Health & Fitness., On Body Image and Radical Self Love

On weight loss programming that sometimes disguises itself.

The popularity of the anti-diet movement is helping many people stop stepping on the scale, but I found that to be just the surface of my dismantling of toxic programming. I wrote dozens of times over my critical years about how I “did not step on the scale anymore” but I still had huge problems with body dysmorphia and “body terrorism” as Sonya Renee Taylor calls it. I think because I would say/write, “The number on the scale doesn’t matter,” then I was making a necessary change away from toxic programming.

But, it turns out that programming runs deeper than the scale. I still beat myself up when I had to buy a size bigger than I was used to. I still hated my fat rolls. I still avoiding gatherings of people who last saw me as “skinny.” And most importantly? I still stepped on the scale once in awhile…just to see.

Because the truth of it all was…I was still hoping to lose weight. Even when I stopped counting calories and trying to be more “intuitive” with my eating I was still planning on being able to say at a later date, “Do you see how thin I am? It’s because I lost weight without counting calories!” Like…I planned this narrative where I was going to show “Before and After” photos and I was going to explain all of the weightloss on eating intuitively and exercising for fun!

It was always about the weight even when I stepped off the scale.

The more I read about the “Health At Every Size” movement in the medical field, and dug into the research, I discovered we hide talk about weightloss in a lot of different areas. Like in discussion of other metrics like blood pressure and cholesterol. For decades even the medical field was taught (through poorly framed research) that weightloss is the key to lowering those metrics, but now that we’re digging deeper into our anti-fat bias in our medical research, we are discovered it’s a lot of correlation, not causation. Here’s a great quote from one of my favorite recent articles debunking some of the myths:

But researchers at UCLA and the University of Minnesota evaluated nearly two dozen studies and concluded that there was “no clear relationship between weight loss and health outcomes.” In other words, shedding pounds didn’t meaningfully lower blood pressure, diabetes risk, or cholesterol.It turns out that sometimes if you change your diet and lose weight, those numbers go down, but sometimes you just lose weight and they don’t. There are studies now that look at the whole person and find that there are many factors that affect health, some which often don’t get measured in traditional metrics. For example: Stress, Isolation, Fulfillment.

Rethinking Fatness: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Weight May Be Wrong

Some doctors in the Health At Every Size movement will even take someone who is very heavy – whose weight has a direct causal relationship to joint problems or mobility issues – and recommend they find an activity that helps them move, but also brings them joy or reduces stress: Gardening, Walking while listening to books on tape, Dancing, birdwatching, etc. The focus is: Let’s find an activity that brings you JOY and relieves your STRESS or maybe gives you SOCIALIZATION, because those factors are just as important as getting the weight off of your joints and in the end…sometimes you lose weight. We are learning that “health” involves so many other factors besides weight, and focusing on weight can actually trigger unhealthy behaviors, so shifting the focus away from weightloss – even when weight might have a direct causal relationship (with pressure on joints) is still more effective in long term health goals.

All of this is contrary to all of the programming we’ve gotten throughout our lives and so it takes some really concentrated work to change the foundation on how we view our health and happiness. After I read Sonya Renee Taylor’s book “The Body Is Not An Apology” I realized how much social media I ingested that pushed images of small bodies in this “fit-spiration” type of genre of social media user. I would unfollow anyone talking about weightloss, but it turns out we hide a lot of anti-fat bias in imagery and words around “health” and “fitness” without even realizing it.

For me, I really loved following trail runners on social media. They were all thin and while they were not promoting diet or weightloss…it was still imagery that was getting into my head. Like…TO BE A TRAIL RUNNER YOU HAVE TO BE SKINNY.

Turns out? There’s plenty of plus-sized hikers and trail runners out there to use as inspiration and I have found that my vision of my future now includes hiking and trail running again now that I’ve shifted my social media exposure. It’s like – for some reason – when I got fatter I thought I couldn’t do that stuff again. So even after all of this work on radical self love, I was still letting the media I ingest shape how I view my body and it’s abilities.

So I signed up for a trail race I love. It’s 7 miles and it’s in October and I can train on the actual course because the trailhead is like 3 miles from my front door. I haven’t done a trail race since…2018? Maybe? I honestly can’t remember. I think I just quietly pushed that behind me, but then I remembered: OH YEAH, THERE ARE NO WEIGHT LIMITS TO BEING IN THE WOODS.

Now, I avoid the woods in the summer no matter what my body size because I’m VERY allergic to poison ivy and can spot it a mile away and know how to avoid it…and yet…I get it all the time. But…I’m going to start training on the roads just to get my walking distance back up and then when it starts to cool off and the poison ivy fades I’ll hit the trails again. Because I love being in the woods so much. In the winter I’ve still been hiking but I missed the camaraderie of a start line of a race, and I’d love to go out there and remind myself there are no scales at the start line of a race. They don’t make you pass a body fat test. Just because all of the winners are skinny doesn’t mean everyone that shows up is skinny. I deserve to do the thing that makes me happy in the body I love and I’m going to do it!

And let’s face it – even at my fittest/skinnies I was still not winning any races so it’s not like I have some sort of glory I’ll never achieve again. I was so slow on one race that they set a cutoff time the next year! I came in second-to-last at another one and then there’s the marathon I did once that everyone was gone at the finish line but the person handing out metals: No food, no photographers, no crowds (but my family) no nothing! So it’s not like my skinny years brought me success in the running world! I can still have fun at a race in this body! Who cares how much it weighs or what size clothes it wears?

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