Imperfect Athlete: Month One

(Warning: This post touches on weight loss and taking measurements.)

I joined my little town’s brand-new gym on January 28. They’re taking my $39 today, which makes it the end of month one.

I had a couple of struggles this month. The biggest was my inability to stay off the scale. There were a few times when the number I saw there freaked me out, which is what I want to avoid. Let’s just say that I’m not quite at the point where my brain doesn’t automatically put a moral judgment on my weight. I’m working on it, but it isn’t an overnight process to let go of 30 or so years of disordered thinking.

I went back and forth about sharing this next bit, because I’m really not interested in making this about weight. But I think it’s important, in my experiment, to realize that I am an athlete–right now, today–even if I never lose a pound.

This month, I lost two pounds.

I’ve been sitting with that since yesterday afternoon. And it turns out, I’m more okay with it than I would have believed a month ago.  I worked out 24 times this month. I averaged 40 minutes per session, which means I spent 960 minutes doing something athletic and active since January 28. Those minutes represent 960 individual statements that I am an athlete.

I refuse to let a number on a scale take that away from me.

I haven’t done any real, dedicated exercise since we moved to Ely in early 2006. Prior to that, I was working out on a regular basis at the YMCA in Las Vegas. I’d just read Slow Fat Triathlete for the first time and was working with an eye toward completing a triathlon. But then we moved, and there’s no gym here, and it’s really cold outside most of the time–I stopped.

And I got 4 years older. The difference between 34 and 39, for my body anyway, is pretty staggering. I had no real, physical limitations the last time I worked out. Nothing hurt. This month I’ve been frustrated by my body’s need for me to go slow. I want to go fast! I want to run! Only my legs and feet aren’t cooperating. They hurt. Shin splints make my ankles stiff and then my calves burn when I try to go faster.

I am confident that I’ll get stronger and that my legs and feet will heal and then forgive me for punishing them. But right now, my head is ahead of my body. In the next month I’m going to work on how I can fly without hurting myself.

I did two things that made me happy this month. I took a yoga class and I went roller skating. I loved both, which makes me long even more for the day in June when we move to a bigger city that has these things available on a regular basis.

This month I bought my first pair of decent running shoes since high school track. For whatever reason (it felt like providence) Amazon had one pair, in my size, for less than $40. They are light and comfortable and feel like they were made for my high-arched, under-pronating feet.

I also bought a bathing suit.

I feel like I’ve made big strides in the last few weeks toward eating intuitively. I have been gluten-free for the last six weeks and have found that its a lot less traumatic this time around. “I choose to feel good” is a whole lot healthier than “I can’t have a sandwich.”

For the first three weeks, I kept a record of what I ate on Spark People. It does sometimes help me when I’m trying to be gluten free to plan my meals in the morning. However, I’ve decided that keeping a record and seeing how many calories I’m eating feeds my disordered food and eating thoughts too much. I can trust that if I eat what I want, when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full, I’m going to eat the right number of calories for my body.

I would love to hire The Fat Nutritionist. If I had the extra money, I would in a heartbeat. Her website has a lot of really good information if you haven’t seen it.

I’ve noticed this month that I am able to eat intuitively most of the time, but I struggle with sugar. Specifically candy. I’m good with giving myself permission to eat it when I want it–but I have a hard time stopping when I don’t want anymore. I actually don’t want anymore–I can feel when that happens. But I sometimes have a hard time leaving any behind. I recognize this as a symptom of a combination of being a chronic dieter and a left-over almost post-traumatic stress reaction to having several years as a teenager when there just wasn’t enough to eat. (Another PST-like reaction to those years that I’ve had my whole adult is physical discomfort and high anxiety if I don’t have a certain amount of food in my house. I have ‘just in case’ food that we will probably never eat. I call it my Zombie Apocalypse stash and it mostly consists of canned vegetables and powdered soup mixes.)

If I start eating candy, I eat it all and so I end up trying to control that substance, which makes it even worse. I’m working on this.

I had a hard time deciding how exactly I want to document my progress in this experiment. Because I have never started an exercise program of any kind without using my weight as a measuring stick.

Do I tell you that I’ve lost 2-inches from my waist?

Is that any different than focusing on the number on the scale?

I think it’s more important to note that my first training session this month consisted of 20 minutes of me struggling to walk 2.5 mph, which rose my heart rate to 150. And that right now I can go for at least an hour at that speed with my heart rate topping out at about 120.

Also, I’ve been using the standing leg press. That’s the machine where you sit on a seat that’s on a roller with your feet on a plate in front of you. You push with your legs and raise your seat, and your body weight, up and down on the track. A month ago I struggled to lift my own body, with no added weight. The last time I went on that machine, I was able to do 3 sets with no extra weight easily. I’ll be adding some weight this month. (This exercise builds the muscles I’ll need in my thighs for roller derby.)

IN THE NEXT MONTH:

I’ve acquired a few books this month that I’m excited to read and review for you in the coming weeks:

Age Is Just a Number: Achieve Your Dreams at Any Stage in Your Life by Dara Torres. (Torres is a 5 time Olympic swimmer, the latest being in 2008 when she was 41.)

Triathlons for Women by Sally Edwards (I flipped to the ‘weight loss’ chapter of this book and was pleased to see that it’s main focus is on forgetting about weight loss and just having fun training.)

Slow Fat Triathlete: Live Your Athletic Dreams in the Body You Have Now and Shape Up with the Slow Fat Triathlete: 50 Ways to Kick Butt on the Field, in the Pool, or at the Gym–No Matter What Your Size and Shape by Jayne Williams. (Williams is amazing.)

I am also expecting a DVD called Expanding into Fullness which is yoga for bigger bodies from Sally Pugh at Grateful Spirit Yoga.

Sally Edwards’ book has an interesting section about treating exercise as training, rather than working out (which implies an attempt at weight loss.) She uses a point system (five levels of exertion. One point for each minute at level one, two for each minute at level two, etc.) She then has suggestions for how many points you need for training for different lengths of triathlon. For a sprint triathlon, she recommends 800 to 1000 per week. I plan on adapting this and working on it this month. (More on that later. Maybe tomorrow.)

Candy is just a food, like any other food, is my mantra this month.

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15 Comments

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15 responses to “Imperfect Athlete: Month One

  1. Tee

    Looking forward to your move to our neck of the woods!

  2. Carol Gwenn

    Good for you, making it through that first month!

    The whole point (to me, anyway) of exercise is to make your body FEEL GOOD! If you’ve been away from regular exercise, it WILL hurt some at first, but once your body finds its rhythm again, WOW! Sure, you may lose some weight; you may not. We know that’s NOT the point, that the purpose of the exercise is to make the body feel better, raise its energy level, increase stamina, etc. I started walking 1 – 2 miles a day about 6 years ago when I sold my car. Have kept it up ever since. Yes, I DID end up losing weight, but that was never a consideration. The exercise just made me feel REALLY good, which is why I keep doing it.

    Keep at it – you’ll reach your athletic goals sooner than you think.

  3. As someone who has also struggled with a disordered thought process in terms of weight, thank you for sharing your story. It is always nice to find out that you aren’t alone in the battle.

    Make sure that you work hard on the muscles in your lower legs. I have also suffered from shin splints for years. (in fact, I’m currently taking a break from derby due to a flare up) The worst thing you can do is push through them. You need to work on strengthening the thin layer of muscle over your shin bones and lengthen the calf muscle. There are a lot of good exercises online for this – I recommend checking out Runners World’s website.

    p.s. When I read “Those minutes represent 960 individual statements that I am an athlete.” I said Damn Right!

    • Shin splints suck the most because they make me slow when I want to be fast. I went roller skating last week for the first time in probably 12 or 15 years and they didn’t bother me at all, which made me happy. The elliptical machine doesn’t bother them either, but I hate it!

  4. You may find Gina Kolata’s Ultimate Fitness interesting — it’s about the fitness industry. Much of training lore isn’t actually supported by anything other than experience or very small studies (like, oh, that heart-rate chart you see everywhere).

    I’ve been tracking how far I walk how easily and how much I lift. Have you tried squats? They can be similar to leg press, but you rely on yourself for stability. You add poundage using dumbbells or a bar across your shoulders.

  5. G

    I’ve been at this fat fitness thing for nearly a year now– I started out on c25k last spring and it’s really been great seeing what my body can do! It is hard to keep from falling into the old dieter’s mindsets when it comes to exercise but we can’t overcome it unless we do it, right?

    The one thing I would ask you to think about, reading your post, is to think about if you are overdoing it? Especially since you have pain. 40 minutes, 24 days this month is a lot, and you might not be giving your body enough time to recover. To avoid injury, its best to ramp up to more strenuous activity. (Sometimes we who have the dieting mindset forget this, and we feel virtuous when we beat ourselves up…)

    Don’t forget to be kind to yourself and take good care of your body, you only get one. 🙂

    • The 40 minutes includes at least 5 minutes of warm up and 5 minutes of cool down, so it’s 30 minutes of more strenuous exercise. I stop as soon as I feel pain and go do something else. But you’re right. I think I did overdo it in the beginning and now my body won’t let me!

  6. JennyRose

    I have been doing serious cross/interval training for the last 18 months. I haven’t lost any weight but I know it I feel better and that I am taking care of my health. I too am trying to let go of the concern of weight loss. I go to an all womens gym and it is wonderful. I know men don’t care but I still feel more comfortable working out with only women. The women at my gym really do come in all shapes and sizes and levels of fitness.

    • It’s so awesome that you’re feeling better and getting stronger. I’ve found that the idea that exercise and losing weight are not Siamese twins to be one of the biggest and most difficult of the paradigm changes I’m attempting here. I talked to my sister about it a few days ago and she was so upset by the idea she couldn’t continue.

  7. Bri

    Hi Shaunta! Could you please put in a warning at the start of the post that you are going to talk about weight loss/decreased measurements? cheers Bri

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