Welcome. This is my opening salvo:
On New Year’s Eve, 2011, I went on a snowshoeing trip in the mountains of Oregon. I have fond memories of that trip, but I felt my body held me back–at that point I weighed more than 300 pounds.
I struggled to keep up with the group. The next day I stayed behind with my chafed, aching body while my friends went back out again.
What I remember most of all is shame.
Intense, constant, unrelenting shame. Shame when I couldn’t find clothes that fit. Shame every time I bought groceries at the store. Shame every time I sat in a chair for fear I’d break it–always there, pounding in my skull, making me angry with myself and angry with anyone who looked at me because I was certain they were judging my fatness.
Most of my life I’ve thought I was too fat. By age 40 I KNEW how to lose weight–I’d lost significant amounts many times. I invariably gained it back and then some, which left me with even more shame.
I needed to do something radically different and knew it had to be from the inside out–thoughts over behavior.
I was unhappy, but not hopeless. Though it was a New Year but I didn’t make any resolutions; instead I set an intention to be kinder to myself.
This time I made only one rule: No more shaming myself for what I look like and what I eat.
Rather than rigid adherence to any program or dogma, I emphasized what made me feel good throughout the day. I noticed that if I ate more protein, more vegetables, and fewer carbs I had lasting energy and was in a better mood. So I kept eating that way.
Within a month my energy levels rose dramatically. I didn’t feel deprived; without thinking about weight loss I lost dozens of pounds. I felt so good I WANTED to start exercising. In the past when I started an exercise regimen it was 40 minutes of steady-state cardio 6 days a week–it left me feeling worn down and injured.*
I discovered a few articles which detailed the experience of suffering from chronic cardio. They argue that strength is the foundation of fitness and lifting heavy weight is the best means to that end.
I was staying in Bend at the time; I googled “powerlifter” and found a great coach (shout out to Brian McLaughlin at Bend Barbell!) to show me the technique of proper lifts.
I lifted regularly and got significantly stronger. My muscles grew and my waistline continued to shrink. At 40, I’d never felt better in my life.
As I understand it, the body has two states, anabolism and catabolism. Anabolism is a state of molecular construction in the body and catabolism is molecular destruction.
Like everything in the universe, the body is never in stasis. It is constantly changing; it’s either building up or breaking down. I realized by lifting heavy and eating lots of protein–and plenty of calories in general–I was losing fat by focusing on growth. I was anabolic.
When most people start a program of body transformation, the focus is on losing weight. They overly restrict food and take up a regimen of steady-state cardio and lose weight by literally breaking down their bodies, including muscle cells–this is catabolic. Then they gain it all back again. Then they gain even more.
Weight loss fails 97% of the time because living bodies fight against restriction. Signals from the brain become progressively stronger. They blare, “eat, eat, eat, EAT, EAT, EAT NOW ANYTHING YOU CAN GET YOUR HANDS ON EAT IT IMMEDIATELY!!!!!!!” All human willpower is finite.
The response to restriction is to binge on food; it’s both physiological and psychological. We are not weak–these are forces too powerful for mere will.
The data is clear. In our society the net result of dieting is weight gain. Yet restriction is still the predominant practice.
I propose other solutions:
Stop our culture of shame regarding food and body image–this starts with our own inner dialogue.
Our body wants to grow–it’s just a matter of how–so let it.
This transformation began almost two years ago. For the first time in my life I don’t get stressed about food. I like the way I look and I take selfies in earnest. I go for more walks. I go out dancing. I practice yoga. I explore new activities like paddle-boarding, boxing, and rock climbing.
For all the extra self-confidence (and yes, privilege) I get for being not-fat, being able to deadlift 500 pounds makes me feel like a bad-ass for the first time in my life. I’m more fearless. I walk down the street with my head up, I approach strangers and introduce myself, rough looking teenagers stand aside and nod, women give me double-take glances.
My bad-assery isn’t about the 500 pounds per se, but knowing I did the consistent hard work to make it happen. I trained my mind to see the pay-off. I wrote this because, if you identify with my struggle, I want this for you too. Be a shameless, anabolic bad-ass.
*I’m not saying there is anything wrong with cardio–both steady state and high intensity intervals can play important roles in a well-rounded fitness regimen.