So it’s no secret to anyone within texting distance that I’ve been struggling with some more-acute-than-usual body images issues the past few weeks. As I’m not a holiday-weight worrier, the only explanation I can point to is a recent, significant weight milestone: I am now officially 20 pounds heavier than I was exactly two years ago.
Although I believe in being open about this sort of thing in theory, just as I am open about that brief period when I dealing with disordered eating (because I do not think poor mental health is anything to be ashamed of), when talking of pounds and fat, I can’t help but feel a teensy bit shallow.
Rationally, I know that comparing my weight two years ago to my weight now is like comparing apples to oranges. Yes, I was thinner, but I also couldn’t climb stairs, run a half marathon, or lift pretty much anything. I was also thin because I spent about 12-15 hours a day sleeping and therefore not eating. Do I think I’ve just gained 20 pounds of pure muscle in those two years? Of course not, but the point is, no matter how unreasonable I know it is to connect the numbers on the scale to my overall health, I still feel like shit when the numbers go up.
I’ve talked about qualitative and quantitative goals to death already. I still think it’s important to have a mix of both, but the fact is that the latter are a lot easier to track. You can see it numbers in the weight of the dumbbells you’re lifting, the amount of reps you can do, Calories you’re burning, your heart rate, running pace, mileage, and yes, pounds on the scale. These are all numbers that we have given meaning to, for better or worse. On the qualitative side, you can really only judge your progress on how you feel and how you look.
Unfortunately, the types of goals that I am not interested in tracking are the ones tracked by everyone surrounding me. You can’t follow a fitness personality or hashtag or even check your feed on social media these days without being bombarded with progress pics, fitspiration (i.e. cute or clever sayings somehow revolving around pushing through something, overcoming laziness, or how the reasons you’re exercising are better than the reasons other people might be exercising, and lots of toned-but-not-bulky girls with six packs and full make-up), and people posing with weights or fitbit readouts.
I should say something here about how I don’t care what goals other people have. If you don’t want to be “skinny”, sure, that’s fine, whatever, I’ve already put in my two cents about that. If before-and-afters pump you up, who am I to rain on your parade? When you’re proud of how many Calories you’ve burned, is that really that much different than my being proud of breaking a running distance PR? You made a goal and you achieved it, and I am proud of you for that. Daaaawwww hugs.
However, as isolationist as I try to be (browsing my Instagram feed notwithstanding), other people’s goals can still affect me positively and negatively. Fitness is first and foremost an investment, and where my self-loathing comes in is when I feel like I’m not getting a return on that investment. But an ROI according to whose investment? Yeah, so I’ve gained a few pounds seemingly overnight (maybe I’ve been a little too moderate on my whole eating crap in moderation thing…) but I don’t have a clear weight loss goal, I don’t track my Calories in or out, I don’t care about target heart rate, and I don’t care about muscles (although I’m generally pleasantly surprised to notice them). The point is, I feel like a loser only when I evaluate myself on the same metrics that other people value. When I stick to what I care about—how I feel—I’m generally on top.
Moral of the story: Sometimes there’s more to an obsession with weight gain than simple vanity. The lesson I’m slowly learning (and not very well) is that the hardest thing about this health craze is staying focused on what is important to you and if that’s not what you’re bombarded with day in and day out, well, just try not to feel craptastic.