Too Fat to be Fit?

Since late 2015 I have been losing weight, at first because I wanted my body to be acceptable to someone else, then because I almost stopped eating for a month, convinced my body had been found wanting. Eventually it almost became a project, a way of controlling and spurring on my ascension out of depression. I found myself thinking, "OK, I lost weight for nothing ... I will not now carelessly gain it all back for nothing too. This I can salvage, this I can control." That last one sounds a little healthier than the preceding two reasons perhaps, but really it was the worst of all. I had declared all my progress so far as nothing, as useless and a waste of time, and my motivation now was simply to never be that weak-willed, unlovable thing again. To lose weight until I had put a large enough distance between me and the body that had failed me.

In all this time I didn't listen to my body, I was distant from it. I ate, or didn't eat, to treat my emotional state at the time. The disconnect between what I ate, what I did, and how that affected my body was a chasm of disgust, sadness, and wilful ignorance. I really just treated my body like it was a dumb animal that I was shackled to, that needed to be punished or controlled for having failed me. When I wanted to be smaller, to literally shrink to meet cruelly self-imposed expectations, I would hear the growl in my stomach and feel pleasure, proud of myself for enduring such unnecessary pain. It was messed up, like being hungry was the aim of the game, the hungrier I was, the better. When I was rejected, I had no desire to eat but would get annoyed when I had to lean against a wall, vision swimming and ears ringing, and make the effort to throw some food down my throat to appease my needy body. Like it was a child that wouldn't stop asking for attention, whilst I was getting on with the all-consuming task of not drowning in sadness.

I couldn't tell you how much weight I've lost because I haven't been weighing myself, I have simply been trying my best to eat healthily and not emotionally. However I have almost dropped 2 dress sizes and upon fishing out an old belt yesterday, I have gone down 5 notches. These are facts that I can't ignore in day to day life, but it does not translate to what I see in the mirror, and this is why I don't add the extra stress of weighing myself. I know that it doesn't matter what those scales say because what I need, to be satisfied with my body, whilst also being kind and not hurting it, can't be counted in lbs. As long as I don't consider myself to be attractive to men, and as illogical as it is, as long as I consider that as being a good indicator of my own worth, it doesn't matter how much weight I lose.

Recently though, I have started to notice changes in my body that actually please me, and in surprisingly positive, non-masochistic way. Since practising yoga for the past four months, I have begun to develop sturdy little muscles in my forearms from so much time spent in Downwards Dog and Plank, when I press my hands to my stomach I can feel the muscles there are getting stronger, and I can almost step right through from Downwards Dog into a lunge now. I'm proud of these achievements, but more than that I'm relieved that they aren't overshadowed by disappointment in my past abilities, or under pressure from some ever-moving, unattainable goal. It is simply the consequence of having made a positive change in my life.   

So, building on this, I did something last week that I've been putting off for years, I joined a gym. I'm hoping that committing to some regular exercise will help to build my confidence in my ability to make positive choices in other areas of my life. If the side effect of this is that I get healthier, stronger, and fitter, that's a bonus. I am hyper aware though of not using this to shame my past self, or to set myself up to fail by basing my success at this on continually besting myself.   

Just going to a gym has it's own worries for me. Once I'd decided to join, my first concern was to make sure that I could have a female personal trainer. Logically I know that any personal trainer's only concerns are going to be your progress and helping you achieve your goals. The idea of explaining to a man what it was about my body that I wanted to change however, was terrifying to me. When all you really want is for a man, any man really, to tell you your body is acceptable, having one help me to change it was just too much. Luckily they had just employed a female trainer so I took the plunge and signed up!

I think that often those of us who are overweight feel like gyms are not a club that we're welcome in. As if we will be ruthlessly forced to confront our own failings, that often plague us in our lowest moments anyway, and be shamed for having let ourselves get into that state. This of course is not exactly helped by the fact that gym websites are splashed with pictures of tiny Lycra clad butts and sweaty abs, and that it's so very difficult to find nice work out clothes if you are over a certain size. (Shout out to TLC Sport though, great range that goes up to size 4XL/22 and they will make larger sizes on request!) It is as if the silent message is that no, you are a FAT person, you are not like us and will never be like us, no clothes for you, no representation for you. This is crazy of course, if everyone is so concerned about the health epidemic that is obesity, the gym is where everyone should be encouraged to be! Brands should be excited to provide clothes for people that are trying to make positive choices in their lives. Gyms should be advertising that people of all shapes are welcome on their premises. This is not to say of course that every plus size person needs to be in the gym, but having made that choice we certainly shouldn't have extra barriers put in our way!

It was with trepidation then that I dropped in for a tour of the gym. I arrived and was greeted by a friendly female member of staff, who then abruptly handed me over to the gym manager, who turned out to be an incredibly lovely guy. It is testament to how wary I am of male judgement though, that as he was showing me around and being incredibly encouraging given my obvious inexperience, I was tense and scared that he would inadvertently express an opinion about my body that would scatter any courage I'd summoned so far. However, after I stammered out that I had been losing weight for a little while and just wanted to be stronger and end up with a body that I wanted, he was so enthusiastic and non judgemental. He simply suggested what might be best for me and explained what I needed to do to get started. Based on this I'm hopeful I'll feel relatively comfortable and encouraged when I actually have my first training session. I did do a lot of nodding and smiling as he explained how they were different from other gyms though, as if I'd know, and I basically answered all his questions as to what kind of exercise I liked with "buhhhh what?" Gym equipment is also terrifying, even the names of some of the contraptions are alienating. I don't ever want to be sent to The Rig, trying to think of it as an adult playground helps a little, but still!  

Anyway, I'm starting gently by doing something I'm already familiar with, a yoga fusion class, just to get me into the gym at all. I also get a personal trainer session every month so I'm hoping that she will understand that I'm not looking to shed half my body weight in a month, or to be able to bench press my own weight, and most of all that I absolutely do not want to be in competition with myself. I'm hoping she can construct a sustainable routine that respects that. If I can find a routine that I feel confident doing, to complement yoga, and that makes me want to keep up a healthy level of exercise, I will count that as a success whether it changes my body or not. 

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