In which a fat girl thinks about fitness

Fitness is a funny area for fat people.

I mean, I say funny. What I actually mean, for this person at least, is fitness is an area filled with potentially traumatising flashbacks to PE at school, where you’d get told off for being unable to hit a rounders balls, or throw a shot put, or serve in tennis, or shoot in hockey, but were terribly good at ‘fielding deep’, ‘fielding deep’ being the classic PE euphemism for ‘go and sit a long way over there and make daisy chains, and don’t get in the way of the sporty children.’ I was never naturally gifted in the areas that make for being good at competitive sport. I’m not naturally quick. I’m clumsy. I lack basic hand eye co-ordination. My first instinct when faced with a ball coming towards me is to get out of the way. My second instinct, unfortunately, is usually to stop the damn thing with my face.

And, under the age of 16, fitness and sport are treated as if they’re the same thing. PE stands for physical education, but the key piece of education that was never offered was the simple fact that if you’re no good at netball and detest long jump, it’s just as good for your physical fitness to just run about or go salsa dancing or learn to snowboard. For me it took about 10 years after leaving school to realise that being terrible at PE didn’t actually preclude doing exercise as an adult. Since then I’ve tried a lot of different exercise options outside of the world of competitive sport. I’ve been to gyms. I’ve swum. For one very bleak winter I ran. I’ve danced, and boxed, and lifted weights. I yoga’d and zumba’d. I’ve never managed to get consistently thin, but I have definitely got fitter, and as I’ve got fitter I’ve got more confident about what makes a good or a bad exercise instructor, and what makes an exercise programme something you’ll stick with or something you’ll give up, and given that I have a whole corner of the interweb set aside specifically for me to reckon things about stuff, I thought I’d share some of those thoughts with you.

Here comes the inevitable list-bit (it’s a bit fitness class oriented but that’s what I’m into so tough)…

  1. If the instructor makes you feel crap, they’re a crap instructor. Yes – they need to be motivating. Yes – they need to encourage you to work hard. But, if they make you feel like a big fat failure because you can’t do a move, they’re doing a crap job at both those things. There are other classes. There are other gyms. There are other instructors. Time to move on.
  2. Find something you like enough to still do when it’s raining and you’re running late and it would be easier to just go straight home. It turns out I really like dance-based group classes. I would happily zumba or bokwa for hours on end. I really really detest running – I wish I liked it. It’s so handy – a pair of trainers and a positive attitude and you can do it anywhere. It’s by far the easiest way to keep up a fitness programme if you’re away from home a lot or don’t have much routine in your week, but it’s just horrible on every level. It’s boring, and repetitive, and it makes me feel like I might sick up a lung. Find something that makes you feel better about the world, not worse.
  3. Be prepared to try stuff you don’t think you can do – a few weeks ago I tried a class called Metafit. Now Metafit is freakishly hardcore but super short in duration, and realistically I could only do about 50% of the moves, but I felt amazing afterwards – all achievementy and proud. And it was horribly hard work, but it was only horribly hard work for 20 minutes, so it didn’t have the never ending relentless quality of attempting to run 5 miles. I haven’t been able to go back yet, but I’m planning to make it a regular class.
  4. If you really can’t do something, be prepared to say so or do something different instead. If you’re used to being terrible at PE, it’s really easy to think that not being able to do a particular move is your fault, and to just hide at the back of the class not being able to do it and feeling a bit meh. Don’t. A decent instructor should be able to give you an option that works for you.
  5. If you don’t like a class, think about trying the same class with a different instructor. It’s incredible how much difference a good instructor makes to the whole tone and feel of a class. Instructors are individuals and their teaching styles, choreography etc. vary massively even in classes run under the same branding or title. There are types of instructor I know I just won’t get on well with – usually the very shouty, hyper-competitive ones. But there are plenty of other fitness fishes in the sea.
  6. Remember that your instructor or trainer doesn’t know what it feels like for you. A lot of fitness instructors have never been fat – that means that when you point out to them that their super simple ‘body-weight’ training plan is way way harder for you because you’ve got a lot more body-weight to heave about the place, it can, occasionally, be a revelation. That’s fine. Just embrace the joy of having shared some knowledge. Sharing knowledge is always a beautiful thing.

 

So there you go – six random thoughts about exercise, from the point of view of a fat person. And there endeth the lesson for today. Go forth and exercise, or if you don’t fancy that, snuggle down under blanky and read books. That’s always nice too.

 

Where I muse on weight loss and dieting and shaking the fat off one’s child bearing hips

I am obese. I want to lose weight.

Now I would never dare to make assumptions about your reactions, dear reader, but I do know from experience that commonly people respond to those two statements in one of two ways. Either something along the lines of: “You don’t need to lose weight. You look fine. Society wants us all to be skinny. You shouldn’t listen to the pressure…” or “Oh my god! Me too. I am sooooo fat. It’s just disgusting.”

The interesting thing is that those two reactions don’t come from different groups of people. They can come from the same individuals at different times (different times sometimes being different moments within the same conversation). And I’ve had both of those reactions myself, both to other people’s claims to need to lose weight and (more worryingly) in my own internal monologue. BTW, any of you who don’t have an internal monologue should really get one. They’re marvellous fun. You never have to be lonely again.

Anyhoo, why is it that we don’t seem to respond to our weight in a rational way? If I was a smoker who told you I really wanted to give up, you would probably be encouraging. You would recognise that this is a decision with benefits. You would understand that smoking, although marvellous fun, is fundamentally a deeply unhealthy habit. Well, actually, so is overeating, but somehow dieting can come to feel like we’re giving in to pressure rather than doing what’s best for us. Here are some thoughts on the subject. I shall probably number them and put them in a list. Regular readers of this blog will have noticed how I do like a numbered list. I find them very soothing.

 

1. Yes. The diet “industry” is totally repellent.

I have a lifelong commitment never to give them any money. Working from home I get to enjoy the full gamut of weightloss advertising. Weightwatchers, Jenny Craig, Slimfast, “Click here to find out how some random off Big Brother lost 4 stone in 28 minutes.” I have ignored them all (and suspect that once this blog is published I shall have a flurry of new weight loss spam to ignore further). I will give Weightwatchers a slight exemption for being one of the few marketed weight loss systems that does have a fairly strong evidence base for it’s efficacy, but actually I know I’m overweight, and I know why. I’m not generally keen on paying to have someone tell me the obvious. And I’m definitely not paying for a snake oil solution. There is no magic pill, and, however well it’s marketed, there’s no such thing as a (calorie) free lunch.

 

2. Yes. Magazines, popular culture, tv, film and all that jazz, put ridiculous pressure on people (particularly young women) to look a certain way.

This isn’t just the obvious areas of skimpily clad popstars and computer game characters clearly drawn by someone who thought Barbie was a tad on the hefty side. When’s the last time you saw a fat newsreader? That’s really not a job requiring a high level of physical fitness. Sit on a chair and read this out. Even at my biggest (especially at my biggest) I think a sitting and reading based occupation would have been acceptable.

And, certain sections of the press still run a fairly constant feed of “X celeb has lost weight – hurrah!” or “X celeb has gained weight – she’s a witch! She’s a witch! Burn her!” stories. All of which equates your weight with your worth as a human being, and that’s a problem. It would be patent insanity to decide that all blue-eyed people were outwardly jolly but secretly self-loathing and deserving of ridicule. Substituting “fat” for “blue-eyed” doesn’t make the thought any saner.

 

3. Yes. If you diet there is a good chance you will gain weight again later.

I’ve done this one myself. I lost over 4 stone in my mid-twenties and promised myself that that would be the only time in my life when I would diet. It’s now 8 years on and I’m probably only about 10lbs less that I was at my highest weight before that big diet. In the meantime I’ve been up to within a couple of lbs of my highest  point and down again to within a stone of my lowest.

But this isn’t because of any inevitability of regaining weight. It’s because I went back to eating too much and eating too many high calorie foods. It was entirely within my own control. I just didn’t control it.

 

Losing weight is a health decision, and the practicalities of doing it aren’t hard. Eat less. Exercise more. That really is it. You can spend hours trawling the internet or watching daytime tv for specific diet plans and particular views on whether it’s sensible to eat carbs after 4pm (it’s totally fine, by the way), but the only outcome that reliably leads to weight loss is to eat less calories. And when you’ve lost weight, you keep it off by continuing to eat less calories than you did before. You got fat because you ate too much. You get thin by eating less. None of this is complicated, and none of it needs to be an emotional issue.

But there is an emotional element, and for more and more women that I talk to it goes like this. Society says I have to be thin. I’m an independent strong woman. If I lose weight I’m giving into society rather than celebrating my individuality and accepting the woman that I am. I can understand that feeling.  I actually think that sometimes it takes more confidence to say, “I don’t like x about myself. I’m going to change it,” than to say that everything is fine. All I can say is that you have to do what is best for you. For me being thinner is better. I feel fitter and stronger. I get out of breathe less quickly. I can walk up hills without feeling like I might vomit up a lung. In the long term, hopefully I will have a longer and healthier life, which I want. There is so much cool stuff in the world. I really want to give myself the best possible shot at seeing as much of it as I can.

And if I’m honest, society has got to me too. I like being able to try on size 10-12 clothes, rather than being on the cusp of sizes that the “normal” stores don’t stock. I like going out in a floaty top and feeling confident that no-one is going to ask when the baby’s due. I like being able to count my chins without having to use the fingers on the second hand. I do feel prettier when I’m thinner.

So for all those reasons I am going to lose weight again. And I’m really going to try to make this the last time I go through it. For my height I should be somewhere between 8 stone 10lbs and 10 stone 10lbs. From past experience I know that too far under 10 stone and my hip bones and collarbone start to stick out a bit worryingly (maybe Grandma was right all those years she told me I had childbearing hips, which are sadly completely wasted on me). 

The target is 10stone. That’s 3.5 stone to lose. Gosh. I’d say wish me luck, but that would miss the point. I don’t need luck. I just need to eat less calories and workout more, which is hard because exercise is fun once you’re doing it but a pain to motivate yourself for, and food is lovely, like really really lovely, but not quite as lovely as a life without heart disease. So lovely scrummy food in moderation only from now on.

Eat less. Exercise more.

Eat less. Exercise more.

Eat less. Exercise…