Weighty Matters (A Four Part Series): Part 4

We all have our demons. It’s hard to share the things that scare us, that make us feel the most insecure – but sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and do things that you find scary in order to grow. Just like swimming the Chesapeake Bay was a physically scary challenge for me, and one that completely transformed my sense of self, I am publishing this series to bare a personal demon, to face a fear, and hopefully become stronger and more “balanced” as a result.

Triathlon and control.  Control and weight.  Weight and body image.  Numbers and traps. In part three of this series I detailed how in 2010 my journey into triathlon had led me into a trap of believing that numbers were the barometer of health, and how by the end of 2010 I decided to refocus my energies and to move away from the numbers and the things (and people) that made me question my self image. 

On Health

Since 2011 I have focused on eating a healthy well balanced diet.  For me this has meant learning more about food.  Learning more about our food system.  Learning more about the human body and the way it reacts to certain foods.

In late 2011 I felt happy with where I was at in terms of my HEALTH – my training, my cooking, my eating, my sleeping – it was all in a good place.  My blog evolved too. I became comfortable sharing more about myself, more personal things, things that made me tick.  And I continued to write about what I was eating, what I was reading.  I posted recipes – treats as well as healthy eats.  No holds barred, no editing, no illusion creating.  I was comfortable with my choices – that everything had its place in my diet, in moderation.

In 2012 we took some new paths along the healthy eating trail in our house.  We moved to gluten-free eating.  I was by then firmly off the “store bought” “let’s go out for dinner” trail, and onto the “if you want it make it” clean eating train.  I started making our own bread regularly in early 2012.  I haven’t bought ice cream since November 2011.  I gave a focus to fruits and vegetables.  I bought a Vitamix.  We don’t go out to eat nearly as often as we once did.

And as for my weight – I am still pretty much the same weight I was in 2010 when I turned away from thinking that health equalled a number.  I discussed my weight in early 2012 with my running coach, again trackside, as I was coming back from tendonitis and overuse and building back up my running.  I wondered if losing weight would make running feel EASIER.  His reply?  You have to do what makes you feel right – right in yourself, right when you run.

And what I was doing was making me feel right in myself.

Feeling right enough to qualify for the 2012 USA Paratriathlon National Championships at the 2011 London Triathlon

For two years the scale has been JUST a data point for me. A piece of information, information that was of little value on its own when it comes to gauging my overall HEALTH.  Instead of the numbers, I focused on what made me feel right.  I learned that the number on its own doesn’t tell me much.  It is just as much about my levels of training, my levels of fatigue, how I recover and how I manage my maladies.  And I have seen that the focus on CONTROL as applied to weight and an absolute number is a TRAP for me – a slippery slope to unhappiness. 

2013 is my year of “living intently”.  I am trying to use this year to learn more about how to decode my body and the patterns I see in the data, in order to understand and manage my health a bit better.  To help me with this I purchased a set of Withings scales at the start of the year.  My weight is automatically tracked, which I then examine next to my training commentary on Training Peaks, alongside of my travel schedule.  I search for patterns to help me to better manage my health and well-being. 

I like to try to figure out what causes the peaks and valleys in graphs like this… To see if they coincide with anything else in my life…

But Withings also measures body fat.  And although I know the scales are not reliable, I FIND MYSELF STARING.  Fascinated.  Just like my scale and the number it said captivated me in 2009 and 2010…

Ah hello rabbit hole.  This slippery slope feels familiar. 

I’ve learned that numbers pull me – seduce me – into a single minded focus.  Maybe that’s not surprising given that I studied mathematics? 

Recently my google reader has exploded with the latest hot topic.  It’s no longer about “race weight” in the multisport world – the search for an elusive absolute.  This time the community is all abuzz about “body fat percentage”.  When I look back at 2010 in particular, I see that the online world can lure me into new avenues, not all of them healthy for me.  The focus on a number that I am seeing and reading makes me feel strangely similar to how I felt in 2010 when I wrote my rant on fatness and fitness

Now I know. When I go down this path and focus on the numbers rather than how I feel, I become unhappy. I stop living “in the now” and find myself thinking about “what ifs” and “I should haves”.  I second guess myself because of what I read and see. 

I think a single-minded focus on numbers is a TRAP that leads me to disordered thinking.

Adjective. To disrupt the normal functioning of.

Source: Oxford Online Dictionaries

A focus on the numbers alone prompts me to want to CONTROL what I see on the scale.  And this type of control takes away the simple joy I feel when I live in the moment.  I find myself thinking about sacrifice today for some elusive maybe that tomorrow might offer.  When I think like this, my body image suffers.  I suffer.

It’s a little like Ponce de Leon in search of the Fountain of Youth.  Will a “goal weight” or “body fat percent” and a path to control *what I eat & how I eat & when I eat* take me to that perfect place, the place where my body would “be right”, a place where I would magically “be a better athlete”, a place where I would magically “be HEALTHY”?


I see you slippery slope.  You are a TRAP.  You are not what I am about. 

And frankly, I don’t think this is MY PERSONAL HEALTHY.

1) In good physical and mental condition
2) Promoting good health
3) Normal natural and desirable

Source: Oxford Online Dictionaries

If I’ve learned anything since jumping into the triathlon world in 2009, it is that HEALTH for me is holistic big picture stuff – multidimensional, physical and mental.  It’s taken me time to get to that place where I feel right about myself.

But still…  We all have our demons. I thought I would share mine.  My demons are in the numbers.  In the way the numbers give rise to my tendency to want to CONTROL FOR CONTROL’S SAKE.  And control for control’s sake?  Well I think it is disordered behaviour.  The fact I stare disordered thinking patterns in the face – the possibility that my own thoughts and behaviours could *be* disordered – all the while knowing friends who have slid down the anorexic slope, and having a father that is an alcoholic.  Well, that terrifies me.

So on that note… I won’t be joining the “decrease your body fat” movement – or any movement that is based solely on looking at numbers as a measure of health – any time soon.  Because a number, no matter how seductive and interesting it seems, needs to stay just that for me – a number and not a measure of my health. Or my self worth…

Part 1 of this series: 26 February 2013
Part 2 of this series: 27 February 2013
Part 3 of this series: 28 February 2013

Links You May Like

For some interesting reading on the topic of body image, weight, nutrition and general approaches to healthy living, here are some links to some personal stories and articles that have helped to shape my own thinking about my own relationship with numbers.

One of my favourite bloggers and fellow bay swimming buddy Amy Reinink wrote a piece in Women’s Running in 2011 on disordered eating and how it is not just about anorexia and bulimia. 

This guest post on Spikes & Heels touches on how focusing on the numbers alone can mask the simple joy and wonder we can take from what our bodies can do.

My friend Lindsay has blogged a few times about body image, and her most recent post about shaming is a good read, and also loaded with great external links.  And involves eating cupcakes. And as we know, I am a defender of the cupcake!

There are many many great posts on health and body image on Carla’s site MizFitOnline. Carla has been a staple in my google reader since 2009.

My “online soul sister” Kelly posted recently on nutrition. Her post echoes many of my own thoughts – particularly that there is no singular “right way” when it comes to eating, that nutrition is individual and that through information we can figure out what is best for our bodies.

And finally, new to me just last week, called “Fit and Feminist” – where Caitlin nicely chalks all of this insane obsession with weight and numbers and the “Thigh Gap”  up to plain ignorance and online saturation of our thoughts.  I found the writing refreshing, and applaud the point of view that with this way of thinking we aren’t even succeeding at being alive. Amen.


3 responses to “Weighty Matters (A Four Part Series): Part 4”

  1. This was a great series.  Much appreciated.

    As you know I wrote my post about how I lost body-fat and that was my version of showing my ‘demons’ in that I was writing about living a healthy lifestyle but when I saw the pictures of me at IMAZ wasn’t living the healthy lifestyle.

    Now that I have lost the weight and body fat% I feel so much better about myself and my performance is just one indication of that as well.

    I feel better about my cooking and what I’m eating.  I feel better about handling stress and while it is just a number on the scale if I am continuing to do what I am doing I won’t wake up one day and see something that I don’t like like I did when I got back from IMAZ in November.

    Thank you for writing this series.  It was great to read.

  2. Well written series, Donna. You teach great lessons on how to define and become healthy. Be well, my friend. – Brian

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