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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I Hate Dieting: A Response to “Losing It in the Anti-Dieting Age”

I said it: I hate dieting. I really do. From the compulsiveness it creates in myself and others to the sanctimoniousness of ex-fat people who can’t seem to talk about anything except how terrible it was to be fat and who consistently find new, innovative ways to throw currently-fat people under the bus, to its pervasiveness in modern culture – I hate it. I hate going to parties and talking to women who I know are perfectly intelligent and getting caught in a discussion about weight loss, because suddenly we are no longer saying anything particularly smart or useful. We just repeat a conversation we have had with dozens of other women a hundred times before.

I’ve written a bit here about body image and how fat positivity has changed my life (and, quite frankly, probably saved it in many ways), but I honestly feel like that post was too tame considering my relatively radical beliefs about fat bodies and diet culture. One of those beliefs is that dieting is ugly. It warps people’s brains and twists cultural concepts of what it means to be a worthwhile human being. I know because I’ve been on diets and been given all kinds of weird and terrible diet advice over the years. I will honestly never get over being told by my pediatrician when I was 12 (and pretty normal-sized – I was already at my adult height but I was at an average weight for that height) that I should avoid eating fruit if I was going to be eating lots of sugary things because the extra sugar from the fruit would make me fat. I was shocked. My doctor was telling me to eat less fruit? When she didn’t even know what I ate every day? We barely ever even had juice in the house because of my parents’ concerns about sugar.

That same doctor told me that I needed to try Weight Watchers or maybe go to a support group for fat teens a few years later. I was ashamed and angry at the time, even though a small part of me agreed with her. I was 15 and hated my body, like most 15 year olds. I wouldn’t attempt to take up her advice until I was almost 17 and my father was moving to a small Mediterranean country famous for its limestone beaches. Horrified by the thought of being in a swimsuit in public at my size (which, admittedly, was not small, but  I was certainly not the beast I thought I was), I started Weight Watchers several months before I left. I spent a good portion of my junior year of high school counting points and doing my best not to cheat. I ended up losing about 40 pounds, but I honestly could barely tell the difference. I still felt just as bad about myself as I ever had. I swam that summer and loved it, but eventually quit the program because I just couldn’t keep up the motivation to continue and actually get down to my goal weight of 125 pounds.

Fast forward to a few years later. I had started college and found the fat acceptance movement. (Also, a note here: I believe that while the body positivity movement and the fat acceptance movement have some of the same goals, body positivity has been watered down so much by corporations that it has become meaningless. The body positivity that helped me love myself is not the same body positivity I see everywhere today selling tea cleanses and telling people they need to “get fit.” To be frank, every good thing that body positivity is giving to people now is ground that the fat acceptance movement paved the way for, and did better.) Over the course of the intervening four years since finding the movement, I am a completely different person. Bigger, yes, but also happier. I still have body image issues and really bad days, but my good and neutral days far outweigh my bad ones. I still worry about how other people perceive my body, but that’s a consequence of being fat in a world that is constantly telling me I shouldn’t be. I am more unapologetic about my size than I have ever been.

But stories like “Losing It” still hit me hard. This is one of the passages that really got to me:

 I told Foster that Obesity Week made me sad. First, it was the profusion of educated people in the room studying me and my people as if we were problems to solve. But second, it was because if you have this many hundreds of smart and educated people trying to figure this out, and nobody has anything for me but superfood and behavior modification and an insertable balloon and the removal of an organ, it must be that there is no way to solve fatness.

I felt a twinge in my heart when I first I read that. Because, yes, there’s a tiny part of my brain that has been programmed for 22 years to think that I should be as small as possible who wants a “solution” to my problem. The de-programmed part of me has realized that the solution is loving myself and trying to help others do the same, but being reminded that there are people out there doing their best to find a “fix” for the problem of fatness.

A few paragraphs later, when Brodesser-Akner describes her experience with intuitive eating classes, I almost cried:

I went to an intuitive-eating class — intuitive eating is where you learn to feed yourself based only on internal signals and not external ones like mealtimes or diet plans. Meaning it’s just eating what you want when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. There were six of us in there, educated, desperate fat women, doing mindful-eating exercises and discussing their pitfalls and challenges. We were given food. We would smell the food, put the food on our lips, think about the food, taste the food, roll the food around in our mouths, swallow the food. Are you still hungry? Are you sure? The first week it was a raisin. It progressed to cheese and crackers, then to cake, then to Easter candy. We sat there silently, as if we were aliens who had just arrived on Earth and were learning what this thing called food was and why and how you would eat it. Each time we did the eating exercise, I would cry. ‘‘What is going on for you?’’ the leader would ask. But it was the same answer every time: I am 41, I would say. I am 41 and accomplished and a beloved wife and a good mother and a hard worker and a contributor to society and I am learning how to eat a goddamned raisin. How did this all go so wrong for me?

It was hard for me to read because I’ve been there, and some days I still am there. Our culture has such strange ideas about food and how it’s supposed to be consumed and who is allowed to consume food and how much of it is socially acceptable for them to consume that it seems impossible that there are people in this world that do not have a fraught relationship with the food they consume. I am still working on intuitive eating, especially when I am in a group setting. Intuitive eating is so much easier when there isn’t a potential audience. But I’ve gotten a lot better. Still, though, the idea that eating a raisin is hard is something that I felt deep inside myself. Eating is complicated and difficult.

But this was the moment where the author lost me:

Weight isn’t neutral. A woman’s body isn’t neutral. A woman’s body is everyone’s business but her own. Even in our attempts to free one another, we were still trying to tell one another what to want and what to do. It is terrible to tell people to try to be thinner; it is also terrible to tell them that wanting to lose weight is hopeless and wrong.

I don’t know if diets can work in the short term or the long term. For the first time, I began to think that this was something worth being made crazy over. Our bodies deserve our thoughts and our kindness, our acceptance and our striving. Our bodies are what carry our thoughts and our kindness and our acceptance and striving.

I agree with her first few statements. Women’s bodies aren’t neutral, and it is terrible to try to tell people to be thinner, especially as we are learning more and more that dieting doesn’t work in the long-term except for a very small number of people and that weight cycling like that caused by dieting can be very harmful.

But deciding that dieting is “something worth being made crazy over” and that dieting involves “thoughts and… kindness [and] acceptance and… striving” is honestly appalling to me. Dieting is quite literally the exact opposite of acceptance of one’s body and self. I completely understand where Brodesser-Akner is coming from, but I feel like deciding to give in to something as harmful as the weight loss industry because it allows one to perpetually strive for a “better” self is self-destructive. Accepting disordered eating because it feels like the only option can only end in disaster.

So I want to propose something to anyone who is struggling with being fat or with disordered eating or both: try to be kind to yourself. Self-acceptance comes slowly. And sometimes self-acceptance means that you have to accept that you do not look exactly how you want yourself to. Self-acceptance means changing your expectations of yourself and your goals for who you want to be. It means thinking about what you want for yourself beyond being smaller. It means realizing that you’ve put a lot of time and energy and brain space into thinking about your weight and trying to “fix” it that could probably be better spent thinking about and doing other things. Some examples of small ways that you can be kind to yourself:

  • Push back against negative thoughts. If the part of your brain that likes to say cruel things tells you, “God, that outfit looks terrible on you,” respond back with something like, “It looks fine and I like the color.”
  • Every year, one of my favorite podcasts, The Sporkful does a New Year’s Food Resolution episode. Here’s a link to the 2017 episode. The host, Dan Pashman, encourages listeners to pick a food they want to eat more of each year. This year, my resolution was to eat more fruits and veggies that I hadn’t tried before, and eat them in ways I had not tried them before. It may already be August, but I still think this is something worth trying.
  • Do things that are good for your body just because you like them. I discovered that I really like running, so I do that sometimes. Maybe there are healthy things that you haven’t tried that you really like, like swimming or dancing or roasted brussels sprouts with olive oil and a delicious blend of spices. Maybe there’s a thing you love to do that you’ve been putting off because you think you’re too fat to do it anymore. You should do it anyway. Life is short, and waiting until you’re thin enough to do something might mean you wait forever.
  • Eat some good things just because they taste good and you want them. I mean, sure, moderation in all things, but sometimes you just have to eat a bunch of ice cream. Sometimes you want to buy a whole cake just for yourself. Sometimes you want to make homemade tempura and enjoy the taste. It’s okay. You can give yourself permission to do that sometimes.
  • Take a look at pictures of fat people, and not just ones that are inspiration porn. I recommend blogs like Fat Girls Doing Things or going through hashtags on Instagram like #plussize, #plussizefashion, #fatspo, or #fatpositive. It can make a huge difference to see people who look like you on a regular basis. And, if you’re not fat, this is still something you should do, because we should all be trying to normalize fat bodies.

I know it feels like it, but weight loss isn’t the only answer out there. You can unlearn the vicious things people have taught you to believe about your body. You can have a completely fulfilling life while being fat. There’s another way to do things, and it’s worth trying.

I’ve been neglecting this space. Luckily, it was for good reason. I just started working full-time for a company I really enjoy working for. I’m still trying to find a rhythm with non-work stuff, but I feel like I’m starting to make some headway.

Even though I haven’t been posting much here, I haven’t neglected writing completely. I recently wrote a post called “5 Tips That Will Make You A Better Writer” for work that I’m pretty proud of.

I also just recently read “Losing It in the Anti-Dieting Age” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, which I found really compelling. I appreciated the personal touch Taffy brought to the story as a person who has tried many different diets, but I also found the dissection of how diet companies and a thinness-obsessed culture have co-opted parts of the fat positive movement and started using “body positivity” to sell the same products they’ve always sold really important to talk about. I have a whole heck of a lot to say about that, so I’ll likely be getting up a post about it in the next few weeks.

My Body Is A Good Body

Working out has never been my favorite thing. I have a whole lot of baggage surrounding exercise and dieting and have dealt with a lot of emotional pain as a result of being a fat person in a family obsessed with discussing their latest diets and workouts.

But I feel like I’m over a kind of self-loathing hump. 

I’ve been fat for a long time, and felt fat and been worried about becoming fat for even longer. I’ve had a lot of days where I’ve absolutely loathed my body. I remember doing some clothes shopping (online, because trendy stores like to try and keep us fat girls out) just last year and sobbing because I felt so ugly and worthless and was so hyperaware of how much the fashion industry and the world hated my body.

The last few months, though, I’ve come to a greater place of self-acceptance. I can look at myself and not freak out over my chubby cheeks or my double chin or fat belly. I’m starting to see myself as I am in the mirror again. I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been and I… don’t really have feelings about it. I just am. And it feels really freeing.

I’ve been following the body positive and fat positive communities for a few years. This is the first time where I’ve really felt like the rhetoric of those spaces applies to me. I feel like my body is a good body worth putting time and effort into. Seeing photos on instagram of the folks lifting at Lacy J. Davis and her partner’s gym, Liberation Barbell, has been a huge source of inspiration. Seeing photos of fat women doing yoga, dancing, running, swimming, and hiking over the years has made me capable of being curious about what my body might be able to accomplish without added negative junk. 

So for the past several weeks, I’ve been making an effort to work out. I’ve only pulled off two workouts so far – I set myself back with an unrelated sprained ankle – but I’m excited to keep going. I love my body and have thought for a long time about how cool it would be to be stronger, so I’m trying to act on that. It feels really amazing and freeing and positive to not have my exercise routine tainted with thoughts of “toning” my chunky arms or “burning fat away.” I have literally never engaged in a fitness activity purely for internal benefits or for something like strength rather than with an expectation (even if I won’t admit it out loud) of weight loss, and of my life becoming better because I take up less space.

I deserve to take up space, even in a gym where people think my fat ass doesn’t belong.