Big, Fat Tortoise
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.
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.
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.
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.