Looking Good vs. Being Fit
Struggling up this steep cut through the cliff was painful for my lungs. Gros Ventre Wilderness, Wyoming. Photo: Dave Szmyd
For pretty much all of my adult life, being in (or getting in) shape was all about how I looked and felt in clothes. Sure I wanted to be healthy and yes I wanted to be able to do the outdoor hobbies I enjoyed. But when push came to shove, it was mainly about how I felt I looked and how I imagined others felt I looked.
I wanted to fit into small-sized clothing so I could buy cute stuff. I wanted to wear tank tops and show off my arms with confidence. I wanted to wear a thong without feeling like the underwear was framing two flabby orbs of chunky mush. I wanted to look good in a bikini and flaunt it on the beach. I wanted to be excited about being in a photo and look back on that photo feeling like, "Yeah....I got it!"
And, perhaps more importantly, I wanted others to also think I looked skinny and fit and "good". In a word, I wanted to be "hot".
But things have changed for me. Not overnight, of course. But over a year or so, and mainly over the past 6 months, my motivations for getting in shape (and staying there) have shifted. Almost against my will, I seem to care less about how I look to myself and others and more about how I perform. And this change has forced me to REALLY look at my health and think about what I want from my body, now and into the future.
I think some of this has to do with aging and I'm sure I'm not alone (I turned 40 last month). A year or so ago, my body started falling apart right before my eyes. I tore a triceps nearly in half on a ropes course -- the injury still limits what I can do today. I started experiencing plantar fasciitis more frequently. I was out of breath more than ever before at high elevations and my lungs really struggled to get up the hills.
This year I tore ligaments in the bottom of my foot and haven't been able to do much hiking, walking or running for a few months while it "heels". All of these things likely were caused (or partially caused) by my weight. I'm just too heavy to be comfortable doing physcial activities at the level at which I want to do them. And safety is now an issue.
As a younger pup, if I was a bit overweight, it didn't seem to matter. I could push through it and still accomplish awesome things. I could go all-out on ropes courses. I could take a hiking trip in Mexico after being relatively sedentary for the preceeding months. I could hike up high and only suffer a bit. I could mountain bike 17 miles through extreme hills and feel ready-to-go-again the next day (even after sleeping on camping pads). I was young. I could do whatever I wanted. I could be overweight and still run a 10K without injuring myself.
My passions in life these days revolve around outdoorsy activites. Hiking and backpacking are my favorite activities. Recently, my weight has made these activities more difficult in terms of injuries and level of comfort. I can still climb mountains and hike long distances, but it hurts more. And, frankly, it feels a little unsafe these days.
This latest problem with my foot is all because I went from doing literally nothing in terms of working out to hiking and trail running 70-100 miles per months. I THOUGHT I was listening to my body as I ramped up the mileage. And I was. But I seemed to be listening only to my muscles and lungs - the things I could easily feel. But I wasn't listening to my joints and bones and tendons because I couldn't feel them. They weren't talking to me...until they started getting truly injured.
I want to hike, backpack, trail run, kayak, mountain bike, snowshoe and paddleboard until the day I die. It's worth noting I don't currently do some of these things; they are just on my list of things I want to start doing soon. I haven't started because I don't feel healthy enough. I'm not confident I have the wherewithall to take it easy (I never do) and I'm not confident I won't get seriously injured.
To do these things as I age, I have to be in shape. Actually, it's better to say that I have to be in shape to do them at the level I want to. I don't want to paddleboard for an hour on the weekends here and there -- I could do that now. I want to paddlebaord down a river. Or paddleboard across lakes in the Boundary Waters for a week straight. I don't just want to snowshoe here and there. I want to go backpacking long distances on snowshoes. And I would love to do mountain bike backpacking, too. Not to mention my utlimate goal of thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
Nowadays, it isn't about how I look and feel in clothes. It's about avoiding injuries and increasing my physical abilities so that I can be more comfortable out there. I don't want to wear a cute bikini...I want my fat-swollen boobs to fit into amazing technical jackets. I don't care so much about whether my arms look good in a tank top. I care more about having the muscle strength to paddle a kayak for miles on end. I want my pack to feel lighter. I want my feet to hurt less. I want my lungs to work better at elevation and my legs to be strong enough to do their part in getting my lungs up the mountains.
Case in point: the motivational clothing items currently hanging in my closet are a sized medium Mountain Hardware Monkey Woman technical fleece jacket and my old (smaller) mountain biking shorts.
Still too tight around the twins and hips.
Let's talk about kids. I have one. An 11-year-old stepson. And he has been motivating in some ways as well. Not because he pushes me physicaly, but because he pushes my mind. I used to complain and joke about being fat around him frequently. But I don't want him to grow up thinking women must conform to a certain image or definition in order to be worthy. It's bad enough he sees an unrealistic definition of what it means to be beautful or sexy or worthy on commercials, in magazines, in movies and on so on. I am pretty bad-ass in my own right, and that's the lasting impression I want him to have of me.
I realized about a year ago that I need to change the way I treat myself in front of him. Now, instead fo calling myself "fat" I talk about how I want to lose weight so I can be healthier. How I want to have an easier time on my backpacking trips. How my lungs won't feel so stressed at altitude if my legs and core are stronger. I talk about getting stronger, not skinnier. I try to avoid belittling or degrading myself in front of him. I wouldn't want him to talk about himself in the ways I sometimes talk about myself - so I've made a concerted effort to change my attitude for his sake.
I talk about myself differently now for his sake (the kid, not the dog).
Ironically, I find my new motivations to be far more powerful than my old ones. I've lost twenty pounds so far this year and I did it without bizarre diets or extreme anythings. I did it by being healthier overall. Working out more. Eating healthy foods. I could have lost more if it weren't for this pesky foot injury that sidelined me for a few months. This weight loss is easing the stresses on my joints and bones when I backpacking and trail run. And I'm fitting into more of my accumulated, smaller-sized workout clothes.
I have much more work ahead of me as I would like to lose about 30 more pounds and gain a butt-load of muscle, especially in my core. But my desire isn't fleeting and my resolve is strong. I NEED to be healthier so I can enjoy the things I love doing most in life and so that my stepson respects women of all walks of life and has realistic expecations as he grows up.
If those aren't the best kinds of motivation, I don't know what are.