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Big, Fat Tortoise

April 14, 2014

Fat HealthExerciseMy Boring-Ass Life

I’ve seen TV. I’ve seen the internet. I know how this shit works. You’re supposed to turn up, sad, talking about a thing you want to change. Then, you go away and change it, talk about how easy it was to change and how much better you feel, much applause, everyone goes home.

A few weeks ago I blogged (in fact it was the first post I wrote for this site) about my poor relationship with exercise and how I really wanted to figure out how I could move more and, therefore, become healthier. I talked about how I want to disassociate my experience of exercise as something to do for weight loss and how I wanted to learn to move my body for the sake of health and enjoyment. Like many people reading this blog, years of intertwining diet with exercise, along with believing that sport was for thin people, left me feeling like I wasn’t invited to the party and that I didn’t even want to go anyway.


These people are fucking stoked for you. Or high.

And yet, I still went away from writing that post feeling, partly, like I was going to be able to bounce back a few weeks later and tell you all what an athlete I’d become and how much more sun shines out of my arse.

I can’t do that.

What I can do is tell you that I haven’t done nothing. I’m making a slow effort to increase the amount of movement I do. I don’t have a completely sedentary lifestyle in the first place because I’m a stay-at-home mother with three children, but I’ve definitely added some more exercise into the mix. I’ve been walking a little, dancing sometimes, and I’m now pretty much an expert at hula hooping, so long as everyone agrees that the master skill there is in bending over to pick the thing up off the floor.

The trouble is that it’s inconsistent. Some days — many days, if I am honest — I have done nothing more than my standard set of housework tasks, by which I mean just enough to make sure everyone has something clean to wear and eat from, before sitting on my bum and reading stuff online for a number of hours. Other times I’ve let the house go to shit while I work on trying to hula hoop for two days straight, clocking up around six hours of “moderate to intense activity” in the process. There’s no pattern to it. I’ve got no plan. And I don’t know whether that’s okay.

Part of me argues that that’s fine. Progress often isn’t linear and I want to quiet the (perfectionist) part of my brain that says that it should be and constantly tells me that I should be doing more. It’s okay to have bursts of movement here and there. Perhaps it shows that I am working on this in an intuitive way, letting something subconscious beat the path. One thing that I have been consistently worried about is making my desire to increase my exercise levels into something that feels diet-y and triggering. Past attempts to move more have had me write plans and set targets that I have thrown myself into and inevitably “failed.” To some extent, I have been so wary of that feeling of going all in that I have just petered around the edges, which leads to me feeling like I haven’t done enough. This is an internal struggle here, I must add, rather than a judgement of what others do or don’t do. I am my harshest critic.

And it’s the critical part of me that says that I should have a goal, or at least a framework. I like the way that Shaunta has framed her recent changes, looking at them through the lens of an experiment, rather than an expectation. She has elected to see what it feels like to feed herself more for 100 days and found that it gives her vastly more energy and vigour, some of which she has harnessed into massively improving her swimming.

In a recent post she described herself as being “so flipping excited” about the prospect of swimming again after an injury. I think that that’s amazing. I don’t know if Shaunta has stopped to take note of how awesome it is to be “excited” about the prospect of exercise, but it’s a feeling that I can’t remember ever having. I want to, though, and I think that’s what is lacking for me at the moment: I’ve not fallen in love with moving. I still feel like it’s for other people.


What a bastard.

One of the hats I wear, as the mother of a nearly-teenager, is that of a committee member for our town’s athletic club. My 12-year-old is a talented runner; he ran cross country for our county this year and is pretty fast over a middle distance on the track, running a mile in just over five minutes. I spend a lot of time at the sidelines, and that would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that the club is for adults too. Most of the other committee members either coach, compete themselves, or both. At a recent 5k training run, it occurred to me as I waited for my son at the finish line that I was the only parent there not running with their child (apart from a woman who had a toddler with her). It felt shit. I felt like people were looking at me and thinking “of course she can’t run 5k — she’s fat”, whereas the truth is more that of course I can’t run 5k — I’ve always been told that I can’t run because I’m fat. I felt like an intruder. I felt othered.

What it comes down to, and what I really wanted to share, is that I am struggling to work out where I fit in now. For years I have used the “excuse” that I don’t exercise because I am fat. I am not sporty because I am fat. I am not fit because I am fat. Health at Every Size® (HAES) has just smacked me round the face and told me that that’s not true. I can be fit and fat. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. I haven’t exercised much because I don’t like it. I am not sporty because I have had terrible experiences with sport. Many of those experiences come down to society’s reaction to my fat, rather than the physical limitations of my body itself. While it’s true that, over the years, low activity levels have reduced the physical capacity of my body, it’s also true that I don’t have to lose a single ounce to improve that capacity. I can do it just by doing it.


You too can be haunted by a family of word balls.

I think that the greatest tragedy of the “fat = unhealthy” lie that surrounds us is that it actually excuses fat people from moving at all. When the only measure of health is your body size, and you’re in the 95% who can’t permanently change their body size, then why bother trying to be healthy at all? Exercise is billed as a means to reduce body mass, rather than a tool for health in itself. If it doesn’t make you thin, then it’s not making you healthy; so why bother at all? Fitness is the domain of the slim. Fat people are excluded. After settling with that accepted rhetoric for so many years, it’s not surprising that fat people like me, who now want to move more, are hovering on the edges of the Exercise Club wondering where we fit in.

I’m still not sure whether to set myself a specific goal or plan, or whether to keep hovering and see where I land. I’d love to hear how others have approached this. Please also know that I am not saying for one minute that fat people, or any people, have to exercise, but just that this is something that I want to work on personally at this point in my life.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Twistie permalink
    April 14, 2014 9:55 am

    For my part, since you find setting goals can be triggering for you, I would say hover a bit longer and see what jumps up and looks appealing. One of the most frustrating things about a major change in lifestyle is that we tend to assume it should all happen at once out of the blue without any struggle or confusion. But that’s not the standard of the human condition. Yes, there are people who get lightning bolt moments and hit the ground going whole hog, but it’s not the most common thing. Most of us have to take a few tries at things that we fail at spectacularly before we find what really works for us.

    Maybe you’ll be doing 5k’s with your son this time next year… and maybe not. You may find that running is what makes your body happy, or it may make you miserable. Me? I can walk for hours and be happy as a clam… but running across a small room is not a happy experience for me. I am not a runner and nothing in the world is going to make me one. You may be a runner. Or you may be a swimmer. Or you may be a dancer. Or you may become the hula hoop champion of the world. Or you may discover joy for you is push ups.

    But you’ve already accomplished one goal: you are moving your body more than you did. You have taken up a form of exercise.

    Sometimes you have to pay attention to the little triumphs along the way, because nobody goes from couch potato to marathon runner in one step. You know, sort of like you can wake up one day and say ‘I want to be an artist’ but you still need to learn how to draw before you can learn to paint before you can discover your own artistic voice and be a real artist.

    So flail a bit. Allow yourself to try different things and work in spurts. It’s all part of the process.

  2. April 14, 2014 10:07 am

    I hear you. I still have not found exercise that I “love.” However I have found that I like the way my body feels after exercise, so I am willing to do an hour at the gym to get that feeling.

    Thank you for writing about this!

  3. April 14, 2014 11:54 am

    I hear you so much on this!! After entering the HAES universe and realising that my body wasn´t really an impediment to do some kind of exercise, I decided to start looking for something I might enjoy. I though that when I found something I liked, I´d become some type of “gym bunny” and would always be happy to exercise -despite the fact that I´ve been a couch potato my entire life.
    So I started doing Zumba at home and I really liked it! Honestly! But you know what? I still prefer to spend my time sitting on the couch reading blog posts (like this one, he). So the days I wake up with more energy and feel like it, I do a couple of Zumba rutines that leave me exhausted and happy, and the days I feel like doing something else, I do that. It´s a balance that works for me, ´cause I don´t feel like I´m required to exercise and I do it when it makes me happy.

  4. April 14, 2014 2:39 pm

    I’m with you on this one. And I also have to fight the setting the progress goals that set me up for failure. I have the added ‘guilt’ that as a HAES coach and activist I write and lecture about the fat-and-fit thing, about how important exercise is for wellbeing. But that comes with a codicil. If you’re forcing it, it’s not HAES. For some people, like you and myself, years of learning to hate exercise means it’s a bit of a struggle. I imagine, some people may never get past that, and that’s ok too. Everything about HAES is about personal choice. In actuality, wellbeing, rather than exercise, is the most important thing for wellbeing!

    Work with what feels right to you. I’m also learning not to beat myself up about this. We are all on our own journey. One practical suggestion, which of course may not work for you at all, but you mention some of the other parents also coach. Are you on friendly terms with any of them? Might one of them be a kind of buddy-cum-coach-cum-shoulder to lean on. But you’d need someone who wouldn’t drag you into the same competitive fitness jag you’ve talked about. Someone who understands that some days you just don’t want to do it and that’s ok. Maybe show them this post, if there’s someone you feel comfortable with to do that? Just an idea. Or you can keep up with the erratic do it when you want, what you want and how long you want. That is absolutely fine. It is doing you good physically and mentally to learn to trust your own body.

  5. April 14, 2014 3:22 pm

    It’s perfectly OK to be inconsistent. It’s perfectly OK to hover. I wouldn’t call goals triggering for me, but they sure make me feel rebellious. For me, as soon as it becomes a “have to do,” it ceases to be a “want to do.” It’s the reason the “find an exercise buddy who will keep you honest” advice doesn’t work for me. You have to find what works for you. You will.

  6. April 15, 2014 7:51 am

    Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    The only way I was able to stick with exercise was to promise myself that weight loss was NOT a goal, ever.
    I’ve been working out in the pool faithfully for the past 2 years. People look at me weird when they see me coming into the building with my cart full of equipment with which to do my workout before I go on shift for the night. I don’t care.
    The other thing I promised myself was that I’d find a workout I enjoyed. If it sucks, I won’t stick with it. I like the water, so that’s where I will do my thing until I can no longer do it.

  7. April 16, 2014 11:38 am

    I hear you so much on the “bursts of movement” thing. My desires for food and exercise seem to be governed by seasons. This is the time of year when I want nothing more than to munch a ton of raw veggies with my lunch and go out in the yard to till soil and move stones for hours on end. In the winter, however, it’s a different story: What I want then is meaty, potato-y meals and indolence (accompanied by jazz LPs and good books). Lots of it. IOW, I have daily routines for some things, but in six months my daily routine might look very different than it does right now.

    Other things affect any attempt at a routine, too: Finances, work schedules, desire for a social life. It would be nice if all these things would happen in a uniform way and never produce any unwanted surprises. But IRL that just doesn’t happen.

    Sometimes a little movement here and there, and one meal with some tasty food eaten in leisure, without stress, has to suffice. It’s not going to happen uniformly every day at the same time, but if it happens a few times a week, I declare victory and promise myself that I’ll do it again soon.


  1. Big, Fat Tortoise | Fierce Freethinking Fatties | My Year To Thrive

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