Fat, Fit, Free

There has been a large amount of press this last few weeks about weight, and fat shaming, and people not feeling good about themselves – or about people feeling good about themselves despite living in a culture that tells them they shouldn’t. Or about people who work really hard/hurt themselves/go to extremes to feel good about their body.

A friend of mine posted¬†about it today and I loved her post because it wasn’t just about the societal issues. It was also about health. It inspired me to talk about my own story.

My opinion on this comes from a different point of view and I feel it is a valuable opinion that might help others out there.

First, a little background.

Most of the women I grew up around were a healthy weight. I remember them talking all the time about needing to lose weight though. My mom was proud of the fact that she was 98 lbs until after her second baby – she was also short so it wasn’t an unhealthy weight for her. After that she was always talking about the 5-15 lbs she wanted to lose, though I never saw why she needed to. Some of the other women in my family had closets full of different sized clothing because they were constantly trying to lose weight and went up and down the scale. Most of the women in my life, however, were a healthy weight and they were not super active, but busy with family and work and such.

As an elementary school child I was skinny – much more skinny than most of my friends. I remember being teased about it a little. Not much. I was never athletic – I was clumsy and didn’t enjoy running or sports or PE. In middle school and high school I was healthy – definitely not over weight but not super skinny. I still didn’t enjoy sports or exercise, except weight lifting. I had injured my ankle twice and had to do physical therapy after surgery. Part of that included going to the gym and I liked feeling strong and healthy when I could lift weights. When I was sixteen I went through some situational depression. I lost weight and the doctor had my mom give me carnation instant breakfasts in addition to anything she could get me to eat. That was the last time in my life I was underweight. When I went to college I put on a few pounds – the freshman 15 – because I was eating top ramen and noodles and cheesecake. I did exercise at the field house though and enjoyed that, especially with a friend.

During college I was put on a bunch of medicines for “psychological issues” and many of those had a side effect of gaining weight. After that I perpetually went up and down on the scale. Dieting, exercising, losing weight, then gaining it back again, being sedentary, eating poorly. ¬†Most of the time I was a little overweight. Sometimes I was a lot overweight. That’s hard to say. But it’s true.

When I was 24 I had my gall bladder out. I found out that gall stones are often a result of extreme weight loss, which I had recently experienced. I had been dieting in a very unhealthy way and lost a bunch of weight and my body created gall stones and by the time they took it out it was gangrenous. I had a horrible recovery, staying in the hospital for 28 days and numerous drains placed to try and stop the abscess in my gut. I was so weak and sick when I got out I couldn’t walk around my apartment. Little by little I gained back my strength, but I don’t feel like I ever really got back to the health I had before that. I was also putting a lot of partying miles on my body. I’m sure that didn’t help.

I look back now and I wish I had realized the wonderful thing it is to have a healthy body. I wish I had realized that having a body that could run and jump and exercise and take a walk without asthma acting up or my vocal chord collapsing was a wonderful thing. I went through periods where I was more active and physical – running and eating well and going to exercise at the gym. I went through times in my life when I was less active – rather sedentary – and didn’t use my body at all. I went through times when the fuel I put into my body made me feel healthy and clear. And times when it muddled my brain and other body parts. I went through times where the work I did was very physical and I enjoyed being strong. I went through times where my work was very sedentary. But through it all, one thing never changed. I didn’t know how wonderful it was to have a body that worked well and allowed me to use it in strong, healthy ways.

Wait, let me say that again. I didn’t know how wonderful it was to have a body that worked well and allowed me to use it in strong, healthy ways.

And then cancer came into our lives. And my body forever changed. I won’t list all the ways it has changed, but there are a few that are important to this discussion. First – I have asthma. AND a paralyzed vocal chord. Sometimes breathing is difficult. Especially when I am exercising. Protip: Ya gots ta breathe to exercise. I have several parts of my body that are permanently damaged in ways that cause me extreme constant pain. I have limits to what my body can lift. I can no longer lift weights with anything but my legs. I can’t lift my body in any way – no push ups or pull ups or burpees or whathaveyous. I can’t lift my son. I can’t even do many of the household/gardening type activities I used to do – my pain flares and I am down for days. Carrying groceries is a monumental task. I no longer have a thyroid and no matter what they tell us, a synthetic pill just doesn’t completely replace the natural chemicals your body makes. I have fatigue issues. Many thyroid patients do. I have found ways to deal with the pain, with the help of some awesome doctors. But I have yet to find ways to deal with the fatigue. Still hoping to find that part of the puzzle. I get sick extremely easily. It seems we are sick every month and when that happens, I am in bed unable to complete daily necessities, much less exercise.

And now – now I see what a wonderful thing it was to have a healthy body. To have a body that worked the way it is supposed to. I see what I shouldn’t have taken advantage of. But… that is the way of health. You never really know what you have until it’s gone. You don’t truly appreciate being healthy until you aren’t. You don’t truly appreciate having a strong body until you don’t.

When I read these articles about “losing weight and being healthy and crossfit and boot camp and if I can do it you can too”… it makes me angry. It makes me angry that I can no longer do those things – because I think if I could again I would. I would never stop running and lifting weights and doing crazy crossfit workouts. If I could feel strong again I would never want to let that go. It also makes me angry when others don’t realize that not everyone is like them. Not everyone CAN do those things. That “if I can do it you can too” attitude isn’t the truth. I want to scream: “There are plenty of people out there who literally CAN’T do what you do. So stop shaming others and go enjoy your healthy body.” I love that they are encouraging others to use their bodies in a healthy way. If you encourage in a certain way, then it WILL help. But shaming others into feeling fat and “not the way they could/should/ought to be” is wrong.

Could I do more? Yes. I could. I should. I work towards that. But my body will never be the same. I will never do what I did 7 years ago. I will never be strong and healthy and full of energy again. I will never feel like I once did. I honestly think about whether I will live another 20 years and what I will feel like at that age a lot. The other day I said “blah blah blah in 20 years…” to my husband. He said “do you think you will live to be that old?” He was teasing. And he wasn’t. I don’t want 20 more years of pain and exhaustion. I don’t want to live in a body that often feels like a prison.

What’s the point of this post? The point is this: I encourage everyone I know who has a relatively healthy and strong body to use it. Use it in ways that make you feel good and alive and happy to be here. Use it in ways that make you feel like you are the king or queen of the world. Jump and dance and run around with your kids. Ride a mountain bike. Climb a tree. Go on a zipline. Run up a mountain. Feel the sun on your face. Backpack with your friends. Go to the school jogging club in the mornings with your kids. Take martial arts with your friend, or boxing, or ballet. Go rafting and ice skating and slide down slides. Go to concerts and dance until you want to pass out. Do all of this for those of us who can’t anymore. And do it for your family. And do it for you. Don’t do it because you want to see a certain person in the mirror. Don’t do it because you feel like you have to weigh a certain amount of pounds. Do it because it feels damn good. Do it because you are alive and you want to FEEL alive. Don’t put pressure on yourself to weigh in or measure up or have a certain body type. ENJOY your body. That’s the magic of the human body. It can be enjoyed. And the more you enjoy it, the better you feel. And the better you feel, the more you enjoy your body. It’s a wonderful “mysterious” cycle.

Use that cycle – love your healthy body – allow yourself to realize that all that really matters is if it works well. And if it doesn’t, well, you and I have a lot in common – and we still find ways to be happy and love life. That’s the big secret. Love life. If you do that, the rest is just gravy.