the body and the 10 percent

Today I’m going to write about a topic in diet culture that plagues me. It’s the concept that if you “just” lose 5-10% of your body weight, you will suddenly be SO MUCH HEALTHIER!

Everyone says it. The CDC says it. A bunch of sources link to this study about it.

But there are major problems with this. First of all, that study notes that people have gained back half of the weight they lost within two years, and then don’t check back in with those people again. They then go on to say the benefits of the initial weight loss remain, despite the fact that nearly every person in the study is highly likely to have regained all of the weight they lost within 4-5 years. Will the benefits continue then? If so, how? Clearly, this makes no sense.

So many studies of weight loss conveniently stop before the weight gain portion of dieting comes back into play. Not everyone gains back weight after they lose it, but almost everyone does. Even if there are benefits to losing weight, which is a disputable claim to begin with, since often weight loss takes credit for other health improvements, this is just not a viable solution for health.

Look, I am highly aware that my view on this is not part of popular culture. I know that many people will deride this point of view and perhaps think that I am making excuses for my or others’ lack of self-control. But the thing is, the 10% has never worked for me. I’m almost 30. If it hasn’t worked yet, over the countless times I have tried it, why on earth would I keep trying it?

Health is not a requirement, but I will say that even though I’m heavier than I’ve ever been, I’m also just as healthy as I’ve always been. I don’t have more ailments than I’ve ever had despite my weight gain. My metabolism is perfect, my cholesterol levels are stellar, my blood pressure is right on. I’m active, I work on my mental health, I’m recovering from an injury that literally anyone–fat, thin, or in between–could get. So tell me how I’m unhealthy for being fat?

If you want a more comprehensive and well-researched examination of this idea and fat bias in the medical field in general, I highly recommend this post by Ragen Chastain of Dances With Fat.

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the body and standing up

I’m trying a new thing at work these days. At the advice of my physical therapist, I’m trying to practice standing for longer times. Sustained standing still causes a lot of aggravation and swelling in my knee, and like most of my recovery, the best way to improve this is to practice it incrementally.

Ideally, I’ll work my way up to one hour standing, one hour sitting throughout my day. Right now I’m at 50 minutes sitting/10 minutes standing for every hour. Once my knee begins to tolerate that–hopefully in about 1-2 weeks–I’ll move to 45 minutes sitting/15 minutes standing for a week or two, and so on until I can do an even split in an hour. It’ll probably take up to two months to get there, but slow and steady is just fine with me.

It’s hard to realize how important just being able to stand in one place is until you can’t do it anymore. Lines are impossible, the grocery store just sucks, waiting for the bus is a huge challenge, etc. etc. etc. I’m really grateful that I’m able to stand relatively comfortably at this point, but I still have a lot more work to do to get back to my previous ability.

I’ll check in again about how my standing up is going in a month or so.

the body and slowness as success

I have a confession to make: before I was injured, I was a huge Pace Prince. Pace Prince is a term I just made up, so don’t worry if you don’t follow. What I mean is, before I was injured, I was obsessed with running faster. I was so dedicated to the principal of getting my Personal Best on every run, that I didn’t enjoy it unless I did. I didn’t even count it unless I did. Pace Prince. Obsessed with going faster.

There’s nothing wrong with setting a time goal, that’s a great target and an excellent achievement. But when it becomes the only thing you care about, as it did for me, it robs you of the joy of movement and being in the moment with your body.

My Pace Prince mentality didn’t come from nowhere, since I’m a very competitive person, and I wanted to go faster to prove to others that I was fit enough to be running. If I could pass other people–thinner people–I could prove that I belonged on the trail, in those training shoes, at the race.

But this isn’t a story about going fast, it’s about how I learned to go slow.

I suffered a serious injury. I went from pushing myself to go faster to pushing myself to rest. Being still and slow was imperative to my recovery. I spent most of my time on the couch for the first month after my injury. Even though after about 4 weeks I could technically walk (more of a hobble), my doctor told me that I needed to rely solely on my crutches for at least 2 more weeks. The Pace Prince in me threw a tantrum. I was so slow on crutches! Going across the room took four times as long as if I just hopped or hobbled over (hopping also had more comedic value!). But I turned on all my restraint and stuck to the crutches. This rest was essential because it was part of what made the difference between needing and avoiding surgery. I stuck to slow and I didn’t need surgery.

I inched forward in recovery, getting back range of motion measured in single degrees. When I wanted to explode after doing that same set of simple physical therapy exercises for the hundredth time, I reminded myself that diligent progress was more important than speed and that healing can’t be hurried no matter how much I wished it could.

Three months passed and I could walk mostly normally again. I lagged behind my friends, but they learned to wait. I focused on the motion of walking, training myself to step symmetrically instead of quickly. I walked one block, then two, then a quarter mile, then a half mile. Slow, slow, slow, slow.

Six months after my injury, my physical therapist still insists that I do my exercises with control and rest at least one minute between sets. It takes a long time to complete the ten or so things I have to do, sometimes up to two hours, but I don’t mind anymore. The restraint feels powerful. I’m in tune with what every muscle is doing in way that I never was when I was only pushing for speed. A slow squat makes me appreciate the symphony my body creates as a complex and well-trained orchestra.

These days I’ve sped up to jogging. My inner Pace Prince is silent as I stay slow and low in my stride. I focus on maintaining my comfort, managing my pain, and appreciating the movement I’ve missed for so long.

The speed I have now was grown from the seeds of slowness. This ongoing process has taught me that taking time is valuable. That quality comes from focus and practice that can sometimes only be refined at a snail’s pace. That slowness can be the greatest success.

 

the body and doing that pushup

I have to admit, I have kind of a mental block. It’s a mental block about strength training. It’s driving me nuts.

I love strength training. My body excels at building muscle and getting strong. I love feeling buff and powerful. I love pushing myself to the point of total muscle fatigue and feeling the (appropriate) soreness the next day.

Or at least I used to. Now I’m filled with fear of doing any strength training aside from what I do at PT because I’m afraid of how much strength I’ve lost. I know it’s counterproductive to do nothing and that I will not improve unless I try something, but I’m still ruled by that fear.

I know the only way to break through is to just do it. So I’m telling myself to just do the pushup. The month of May is  pushup month. My goal is simply to do 5 pushups per day. They can be one at a time or all at once, but they have to get done. I figure this way I’ll at least be able to see if I can make progress on this one strength skill.

So far, I’ve achieved 6 out of 9 days. The days I missed were really just days I forgot. I’ll keep pushing to complete them all. If I’ve learned anything from recovery, it’s that the mental blocks can be more limiting than the physical ones.

Here’s to many pushups!

the body and recovery in physical therapy

A huge part of what prompted me to start writing here is an injury. And part of injury is recovery. I’m working through my physical (and mental, but that’s a different post) recovery diligently, and I’ve been working at it for more than six months.

At this point I’ve been in physical therapy for four months. For the injury I had, that’s really not too long. It could be up to a year of PT before everything is back on track, and it’s likely that my knee will never be the same again. Still, I’m lucky that I’m able to heal and that I have a strong support system that is really helping me get through this.

I especially really appreciate my physical therapist. He takes what I have to say very seriously, and I have never once felt like he judged me for my weight. When I told him the types and level of activity I was doing before the accident he didn’t blink an eye and confidently told me that we would work to get back to that. He’s helped me go from being able to only bend my knee 87 degrees with a ton of pain to having it bend a totally normal 135 degrees without any. My normal range of motion is a little more than that, so we’re still working on range of motion, but it’s so much more functional, it’s hard to believe.

So much of the physical recovery process is mental. There was a while where I really didn’t believe that my knee was going to get better. I thought I’d never be able to straighten it again. I thought I’d never be able to bend it without pain. I thought I’d never be able to jump again. All of these things have happened. There are still a lot of normal things I can’t do without pain: cross my legs, go down stairs, do squats or lunges, do a quad stretch, kneel. Lots of normal things. But thankfully my experience with physical therapy this far has taught me that the things that seem impossible and like they will never happen, can happen. It just takes a lot of time and hard work.

Speaking of hard work, now that I’m getting stronger and able to move more, my PT sessions are more intense. They’re much more like workouts, and I definitely break a sweat and get out of breath. At first, this really made me embarrassed. I kept thinking “Ugh, I am so out of shape and fat and everyone is judging me.”

One day, though, something awesome happened. I was warming up on the elliptical and I noticed that they had a framed jersey from our local roller derby team. It’s pretty common for this office to have framed jerseys and other sports paraphernalia on the walls because they are a sports medicine clinic and they like to show off all the teams they help treat. I am a huge fan of roller derby, in part because it showcases badass people of all body shapes being super fit and strong. Seeing the jersey on the wall inspired me to put on my “derby face” and work as hard as I could that day. It worked so well. Every day I go in now, I warm up on the elliptical that faces that jersey and get into derby mode.

Here’s my post-PT self, making a derpy face:

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I promise soon I’ll post some non-workout clothes, non-bathroom mirror selfies, but for now that’s what I’ve got. Let me work my way up.

the body and the jog

I’ve written a lot about my body and my thoughts. What about my body and my movement?

Recently, I got the go-ahead from my physical therapist to start trying to run again. This is a huge deal for me because 1) I really enjoy running and 2) six months ago I literally could not walk across a room. So this progress has really pumped me up.

Okay, deep breath, time for the first selfie on this blog! Here I am in my running gear:

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My first few runs have gone really well. I have been vigilant about my routine because I am terrified of re-injuring myself. I walk for 5 minutes to warm up, jog at about 5mph for 0.5 miles, and then walk for 5 minutes to cool down. Then I immediately go ice my knee. I did this all last week and it has felt great. Some supplementary ibuprofen was taken, but I’m okay with that. The knee isn’t fully healed yet, so some swelling and pain is okay as long as it goes down quickly and continues to head in a healing direction in the long run.

My cardio endurance is definitely low compared to pre-injury, but that’s to be expected. What’s great is that I can do this activity I love again, and do it with minimal fear. One day, I think I’ll be fearless again.

My physical therapist recommended that I could move up a small amount in distance if I felt comfortable, so I might try for a 0.75 mile run next. For now the joy is just pushing myself and being really in my body in a way that nothing but exercise can do for me.

Here’s to the tangible progress in life, and to enjoying what I have when I have it!