You may be wondering how the hell that is possible. How could the above photo do anything but encourage? Well, the problem in my case was that the visual goals presented in the above photo required completely different behaviors than the goals in the text and that the pursuit of the visual goal led me to unhealthy behaviors that ended up screwing my progress in the long run.
The first time I tried to lift weights was some time around age 16 or 17. Before that I stuck mostly to pilates, yoga, calisthenics and other stereotypically feminine exercise styles. My exercise induced asthma always made traditional cardio incredibly uncomfortable so my routine at that time was a one mile run on the treadmill or my high school’s track to warm up my muscles and then strength training. At some point I discovered by the football field, a weight room where the school athletes, especially the foot ball players, would train. With permission from the coach I started going there 4 days a week after school to lift. I received no help from anyone there., so a lot of what I was doing was from watching the others. At the time I was eating a diet called “The Scarsdale diet” which a normal day consists of a breakfast of high fiber toast and black coffee and then two more low-carb high protein/fiber meals for lunch and dinner. The calories tend to stay under 1500. I now know this is very similar to what a body builder will eat pre competition for slim down. What I didn’t know back then was that they usually have 6 months of high calories for muscle gain and that the pre-competition diet is a constant balance of losing body fat while trying desperately to not sacrifice lean muscle. Strength gains tend to not happen during that period.
I remember about a month after starting, the coach in the room suggested I try bench pressing. At the time, I was sort of taken aback by this because it seemed like such a brutishly male sort of exercise. The kind of exercise that would turn, what I considered at the time, my already masculine looking body (because I was broad shouldered and flat chested) in to something out of a body building magazine. However, I now know two things. First off, I did NOT have a masculine body and secondly, getting that sort of body takes an incredible amount of dedication, hours, special diets, and oftentimes hormonal enhancements , the most famous being testosterone. All I could bench press at the time was the bar. I was told it was about 40 pounds. I was incredibly embarrassed by my lack of strength but I was starting to be incredibly happy with my body results. My butt was getting round and cute, my stomach was getting flatter, and my arms more defined but despite it all, I was making incredibly slow progress. I ate more protein, upping my calories from 1500 to 1700 and still saw very little progress, strength-wise, though I was happy to realize that the extra 200 didn’t seem to do anything to my weight. Unfortunately I still had absolutely no positive guidance to work from. My women’s health magazines, which is where I got most of my exercise information from at the time, all combined “strength” training with 1200-1500 calorie “clean diets” and had beautiful, slender fitness models holding dainty, pink and lavender 5 pound weights. The aim was to tone. Still, I had the inkling in my brain that this was something I could be really good at if I stuck with it, so I tried to ignore the implication that I needed to be lifting light, and kept on. Unfortunately, I didn’t extrapolate that the dietary information I was getting wasn’t conducive to my goals either so I continued to not make any progress with my strength gains besides my legs, though I was still getting thinner.
(me when I was strength training in high school, about 147lbs)
After a while, I remember mentioning to my boyfriend at the time what I was doing and he informed me that he already knew and that the school athletes were laughing at me behind my back because of how inept I looked. Of course, no one was kind enough to fix my problems or give me suggestions; instead they chose to laugh at the girl presumptuous enough to trespass on their sacred male-only space. It’s sort of funny, but with that one comment (one that he never made again) I internalized what my boyfriend had told me and suddenly became painfully aware of the stares I was getting but hadn’t noticed before. I started internalizing my gal friend’s comments that my quads were getting quite large, and instead of taking it as a compliment, I took it as a warning that I was starting to look like those “dreaded” female body builders. I was starting to take up too much space.
Pretty soon after, I stopped going to the weight room and just ran in the morning at home and did pilates, trying desperately to regain a leaner, “toned” ballerina body (something that I am not genetically inclined towards, no matter what I do.) I did eventually lose my bigger muscles but this did not equal more slender. In fact, I went up a pants size despite keeping my calories low. I grew depressed and now, in hindsight, believe the constant dieting was beginning to take its toll. I could barely sleep at night (though I slept like a baby when I was lifting heavy) and I could barely stay awake during the day. It was during this time that began my first round of anti-depressants. Over the next ten years I’d temporarily begin a new exercise regimen but would quickly grow discouraged from lack of results; feeling like shit because I was usually combining it with low calorie diets, and emphasizing low weight/high rep exercise and cardio: the two things that for some strange reason just make me feel horrible. I went up and down the scale as well, but could never sustain it like I could when I was weight training.
Fast forward to now; about two months ago after my refeeding/ mind reset, I began to crave exercise again, my energy levels were coming back so I started doing body weight exercises again. Then I bought a kettlebell, and now I’m working with a barbell, EZ-curl bar, and dumbbells. Despite losing about 3 inches from my waist, I didn’t lose a pound that first month and a half. 10 years ago, I would never have processed this as a good thing. If my weight didn’t budge it meant progress wasn’t being made. However, this is no longer the case, Currently I’m about three pounds down on the scale but I no longer consider that as the entirety of my progress. My performance, as in, “am I increasing my weight load every week?”, “what does my body composition look like?,” and “how do I feel?” are much more important data points now. My belly fat has gone down considerably, especially dramatic if you notice I’m wearing the same pair of bottoms in both photos. My thighs have stayed about the same size, my butt has gotten bigger (yes, I want that) but I can tell you personally that on the right side, there’s a helluva lot more lean mass underneath the fat (thank you deadlifts and squats.) And I’m happy to say that despite being pretty (re) new at this, I can lift about twice as much as I could as a teenager, despite now having about 70 extra pounds of pure body weight to lift in addition to the barbell.
Anyway, my point here isn’t to focus on the “slenderization process” but I wanted to make the point that for the first time in my life, I am not starving myself and subsequently bingeing, I am exercising regularly, I am not neurotically micro-managing my macronutrients, though I try to get plenty of protein, I’m sleeping well despite cosleeping with a squiggly toddler, and I’m losing inches but not an incredible amount of scale weight because I stopped worrying what the patriarchy would think if I got strong and started taking up space. I stopped worrying about who was going to judge me if I ate a sustainable diet. I took my focus off losing weight, and put it instead towards energy and movement.
That said, I also don’t want this to be about what is the best exercise for you, though, I personally believe women would benefit a great deal from heavy weight training . My point is that taking uninformed opinions and sexist prejudice to heart, when trying to decide what sorts of movement and activities will be sustainable for a lifetime is bound to lead you to a bum deal because it’s about YOU not about the rest of the world.
Doing things you love; that make you feel good is what’s going to bring you the most results because you will consistently do it for the rest of your life. (Thank you Go Kaleo) Because moderation and consistency are evidence based. If yoga and pilates are what get you revved up to move in the morning, you should do that. If cross fit gets your motor running, do that. If you love to run, get out there, tigress! If powerlifting turns you on, get the fuck out there and lift ALL the things, but for the love of all this is holy, FUEL your movement. If you’re too tired to move from excessive calorie or macro nutrient restriction, you won’t do it. You might run off of pure willpower, caffeine and masochistic self-loathing for a good long while, but sooner or later either injury or personal/emotional crisis will interrupt you and your exercise/diet regimen will be the first thing to go. Trust me, I’ve gone through this more times than I care to count.
If your chosen exercise is based on what others think you should be doing and your diet based on neurotic restriction, it’s going to be that much harder to get back on the wagon. Make it easy. Do what you love, fuck the patriarchy, and fuck thinspo.
I got an ask last night asking if I had any tips on how to be athletic and eat well, but not focus on weight loss. this morning I read this piece and I think it fits the bill nicely. Though I’ve been working out for the last two months at a gym (1 hour a day, 4-5 days a week, with a trainer produced workout regimen that focuses on strength gains not body weight loss), I don’t have the full history that this woman does, nor do I have her eloquence. I HIGHLY encourage anyone who is interested in working out to read this article instead of anything (ANYTHING) in Women’s Fitness.
Someone I really dislike made it known they hate Theon. Reason to dislike you even more.