Exercising While Fat

I have a complicated relationship with exercise and my body, as I’ve discussed before. The word “diet” makes my skin crawl, and regular exercise is something I’m still warming up to. However, I was talking with a friend recently about how nice it would be to see more fat people talk about their workout routines, particularly when those routines are centered around feeling good rather than… all of the baggage that makes exercise suck.

So, I figured I should put my money where my mouth is and talk about the kinds of exercise I like, why, and how it’s helped me get more connected with my body. Before I start, though, I want to say that it’s taken me years to create a better relationship with my body and not feel like throwing up and/or crying when I think about exercising. If you are not there yet, I want to assure you that this post isn’t going to attack you for not being a “good fatty” and working out or eating perfectly. I’m sharing my experience purely because I think we need more examples of people being fat and happy in different ways.

Now, my routine is pretty basic, and I am slightly hampered by the fact that I’m dealing with an injury from running cross-country back in middle school. (No, really–did you know you can’t actually fix fractures in your toes? It’s great.) I also have the benefit of having a small, basic gym right inside my apartment building, so I don’t have to worry about an expensive gym membership or buying a bunch of exercise equipment to use at home. The great thing about workouts is that they are easily customized to fit your needs and skill level. Listen to your body and move in ways that make you feel good. If something hurts, figure out if it’s because your form is off or if it’s because that particular exercise doesn’t work well for you. For example, I find that squatting with a barbell really hurts my neck, which it definitely shouldn’t do! After trying to adjust my form a whole bunch, I’ve found that this is still not an exercise I particularly like or find comfortable, so I don’t include it in my workout routines. This isn’t a bad thing! There are a million different kinds of exercises to work out each part of your body. It’s okay if it takes a bit to figure out the right ones for you.

Cardio

In the past, when I wasn’t dealing with broken toe flareups, I used to go for runs. I know that everybody whines about how much running sucks, but I actually really enjoyed the chance to push myself. Especially once I started using Zombies, Run! If you’re at all into zombie stuff or want to try out something a little different, I highly recommend trying Zombies, Run! out. It functions as a run tracker and gives you missions and challenges to complete, all while telling the story of a small group of survivors that you unlock as you complete missions. This works both for running outdoors or on a treadmill. According to the creators, you can also use it while using a bicycle or stationary bike. It’s really immersive and allows you to listen to other music or podcasts while still giving you this incredible story to lose yourself in as you run. I don’t use this as much anymore now because of my injuries, but if you’re up for an interesting, fun challenge, I highly recommend it!

Now, I mostly use a stationary bike at the gym for my cardio. If you also struggle to do more high-impact cardio like running (which, to be fair, is not all that great for your joints), using a stationary bike or an actual bike you ride outside is a really great option. It’ll get your blood pumping and give you the same endorphin rush. I’ve found that I like using a stationary bike a lot more than the elliptical, but that’s just personal preference. Whatever kind of cardio I’m doing, I make sure I get at least 30 minutes of it in each workout, along with a 5-minute cooldown. I prioritize cardio because it’s what makes me feel the best. It helps balance out my brain chemistry better than anything else, so if I only have a limited amount of time to work out, I always choose cardio.

However, I also am not into cardio overkill. Workout advice for those of us who are heavier tends to focus on cardio because it’s “fat-burning.” That kind of rhetoric is exhausting, and I don’t think it’s necessary to promise that you’re going to do an hour of cardio every time you go to the gym. This is especially true if you’re more interested in strength training or making your body feel good rather than weight loss.  I use cardio as a way to ease myself back into the gym and get myself mentally prepared for my workout. I also use it as “me time” where I can play around on Pinterest and listen to podcasts without worrying about interruptions.

Arms

Once I’m done with cardio, I move on to weights. What’s available in the little gym I use is limited, so most of my strength training either requires no equipment or only requires dumbbells and a workout bench.

On the days I exercise my arms, chest, and back, I use workouts that come from this site. I know the basics of arm workouts, but there are times when I want to exercise a more specific part of my body and I’m not totally sure what to do. That’s when that site comes to the rescue. They split everything up into distinct categories so you can focus on specific muscle groups, and they have detailed diagrams and descriptions of each exercise to help you along. It’s a great free resource that can help you build a routine that works for you.

My usual arm routine looks something like this:

  • Bicep curl (3 sets of 12 reps–so, I do 12 bicep curls three separate times)
  • Bench press (3 sets of 12 reps)
  • Two-armed tricep extension (3 sets of 12 reps)
  • Palms-in alternated shoulder press (3 sets of 12 reps)

Occasionally I’ll change things up, but that’s my standard. It’s simple and I can adjust the difficulty for myself by changing the weights I’m using.

Legs

I really love doing leg workouts! All of these exercises are easily done at home, especially if you have a yoga mat. A mirror that allows you to check your form is also really helpful to make sure that your form is correct and you’re not injuring yourself. If you’re super unsure about your form, ask a friend you trust to check your form. It might also be worth your while to work with a personal trainer who can teach you more about form. Gotta stay safe!

For legs, my routine is pretty simple:

  • Squats (3 sets of 12 reps)
  • Lunges (3 sets of 10 reps–lunges are super hard for me, so I have to take it a little easy!)
  • Calf raises (3 sets of 12 reps)
  • Side leg raises (3 sets of 12 reps)
  • Inner thigh leg raises (3 sets of 12 reps)

Abs

Ab workouts are also something I really enjoy, though I’m still on the lookout for more variety in this part of my routine. Making sure I get an ab workout in is super important for me. It strengthens my core and keeps my lower back from hurting when I’m working at my desk all day.

My ab routine:

  • Leg lifts (3 sets of 12 reps)
  • Plank (3 sets, hold for 20 seconds on the first rep, 45 on the second rep, and 20 on the third rep)
  • Russian twists (3 sets of 12 reps)

Like I said, my workouts aren’t anything super complicated. They’re fairly easy to do even if you’re not super experienced or are just getting back into the gym. This routine won’t solve all your problems or drastically change your body shape. Still, it’s worthwhile to find out what kind of exercise you like and maybe even try this routine out. Moving your body in a way that makes you feel good is super important!

I love hearing from other fat positive folks about their workouts! What are some ways you move your body that make you feel good? Any exercises you think I should try?  Let’s talk in the comments!

Exercising While Fat

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[Review] Turtles All the Way Down

Mental illness is part of my everyday life. On a good day, it’s quiet background noise, a voice whispering cruel things that my rational self is able to ignore and brush aside. On a bad day, my nerves are jangling, waiting for my anxiety to pounce again and force me into a series of repetitive thoughts that get harder to control as every new thought appears. On a bad day, my brain will settle on something to obsess over and pick, pick, pick at it until I am struggling to get through my day.

So when I heard that John Green, master of writing relatable teenagers with varying degrees of social and/or plain old anxiety, was writing a book with a main character with OCD… I was pretty excited. But I’ve strayed from reading YA in recent years, as I am getting to the point where they no longer feel like they’re for me. Reading about kids in high school feels like reading about an alien planet I once lived on but have no desire to go back to. So I filed the knowledge away to be taken advantage of at another time, figuring I’d maybe read it someday when I had time.

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Luckily, my partner knows me better than I often know myself and put Turtles All the Way Down on hold at our local library branch before the book was even released. (Frugal and romantic! He knows the way to my heart, y’all.) It took a few weeks before a copy was available, but as soon as it was, I started reading.

And… had to stop not too far in.

It wasn’t because the book was bad. Oh, no. It was because it was too good. Reading it spiked my anxiety like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t have OCD, but the main character Aza’s fears of germs and disgust of things like the process of eating and digestion, and her constant questioning of whether or not she was real felt extremely familiar.

I powered through it, though. There were so many portions of the story that pinged some core feeling inside me. Aza’s struggle with physical intimacy because of invasive thoughts about germs, her descriptions of “thought spirals” and questions about what controls our thoughts and whether our thoughts are us or not, and the way stressors in her life eventually get her to this point where she feels as if her control over her thoughts is even more limited than normal – so much of it felt like things I had experienced, and the writing is visceral enough that sometimes I had to stop and catch my breath for a minute and remind myself that I was okay.

However, while it felt amazing and made me felt seen to have these kinds of trials put to paper, the thing that really made Turtles feel important was its focus on healing. Note that I don’t say “recovery.” If you’re looking for a book where everything ends very neatly and the main character conquers their mental illness entirely and everything is hunky-dory, don’t expect Turtles to be that book. Aza is not perfect at the end of the novel by any stretch of the imagination. But she has taken the time to use the tools at her disposal to be the best she can be, and that was a deeply important message for me to read. This is a book about healing hurts and knowing that sometimes, even though you have healed, your pain can sometimes try to come back to haunt you, and that’s not the end of the world if you have the right tools to handle the pain when it arrives. It’s also about life going on, and how, despite mental illness often being an unwelcome guest that will likely never leave you, you can still go on to live your life and do all the things you dream of doing.

I felt like John Green summed up that sentiment really well at the end of his acknowledgments.

Lastly, Dr. Joellen Hosler and Dr. Sunil Patel have made my life immeasurably better by providing the kind of high-quality mental health care that unfortunately remains out of reach for too many. My family and I are grateful. If you need mental health services in the United States, please call the SAMHSA treatment referral helpline… It can be a long and difficult road, but mental illness is treatable. There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.

Despite some meandering plot lines and a kind of slowness that drags portions of the book down, I still think this is, if not one of the best, then one of the most important books I’ve read in a while.