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Race for Life

February 24, 2014

Weight LossFat HealthExerciseMy Boring-Ass LifeDickweedDiet Talk

This is the second guest post of our newest blogging candidate, Nomchelle. After her next post, we will vote on her inclusion.

Trigger warning: Discussion of exercise as a weight loss tool.

My 13-year-old thighs redden as I round the penultimate corner of the cross-country race. Somehow I’m ahead. Way ahead. I’ve hauled my chubby body across the fields and up the lane and now, back in the school field, I’m yards from the finish line. I’m finally good at a sport — well, if you ignore the burning limbs and the metallic taste in my mouth. And not so much good at sport as better than the others in my physical education (PE) group, the Mixed Group, made up from the dregs of boys and girls deemed too hopeless to be able to train with the rest of their gender.

No matter. I am first. It’s a bright, clear day. I’m miles ahead. I’m first. I reach the final cone and collapse onto my back, smiling. It feels amazing. I’m a winner. Rolling my head, I notice the second place runner nearing the finish. I smile, he looks past me. Hang on, he’s running past me. He rounds the cone and runs right up to the sports teacher, not more than ten yards away, who thumbs his stopwatch. “First! Well done.” They both give me a sideways glance.

Now, I’d love to say that I jumped right up and demanded to know what the deal was. I’d love to say that my PE teacher laughed with me when I told him that I thought the cone was the finish line and that we all agreed I was the winner. The truth is, all I can remember from that glaring day is the knot of utter embarrassment I felt. How could I have thought I was good at running? Clearly, just like all other sport, I have no clue what I am doing and I’m just a loser — even when I come in first. Shortly after that (and sometime around the point that I started walking up to hurdles and kicking them down before stepping over them), my mum wrote a note to school and I was excused from PE for the rest of school entirely.

My intention here isn’t to give you the anecdote that explains why I hate exercise so much. I am sure a less anxious child would have just brushed that off. And I am also sure that my relationship with sport was damaged way before that incident, but it’s one of the memories that never fails to pop up whenever I talk to somebody about exercise or to explain how much I dislike it. And I really fucking dislike it. The cross-country race is just one of the many times I’ve associated moving my body with feeling like shit.

Like many of us, I have spent a huge amount of my time on this planet fully immersed in a damaging diet cycle. Many (but not all) of these diets have featured me doing an exercise as a wayDiet Basics to lose the weight. I’ve got one of my diet diaries in front of me from 2003. In the front I’ve written a list of rules:

  1. 1,200 kcals or fewer per day
  2. Practice some aerobic exercise at least three times a week, preferably every day
  3. Practice yoga every day
  4. Drink more water

With rule number one, no wonder I was unable to stick with rule number two (or, indeed, with anything at all). And as somebody with perfectionist tendencies, I often end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Incidentally, I was 205 pounds when I started this diet, I lost 17 pounds in two-and-a-half months, and about three years later I was about 250 pounds.

Of course, the exercise I was doing was joyless. I had my first child at age 20, so going out on my own was basically impossible. I had an old, secondhand exercise bike that I dusted off periodically, expecting myself to achieve self-imposed challenges like “cycle the length of Britain.” Later, I started watching fat-umentries on TV while I cycled in the hopes that exposure to skinny people shouting at fat people might give me the motivation I needed to pedal faster. Nearly a decade later (and considerably heavier), I was still cycling that damn bike, this time to “my dream wedding dress,” which I’ve sold since.

Walking has always been problematic too. I know that loads of HAESers get joy and well being from getting out and soaking up some vitamin D. I wish I felt like that. When I was a kid, we didn’t have a car so I had to walk everywhere. In fact, I didn’t get a licence until I was 25 after many years of trying, so walking always felt like a punishment to me in a way for being too “lazy” to learn how to drive a car. The lazy myth was compounded by my first husband, who, being a skinny man, appointed himself to the pedestal of health and virtue, from which he looked down and criticised me. I was too fat, too lazy, and why the hell didn’t I enjoy hiking with him and his family, most of whom also treated me like crap.

But now it’s now. I’m older and wiser. I’m further down the path of self-acceptance than I have ever been before. I haven’t dieted in over a year (and never plan to again), and I have a wonderful, caring, truly loving partner. And I need to exercise. I know and believe that the missing piece of the Health at Every Size® (HAES) jigsaw for me is moving my body. I have spent the last few months coming to terms with the fact that I will almost certainly never lose a significant amount of weight. I have mourned the loss of my Fantasy of Being Thin.

I don’t want to exercise for weight loss anymore. I want to do it for my health. Reams of reading and HAES research have fully convinced me that doing so will improve my lung capacity, my immune system, my insulin resistance, my skin, my sleep, my mood, and my mortality. I completely believe that. So why can’t I just do it?

I am really hoping that by writing all this down and by sharing it here I’ll be able to start pulling apart the Velcro that is inhibition:exercise. I want to discover a joyful way to move my body. I want to learn again what it is to feel every sinew and every muscle of my body. I want to inhabit myself. Hopefully in a later blog I can come back to you and explain what I have tried, what has worked, and what progress I have made. And I’d love to hear the ways in which you move with joy and love for yourselves.

Who knows, maybe I can go back and finish that race one day.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. February 24, 2014 10:37 am

    I wish there was a “LOVE” button for this. I am much like you, but I have one form of movement that I’m anxious to return to…when I am suffering from less back pain. Once I ditch the majority of the back pain, I’m returning to belly dancing. In the meantime, I’m looking for something that does not create more pain in my back while giving me some movement. But I really don’t like to exercise so it’s a struggle.

    One of the worst mistakes I made in terms of the belly dancing was to use it as a form of exercise to lose weight. It slowly killed my love of the dance form until I realized what I’d done, and then it took me several months to break out of that mindset. Now I understand that when I’m able to dance again, it will be because I want to, because I enjoy it, and because it is something that makes me feel joyous and alive.

  2. Jessica permalink
    February 24, 2014 12:27 pm

    A big part of recovering from my self-loathing/eating disorder mentality was exercise, ironically. Once I stopped seeing the gym as a means of atonement and rather as a stress-buster/”me time” I started going more often. With a crazy college schedule, sometimes it’s only once a week, but I’m okay with that. I walk because sometimes I’d rather not wait for the bus/shuttle. Waking to church is a spiritual experience, and I feel like it’s also a bit more green. It’s also a way to see the sights. I’m attending college in a city, commuting from a small town. Sometimes, I still am amazed by the tall modern looking buildings. Exercise, like life, is far more enjoyable when you ignore the numbers and look at the whole picture. I don’t run unless it’s a sudden urge, and then I tend to get shin splints (boo), but I’m looking forward to springtime bike rides (thanks to my awesome former physical therapist neighbors who helped me find shin-friendly exercises !) Wishing you the best in your journey to movement! 🙂

  3. Sharon permalink
    February 24, 2014 5:45 pm

    Ouch. Don’t do it for health. It’s a nice benefit, but a terrible reason to do it. Do it for fun. There are so many different types of exercise. Somewhere there is something you’d really enjoy. And because you like it, you’ll stick with it.

  4. February 24, 2014 6:06 pm

    I work with so many folks in my Walkie Talkie practice who feel/felt exactly the same way, and I was there for a long time as well! Do you know about the fit fatties decatholon? It was started by Ragen Chastain and Jeanette DePattie. Jeanette just wrote a blog post about it that you may be interested in! http://healthateverysizeblog.org/2014/02/20/the-haes-files-diy-decathlon-winter-games-for-every-body/

  5. February 25, 2014 9:24 am

    I highly recommend swimming if you have time and access. It’s done me a load of good.

  6. February 25, 2014 12:30 pm

    Thank you all. If anyone can point me in the direction of some resources for fat-friendly dance or exercise tutorials that I can follow from home I’d be really grateful.

    lusciouswords: bellydancing is a great idea. I have a friend who bellydances at a high level so I will ask her for some resources.

    Jessica: I am so glad that you have found some joy in movement. Seeing the gym as ‘me time’ is a good idea, although, I am not sure it will be practical for me as we’ve got three children and my husband works away a lot so something I’m tied into financially wouldn’t work. I might be able to see exercise in general as ‘me time’, though.

    Sharon: That’s the ideal, isn’t it. I would like to get to that point.

    Dr Deah: Thank you. I stumbled across the decathlon yesterday. I am planning to read more about it and explore the fit fatties forum.

    Jamie: There’s a hotel with a swimming pool a short drive away from here. It’s quite nice because it’s very small and doesn’t get used by many people, plus you can renew membership monthly so you’re not tied in. Sounds like I am talking myself into this one…

    • February 28, 2014 12:50 am

      Swimming is glory above all. It’s only because of financial limitations that I stopped. :/

      • Katwink permalink
        April 17, 2014 5:53 pm

        It’s only glory for those comfortable in the water! I’m terrified of oceans/lakes and only like the sides of a swimming pool. As a child in swim lessons, I deliberately swam diagonally across the pool to arrive at shallower water. Several rounds of lessons as an adult haven’t helped, either.
        But dancing? That’s glory! I put on Hawaiian music and imitate hula; I twist and shout to 50’s music; I boogey to rock. But only in the confines of my own home. My experience with Jazzercise was humiliating since I couldn’t keep up, so at home I turn the music up loud and sing along as I move.

  7. March 6, 2014 8:38 am

    My late father was very pro-running. I hated running but did it to please him. I’ve had a horrible relationship with exercise for most of my life. For many years I did it obsessively. At this point I work out in the therapy pool at my place of work, which I enjoy, but that voice in my head always tells me its not enough.

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