This must be the week to post about weight loss. Yesterday, Sam came right out and said it: she wants to lose weight. Then our cycling friend and instructor Cheryl, who is the blogger at Happy Is the New Healthy came right out and said it, too, in her post Coming Clean: Weight Loss versus Body Love: she wants to lose weight.
They have their different reasons. Sam’s reasons are about two things: performance and awareness of the realities of bias against people who are perceived as overweight. Performance-wise, she wants to fly up hills on her bike even faster than she does now (she says she’s not super fast now, but so far she’s smoked me on every challenging hill I’ve ridden up with her). She says:
…we live in a world with pretty strong anti-overweight bias. While my self-esteem is pretty secure (see here and here), I do worry sometimes about the external effects. I’m pretty sure it hurts my teaching evaluations. Research also shows that being overweight has a financial impact.
And finally, there’s hills. And it’s harder to run fast when you’re larger. And pull ups. I’d love to be able to do an unassisted pull up.
So yes, I want to lose weight.
Cheryl’s poignant post comes clean about her continuing struggles with body image. She says:
I know that there’s a lot of talk about the way that CrossFit, for instance, can help us to really appreciate our bodies and what they can do. This usually comes with a point about how it doesn’t matter what the number on the scale or the size in our jeans reads any more—but what if it does? Where does that leave the girl who doesn’t want the quads that won’t fit in normal jeans or the shoulders that make wearing a blazer next to impossible? Where does that leave the girl who doesn’t want to go to the beach because she just can’t get used to the body she has?
That girl is me. One of my the most powerful questions we can ask ourselves is, how’s that working for you? When I ask myself that in relation to trying to love my body/eating and training the way I am, I have to be honest: I’m frustrated and I’m looking for change this year.
I’ve been thinking about this same issue lately. My body image stuff has subsided quite a bit. One thing Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating program really helped with, though I would never have thought it would turn out this way, is that the weekly weigh-ins actually neutralized what used to be a tortured relationship with the number on the scale.
Their motto for measurements is “get ’em then forget ’em.” And that’s pretty much what I did every Saturday. I got ’em and forgot ’em. I can now weigh myself without feeling hugely preoccupied with the result. It’s just information.
I’ve done weekly weigh-ins before, back in the day when I attended Weight Watchers, and again when I was in personal training. But at both someone else did the weighing. With PN, it was just me and my scale. I entered the numbers into a form that for the most part, unless my coach took a boo, was for my eyes only.
Maybe it was just the right time or something, but there is no denying that I don’t hold my breath and my stomach doesn’t go into knots anymore before I get on the scale (I confess that I still engage in the ritual of peeing first).
A few days ago I started reading the book, Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald. Sam was surprised. Why? Because apparently a couple of years ago she put it in my mailbox at the philosophy department where we work and I returned it within minutes of reading the introduction. At the time, it was too much like a diet book with its focus on weight. Back then I really didn’t have any performance goals to speak of.
But things are different now. Now I have base times for several distances in triathlon and running. I want to get faster. My performance as an athlete now matters to me.
As I reflect on this, two questions turn in my mind. First, does it matter enough to mess with a good thing? And second, does approaching weight loss with performance in mind have any impact on the facts?
What’s the good thing I’d be messing with? Well, I didn’t weigh myself through the holidays — no need to tempt fate with this newly discovered neutral attitude towards my weight. My workout schedule wasn’t consistent and I definitely enjoyed (thoroughly and without guilt) my share of holiday treats.
But I weighed myself this morning and I weighed the same as I did before the holidays. To me, a stable weight is one of the most elusive and precious things I’ve ever had in my adult life.
Considering I bailed on PN (not the habits, but the coaching aspect of the program) about six weeks ago, and didn’t really pay much attention to it through the holidays, I feel like the fact that I still weigh the same is a good sign that I’m doing something right. And it’s not just the past six weeks, I’ve weighed in the same three-pound range — sometimes a little up and sometimes a little down, but always within the same three pound range — since May.
So there’s that. And what about the facts? It’s no secret that I don’t believe diets work. I’ve talked about it lots and I continue to break the news to people. There is a ton of denial in our social world about just how rare long term weight loss is. But it is–see Sam and Tracy Respond to the Near Impossibility of Weight Loss: All Our Posts in One Place. And also:
- If Diets Don’t Work, Then What?
- Diets May Not Work but They Do Make Us Suffer
- Intuitive Eating: What It Is and Why I Love It!
- Planning Another New Year’s Diet? Three Alternative Approaches May Save You the Grief
- Santa Claus and Other Holiday Myths
This isn’t to say that no one has ever lost weight and kept it off. But the vast majority of people who try don’t succeed. That’s why Sam talks about weight loss unicorns.
Now, what about my racing weight? A couple of things. I actually don’t know exactly what my racing weight is, but based on my rough estimate using the formula in the book (which provides a weight that “may be too high or may be too low”), my racing weight is about 12 pounds lighter than I weigh right now. Even scarier, if I use the calculator on the racing weight website, I’d have to lose about 16 pounds to be my ideal racing weight (that’s checking off the box that says it’s relatively difficult for me to lose body fat).
Whether it be 12 or 16 pounds, that’s not going to happen unless I make some major changes. I mean seriously drastic of a kind I can’t quite even imagine.
What I was hoping was that I was already close to my racing weight but could just try for better body composition. But that was what I was supposedly working on through the PN LE program and I’m fairly confident that my body fat percentage hardly budged after the first six months.
And yet I want to perform better in my sports. I would love to become speedier as a swimmer, on the bike, and when I run. I’m training the way I need to for all that to happen. And I plan to stay consistent with my training. There are some minor tweaks I can make to my eating, but for the most part, as a vegan athlete who prefers whole foods, I’d have to totally deprive myself of any and all treats even to have a chance of losing 10, let alone 12 or 16 pounds.
I’ve not talked with either of my coaches about this issue yet. But it’s no secret that dropping body fat can aid athletic performance. And with my more neutral attitude about the scale, now might be a good time to dabble with it as part of my training plan.
But unlike Sam and Cheryl, I’m conflicted, not because it wouldn’t be nice to drop a few pounds and lower my body fat percentage — but because I don’t know if I’d be messing with a good thing or if there is any reason to think that a different motive can magically yield better results.