Ideal Body Weight

I will open this by saying that I’ve been told I was overweight or obese my entire life. My whole life, all the way back to junior high. My mom had me in Weight Watchers and special exercise programs and therapy programs for fat kids as a teenager. I learned all the height and weight charts and everything they had to say.  I’ve known ever since I was 13 that I was supposed to weigh 135 pounds, no more no less, and until I did I would be considered unhealthy and a health catastrophe waiting to happen.

I’ve also known that I don’t have a typical woman’s body.  My bony wrists are so big that I can’t buy bracelets and watches for myself off the women’s jewelry racks.  My bony fingers are so big that I need men’s sizes in rings.  My bony ankles and feet are at the top end of women’s shoe sizing, and so wide that I can’t even buy shoes in the regular stores anymore, especially not with the arthritis in my feet.  I have to make broad back adjustments in any clothing I sew, and jackets and coats never fit me off the rack because of this.

As an adult, my weight has cycled up and down quite a bit, but I have never once been below 170 pounds, not since I was 15 or 16 years old. I think I was around 210 when I got married.

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Mostly I’ve bounced around between 170 and 210.  I think I was around 175 when I took this picture, and I wasn’t very active at all, not doing any real exercise outside of housework and child care:

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Here’s one of me when I was probably 210 or so, near the end of my running period.  At this point I was running about 40 miles a week and doing lots of strength training, so the shape of my body and my strength were very, very different from when I was 210 when I got married.

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Somehow over the course of the years, I started to lose that belief in the height/weight charts, and the BMI numbers that succeeded them.  I could see that they didn’t work quite right for me.  I spent time researching other ways to measure my health.  I could see that I was a runner who could do 12 miles at a stretch and then drop and give you 20 pushups, and yet my weight wasn’t what the weight fanatics said it should be.  I found alternate ways to measure body composition, using a variety of body measurements, and found that at the peak of my running and strength training, my body was right about at an ideal 26% body fat even though my weight was over 200 lbs.

These days I’ve gotten back up to the large end.  My weight is between 230 and 240, but my clothing size is about the same or smaller as when I got married, about 18/20.  I’ve let myself go, even though I have some residual muscle hanging around from the running days.  I stopped exercising almost entirely when I had to stop running.  My pain levels just kept going up, and I kept thinking a little more rest would do the trick, until I realized this past winter that it had been almost three years, and now I was having trouble getting up when I sat on the floor.

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I saw my blood pressure going up, and I had several nudges from the Goddess to wake up and start taking care of myself again.  So in April I started walking every day, and in June I started up my strength training again.  I don’t feel like I’ve gotten very far.  My shape is the same, and my weight is the same, and my pain is about the same.  But I can feel the functional difference when I get up off the floor, or get the bug to clean the house.  Life is getting just a little bit easier with every week, and that’s good.

Last week, I participated in a medical research study. They paid me $20 to poke and measure me for a couple of hours as part of a study on the long-term effects of chronic illness on overall health. During this, I got the chance to step up onto a very nice high-tech body composition scale.

This wasn’t your ordinary bathroom scale, with the little pads you put your feet on. Those don’t do much better than height/weight charts, really.  I’ve owned a couple, and I’ve been put on them in doctor’s offices and weigh clinics.  The best number I ever got out of one of those was probably a projected ideal weight of 145, which is only a little better than that 135 height/weight number.

This high-tech scale was something else entirely.  It didn’t just have feet pads, it had something for my hands to hold on to as well, and according to the printouts it measured each quadrant of my body as well as the overall total.  Can you guess what it said my current ideal body weight would be, the weight that would bring me back to 26% fat if nothing changed in my muscle mass?

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173 pounds.  That’s with me feeling out of shape, with a lower than ideal amount of muscle on my body.  Still, it says my ideal weight is 173 pounds, and that’s if I did absolutely nothing else to get stronger and more functionally fit, and just starved my body to drop fat.

I feel so vindicated now.  I feel very sad for teenage me, thinking I was fat when I wasn’t, letting that drive me into giving up so many times and letting my body get truly unhealthy because I still had it in my head that the number on the scale was everything.  I feel even more sad for all the other girls and women, and men, out there who think this number on the scale is everything still, who do amazing things for their health and fitness and then eventually throw it all away because of the frakking number on the scale.

But I feel very happy to see that I was right to think that I was healthy at 210 a few years ago, and now I know for sure that it’s okay to let that thinking continue and nurture it and let it grow as my body grows stronger again.  And this time, I will not be ashamed of my clothing size or the number on the scale, dammit!  I have a strong body, a beautiful body, and this is the shape it comes in!

Learning How to Run

I first learned how to run just a few years ago. I have never been an athletic person. I was always the musician, the geek, the bookworm. What got me started on running was seeing an old high school friend take up the challenge via the Couch to 5K (C25K) training method. She also was not somebody I remembered as being athletic, but she was able to take this program and end up running a whole race. So even though I had never run more than a few steps at a time in my entire life (even in school PE classes I managed to avoid it mostly), I took up the challenge to run a 5K.

When I started out, it was a secret. I asked to go shopping at the sporting goods store for my birthday instead of getting presents, but I didn’t even tell my husband why. I was so afraid of failing and looking stupid for trying. I told my oldest son, but only because I asked him to babysit when I went out the first time. That night, I told my mother, who was in the hospital at the time, because I wanted to share how proud I was that I had gone for a run.

I didn’t tell my husband for a few weeks, going out in the mornings after he left for work and before most of the kids were up. I struggled with the running. I felt like I was going to die after every run. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, like I was going to fall over. I even pictured myself just falling over at the side of the trail, collapsed until somebody came to save the stupid fat lady who thought she could run.

One day, I was doing my last run interval of the day while running up a hill near the exit to the cemetery I frequented. I kept going and kept going until at last I had to stop, I knew I just couldn’t finish the interval.

The announcement to stop running came less than 5 seconds after I stopped. I had almost made it!

I never quit early again. I always kept going, just a few more steps, just a few more steps, just to that tree, just to the next tree, anything to keep myself moving.

And within just a week or so of that run, I suddenly realized that I knew how to run. I had figured it out. Whatever the trick was to running, whether it was deep breathing or pacing myself or stride technique, I had figured it out. I no longer felt like I was dying. Sure, I was a slow turtle in the grand scheme of things, but I was running.

I had to quit after a couple of years because I pushed too far. I was so excited to be a runner and to realize that I could do this, and I wanted to see just how far I could go. Turns out my limit is probably 8K. And that’s okay. That’s more than I used to do, and pretty soon I’m going to get back out there and kick it again. Because now I know I can do it.

I Am Not an Athlete

wp-1364915721052I have no idea how this comes across to various people I know.  Maybe it’s obvious, maybe not.  But I am definitely not an athlete.

I know I have tried pretty hard over the past years.  I tried pretty hard sometimes as a kid, too.  I learned figure skating.  I took gymnastics for a couple of years.  I took ballet classes, until they told me that my body type would never be able to go en pointe safely.  I rode my bike everywhere, although I never learned how to push myself hard enough to keep up with my aunt, the bicycle lady.  I did summer swim team for a couple of years.  I took tap and belly dancing classes as an adult.  I learned how to ski, amazingly well for never having more than one week every couple of years. I took up roller-skating, learned to step-skate with the local masters.  Finally, for the last two years or so, I’ve been a runner, and I’ve been doing strength training for the first time in my life.

But I am not an athlete.  And I never will be.  And that’s okay.

I certainly have a degree of talent.  Just like I am good with my hands, I am good with the rest of my body when it involves coordination and dexterity.  I learned to ski so quickly, I was on blue slopes and running away from my classes after only a day or two.  I got onto skates, and I was stepping out in the middle with the experts as fast as I could build the muscles and stamina.  I love dancing; I still wish I had a partner to go out ballroom dancing with, since my husband can’t. (Any takers?)

My body also has an amazingly ability to build strength and endurance.  I didn’t know this, really, until I started running and strength training.  I had never in my life been able to run a single lap, doing a single push up or sit up.  Now I can run for hours and do thirty push-ups and sit-ups a day.  These are things that I never thought I would be able to do.  I am very proud that my body has these abilities after all, and that I learned how to uncover them.

But I am not an athlete, and I never will be.

I have an image, a belief, that was pounded into my head during my years of government education.  It is not a true belief, but one that was reinforced by so much punishment and abuse that it will be very difficult to root out of my subconscious.  That belief is that what I think of as the Beautiful People, the thin, athletic people, the jocks and cheerleaders, the popular ones…they were the Right Way to Be.  And I am not worthwhile unless I at least try to be like them. Gym class is graven into my memory, in particular one time in fifth or sixth grade when I was literally pushed around the track by the guys in the class because I was too slow, and they couldn’t go in until I was finished.

Ultimately, it was to be like them and my father that I took up running.  The idea that it was possible came with my discovery of the whole Couch to 5K movement, but I had given it a try before, when I was younger.  It was not truly a desire to do it for myself.  The image in my mind was of crossing the finish line and finally being accepted, being okay, being worthwhile.

It was rather devastating when I called my father after my first 5K race, to tell him what I had done, and got a response that seemed more suited to telling him I had cooked a nice dinner.

So I need to do better, right?  So I looked at all these other newbie runners online, and decided I, too, could suddenly be a marathoner.  Because if running a 5K didn’t get me approval, then that would.  Then I would be okay.  Then I could sit at the table with the other guys and be an equal.

But I am not an athlete.  And I never will be.

My body made this abundantly clear to me this year.  The closer I got to the big race, the harder my training got, the more my body tried to make me stop.  Pain, pain, pain.  I kept going, because it’s only fibro, and that’s what athletes do, right? Too much pain, so I stopped, regrouped, rested, and then took off again.  The last few weeks, it wasn’t just pain anymore.  It was actual overtraining.  I lost my stride, my good form.  I started getting slower and slower, even as my heart rate was climbing and my effort seemed monumental.  I finally realized that I had to stop, that I was no longer doing anything healthy, but my brain continued to try and find a way around it, find a way to get back into the race.

But now I know.  I am not an athlete.  And I never will be.

I need to find a way to accept that it’s okay.  I need to convince my inner child that They were wrong, that it’s okay not to be one of the Beautiful People, that it’s okay not to be an athlete, that maybe my daddy loves me anyway.

I won’t stop entirely.  I do enjoy moving my body in intricate ways, just like I enjoy complicated knitting.  It’s a skill, and I love using it.  (I was serious about needing a dance partner, or a skating partner!) I will still train for a Warrior Dash this summer, after taking a month or two off to recover.  I enjoy having the ability to run, I enjoy having muscles and strength.  I don’t know that I will try to tackle anything longer or harder, though.  Because I don’t need to.

I am not an athlete.

First 5K Completed!

I ran my first 5K today! First 5K ever, not even just the first race, the most I’ve done in training so far is 4.16K. The first mile, I was wondering what the hell I was thinking, with adrenaline taking my breath away. The second mile, I watched all the men disappear ahead of us, nothing but women left in my sight. The last mile was around the Capitol building. We ran up Michigan Avenue, and then we could see the finish line when we turned to make the Capitol loop. So that loop was thinking, “But, we were just there!!” The last song that came up on my MP3 as I ran to the finish line was Hooked on Classics “Dance of the Furies”, which made me think of my dad. I finished in 38:51, 14th in my class (women 35-39) and 171 overall.

I asked my dad after if he ever thought I’d run a 5K. His response: “You can do anything you set your mind to.” Totally didn’t answer the question, Dad! Just once I’d like to know I exceeded his expectations and blew him away. Just once. I don’t know what that’s going to take.

Next up: Michigan Brewing Company’s 5K Beer Run on June 19th. Between now and then, I’ll be ramping up my weekly mileage, aiming to pass 25K/week by the end of June.

On other foot type things, last year for six months I had this horrible pain at the base of my second toe on my left foot. It started in June and just kept getting worse and worse. I ignored it for months, and finally got it x-rayed in October. When I looked at the x-ray, it looked like there was a stress fracture there at the base of that second toe (radiologist saw it, too), but that’s an extremely rare injury, and the radiology report didn’t note it. The pain went away over the winter, so I figured it was nothing. This week, though, the pain came back. I finally figured out what was causing it: something about the fit on this last pair of Birkenstocks (that I bought last June!) is causing the ball of my left foot to hit the toe bar. Knowing that, it completely makes sense that there could be a stress fracture at the base of that second toe. I made it through the race today, even though I’m limping this evening. Those shoes go in the trash, though, and I’ll have to get a different pair of summer sandals. Hopefully the pain will go away again.