body image · eating · fitness · racing · training · weight loss

Do I Dare Mess with a Good Thing? The Temptations of Going for My “Racing Weight”

In July, right before the Bracebridge Olympic distance triathlon.
In July, right before the Bracebridge Olympic distance triathlon.

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:

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.



15 thoughts on “Do I Dare Mess with a Good Thing? The Temptations of Going for My “Racing Weight”

  1. I think you make several really sound points in your post. Both options seem to have sensible pros combined with cons that seemingy could make or break something. I have struggled with mental questions similar to this (although not directly synonymous), and i have found that sometimes your body will tell you what it needs. Whatever you really feel in your heart is your new choice, do it! Then pray about it. Even with a different mindet, if your mind is on the Lord, you can’t go wrong. Whatever choice you make will be the right one! Keep inspiring people!

  2. Thanks for posting on this–I know if it’s on our three minds, it’s probably on lots of peoples’! One of my biggest fears is that I will commit to wanting to lose weight without actually having a plan or making it happen–and then wonder if I’m a failure. But even just saying that, I know that I’m too smart to be in that limbo place where I’m unhappy with myself vocally but not willing to take responsibility for it. That being said, there’s no deadlines here and not the same pressure I felt before when losing weight was tied to my self worth. I am already lots of awesome at this size and weight and I recognize that! I hope that you keep on keeping on — you’re a fun training partner, a great writer, and a leader when it comes to talking about this kind of stuff.

    1. Thanks, Cheryl! Since there are no deadlines, we can continue the conversation. I’m kind of excited to see how this unfolds for all three of us over the next little while. You’ve got lots going for you at this weight (OMG your deadlifts!) and any weight. See you tonight!

  3. Great post. Lots to think about. And tough questions. I think this may be one of those points where it might be worth thinking about why you’re racing. Competitive athletes engage in quite a few unhealthy practices around weight and so if your motivation is fitness and fun, then that might not be the right path. But maybe the competition is the fun, then ….Rowers, boxers, and lots of endurance athletes compete at a weight that it’s unhealthy to maintain. Just like the fitness models you wrote about…that’s why the people who defend the weight cutting practices of fitness models say it’s not different than any other sport. A stable weight you maintain without effort, that’s in the healthy range for you, is a pretty amazing thing. I’m not sure you’d be happy with in an-season weight and off-season weight though I think that’s the way lots of runners, cyclists, and triathletes live. Interesting set of questions.

    And you’re dead right that motivation doesn’t make it easier. I’ve trained with people getting their weight down for racing. It’s hard and requires lots of motivation and dedication. Is it a success? Well, they never intended to stay at the lower weight so it’s not a failure in the way traditional diets are. What’s their metabolism like after years of doing that? I’m not sure. I know lots of older cyclists who complain that they can’t drop weight anymore like they used to. But that’s as much age as anything.

    1. I don’t know. It’s so recent that I’ve even started to think of myself as an athlete that it’s not obvious to me that I would be unhappy with an in-season weight and an off-season weight, or that I wouldn’t want to try it for a season or two anyway. I do need to think of my motives and goals re. racing. It’s pretty clear to me that I want to increase distance and get faster. The question is: what am I willing to trade off for those goals. As for the metabolism — I’m already having a difficult time dropping weight, so I can’t see it getting any worse later in life.

  4. Hey, Tracy. I don’t know what’s right for you or what would be best for you, given your training goals and where you are in your head about things rght now, but I have to say – the way you’re talking and even approaching issues these days seems so much more focused and self-aware – so much stronger! Impressive!

    1. Thanks, Craig. I definitely feel like I’m in a better place with all of this nowadays. It’s the triathlon training. Really giving me focus and solid goals.

  5. In the end, the question is how important is being more competitive in your sport?
    Is this your profession? Would you have monetary or prestige associated with top performance?
    If not, what are you competing for? Is it worth depriving yourself, if that is what would be required, to achieve what might be an improvement in performance?
    There is also some fun to self experimentation.
    I have done PN and found that there were some pretty significant life changing lessons in there. And while they had nothing to do with nutrition, but they do impact my eating today.
    I am always amazed at how much activity some people love to do. I am active, but extremely non competitive. So my choices are motivated by other factors. I like to think that today those are mainly feeling good, flexibility and being able to move through life with ease. But body image and composition are lurking there there too.
    Thanks for a thought provoking post!


    1. These are great things to reflect on. Thanks, Anne. I am trying to think about how much I am willing to trade for improved performance. It’s not my profession and I won’t get paid, but I have found that it’s personally quite satisfying to push my limits in ways I hadn’t imagined I would. In that sense, I feel willing to try different tweaks that might improve my times.

  6. Hi Tracy, new visitor to your blog. I have read “Racing Weight” and am torn about these questions as well.
    The great thing about Racing Weight is that it isn’t all about calories or restriction and more so about quality of food.
    I don’t think that it necessarily has to do directly with losing weight, more so a quality change that may or may not lead to weight loss. And it’s probably a change that can increase performance on top of it all! I consider the weight loss a complementary effect. If that makes sense?

    And just like a few others have point out, there’s no time limit, no pressure. At the end of the day you’re freakin kickin butt and you’re fitter than ever!

    Just some thoughts.

    His book “Diet Cults” is also another good one.

    1. That does make sense. Thank you so much for this sensible comment. I’ll check out diet cults too. Gotta love the library!

  7. Hi Tracey- have you tried High Intensity Training (HIT) concept of really short very fast bursts with longer recovery? I have started to incorporate this in my swim laps & my dance and it’s pretty phenomenal for improving V02 max levels, lowering resting heart rate, etc.
    The 5:2 fast diet is also good and it works because ,like the short intense burst of exercise, it jolts you body systems to work differently. Book is Fast Exercise by Dr.Michael Mosley & Peta Bee.Might be worth a try if you’re looking for a change.

  8. I’m right there with you on the cusp of a decision like this….where does my focus go? A long time ago I dealt with a somewhat serious eating disorder that I have thankfully overcome…but do I tempt the fates that it’s not just hiding out somewhere inside of my head and waiting for its chance to break free? How do I keep feeling good about who I am and how I live, but get rid of the almost 8lbs of weight that I put on in the last four months due to various things? Do I just go with my regular routine and hope it falls back off once I really get into it, or do I go for race weight and push myself and make drastic changes with numbers in mind? It’s a fine line to walk….

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