I do not watch much reality tv, but The Biggest Loser has been my “reality tv guilty pleasure” almost since day one. I’m sure by now you have all seen the news whether you watch the show or not – this week’s “winner” weighed in significantly underweight for her height. I have to say I was very disappointed in this outcome. While I know nothing about reality tv is really reality, one of my favorite things about this show is watching the contestants get beat up in the gym. Ok, I will even admit to thinking some things they suffer through look “fun.” Last night’s winner appeared so skinny, I would question whether she could carry her groceries in the door, much less lift any kind of weights in the gym. In case you missed it, here is a picture.
I don’t want to be skinny. Yes, I just said that. Do I want to improve my body composition, which will (likely) include losing some pounds on the scale? YES. But my goal is not to be skinny and I have learned over the past couple years that “fit” is not defined by a number on the scale. A few weeks ago I encountered several women who were talking about needing to “lose weight” and talking about various calorie-restricted diets they were using to try to reach their goals. This seems to be the “norm” for women and led me to try to put my personal story of my battle with weight and body image into words.
I have struggled with my weight for as long as I can remember. I have never been athletic. Name a diet, and I have probably tried it. I have a somewhat disordered past when it comes to food and diet. I grew up learning to diet and to view food as “good vs. bad.” Nothing ever “worked” for me. Fasting, shakes, diet pills? Been there, done that. Two (ish) years ago I finally found my “magic pill.” Strength training. More than just changing my body on the outside, strength training has truly helped me change how I think about my body. To a certain extent, I think all females deal with body image issues on a daily basis. Body image is defined by the National Eating Disorders Association (http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/) as “how you see yourself in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind.” They go on to add that a positive body image is “feel(ing) proud and accepting of your unique body shape and you understand that a person’s physical appearance says very little about their character or value as a person.”
I had been running for a few years already (and lost a little weight initially), but my body wasn’t changing and I still didn’t have a very positive opinion of myself. I was not getting any faster or losing any weight. At some point, I decided to have my resting metabolic rate (RMR) tested and was very discouraged to find out I truly did have a “slow metabolism.” My RMR was slightly under 1200 calories per day, a little lower than the “average” woman my age. Disappointed, I remember asking the woman who did the test (a nutritionist at my gym) if there was any way I could improve that number. She told me to start strength training and introduced me to my trainer. My “magic pill” definitely did not happen overnight. It was not, and still is not, easy. But it has truly changed my body (and my body image) in a way that no “diet” ever could. The following picture shows me after runDisney races approximately two years apart. My weight was only 3-5 pounds different in these photos. However, my clothes were two sizes smaller and my half marathon time was over thirty minutes faster (Yes, strength training can also make you a faster runner, but that’s a topic for another day!). Around the same time as the photo on the right, I also had my RMR re-tested. My lousy 1200 calorie a day burn had improved to slightly over 2000!
There is a lot of conflicting information out there about how many extra calories a day a pound of muscle burns versus a pound of fat. I have seen numbers as low as ten and as high as fifty. Most likely it falls somewhere in between and we are, of course, all a little different. The numbers I shared were my own numbers, measured in the same place with the same method. What is not debated, is the fact that a pound of muscle absolutely burns more than a pound of fat. It also takes up less space on your body, meaning smaller clothes at the same weight. In case you haven’t seen a visual of this, here you go:
Gross, right? So how do you get more of the right and less of the nasty left? GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE. Stop being “a cardio queen” to try to change your body. (Trust me, been there, done that!) You are not going to get toned or “spot change” an area of your body lifting light weights. Challenge yourself. Everyone’s “heavy” is different, but if it’s easy, it’s not going to change you. If you have the means, get a trainer who will motivate and push you. Start focusing on losing FAT, not losing weight. (If you have access to someone who can test your body fat, do it!) If you have weight to lose, by all means try to lose it. This is not meant to be a “body acceptance” post saying it’s okay to be obese or not to lose necessary pounds. (While it is not healthy to obsess about the weight you need to lose, it most certainly is healthy to lose it if you need to!) I am only trying to say stop focusing entirely on the number the scale tells you and start focusing on the big picture. If you are trying to lose weight, incorporate strength training during the process – you will likely be even more successful at losing the weight and completely changing your body and the way you view yourself.
While changing your body and reaching your “goal weight” may help your outlook on life, don’t wait for this to go after your goals! Losing weight in and of itself will not make you happy. I spent too much time with poor body image thinking everything would be better if I was “skinny.” Go after your goals now! Get out there and try something new at the size you are now! The more you learn what you can accomplish with your body, the better you will feel about it — and yourself. (And this will likely lead to greater success in your weight/fat loss goals.) I definitely still have my “fat days” where I feel lousy about myself — especially in the past eight weeks where the scale has moved the wrong direction post foot-surgery. However, I am easily brought back to reality these days as opposed to the past where I would get down on myself for weeks on end. I really give a lot of credit for this to strength training. Yes, it helped change my body, but more importantly it has changed my HEAD. It keeps me grounded in trying to be a strong, confident person!