating on your breathing; the more they tell me to relax, the more my mind starts racing. PiYo gives me the best of both worlds.
Except for one thing. I can’t figure out where my boobs are supposed to go. They are consistently in my way. I bought a new sports bra, but because I am lazy and cheap, I got an XL from Target for 12 bucks instead of investing a hundred dollars in the big-girl support I need. It does the job, but unless I want to begin a new career in adult films, I’m probably not going to be showing it off any time soon. Thus, this is how my workout inevitably ends up going.
Trainer: “Okay, so now we’re going to curl our toes and pull up into downward dog! Make sure your chin is away from your chest!”
Me: “That is physically impossible. I have, in fact, never been closer to my chest.”
Trainer: “So you should actually be looking at your belly button while in this position.”
Me: “Also not possible. The only way for me to see my belly button is in a mirror.”
Trainer: “Aaaaah! Doesn’t that feel good? What a great stretch!”
Me: “I am literally being suffocated by my own boobs.”
Trainer: “Now what you’re going to want to do, from a plank position, is pull your knee up to your chest, so your knee is at a 90 degree angle to the floor.”
Me: “*&^%$%^.” (You would think I would be at an advantage here, as my knee is apparently much closer to my chest than these teeny-tiny fit people. You would be wrong.)
And on and on we go. I do the best I can and despite my apparently giant knockers trying to kill me at every turn, I am noticing a difference already in my strength and flexibility. Just yesterday I started to lose my balance getting off of my bike, (whilst carrying a case of beer in my backpack, if you must know,) and before I’m pretty sure I would have hit the cement before I even realized what was happening. But as now I have a little bit of core strength, I was able to right myself and safely transport the libations to my apartment.
So there’s that.