Fitness Without Numbers
A couple months ago, my husband handed me a device he’d just gotten in the mail. “It’s a body fat monitor,” he said. “Want to try it?”
I handed it back like it was on fire. “No, I do not,” I said. “There are things I don’t need to know.”
I’m not in the best shape of my life right now. My joints are suffering; my asthma is bad; my clothes don’t fit. I don’t need a body fat calculator to tell me exactly how much shame I should be feeling about my body.
When we started this website, one of the rules Amelia insisted upon was no weight loss talk. No fat shaming, no celebrating pounds lost, no numbers.
I really struggled with this. I didn’t know how to write about things like food or working out or setting goals if I can’t talk about pounds or calories or inches. I didn’t want to make anyone feel shame, but I didn’t know how to pull myself away from the idea that there was a set of numbers that were right and that if I could just reach them, I would be good enough.
That attitude died off a bit as we built up Can’t Talk. I stopped weighing myself (partly because my bathroom scale died, and I didn’t feel like replacing it) and stopped counting calories. I stopped worrying about whether a curve or roll in my belly made me somehow less lovable or desirable. I still cared about my grooming and appearance; I just stopped looking in the mirror and seeing my body as a problem.
I don’t know why this change took place. I wish I did; I would make so much money from the self-help book I would write.
Then my mental health took a dive, and my physical health followed. This is when I did stop taking care of myself. I got less active. I started eating more junk than nutritive food. I injured myself through pure inactivity and got a couple of good scoldings from doctors in different fields.
I am now facing the fact that I have to make some changes in the way that I treat my body, and the idea of doing it without counting calories, pounds, or inches is making sense in a way that it didn’t two years ago.
I’ve done the calorie counting, pound-monitoring thing before, and I’ve done it successfully. It works. Kind of. For a while.
I set a goal: This is the number of pounds I want to lose. I worked out daily; I counted every calorie. I even did Nutrisystem, which I don’t recommend unless you like having your period for three months straight thanks to all the estrogen in the soy protein they use, in which case, go for it.
I lost all those pounds that I said I was going to lose. I even got a celebratory teddy bear from Nutrisystem.
And then I stopped, because I reached my goal.
That was 10 years ago. Now, I’m looking at my life and again seeing that I need to make changes for my physical and mental health. The difference is that now I understand that my weight is not the problem; my lifestyle is. I want to be active, but I want to be active for different reasons.
I want to have more energy. I want to be stronger. I want to sleep better. I want to have more endurance. I want to move without difficulty. I want my asthma to let up and for my joints to hurt less.
These are the things I’ll get from regular physical activity and an improved diet, but they’re things I have to keep working for. They’re not something I can check off a list and say, “That’s done, then! Glad that’s over!” If I set goals, I want them to be for the amount of pounds I can lift, not the number of pounds I can lose.
For me, a bathroom scale is an instrument of shame and frustration. I don’t want to feel either of those things when I think about my body, and honestly, I don’t need to weigh myself to know whether or not I feel good.
I am facing more of a quandary with diet. I don’t want to count calories; I don’t need the constant worry and shame. I don’t need to label my food “good” or “bad” and then feel guilty when I substitute a candy bar for my dinner because I don’t have enough calories left to eat both. Honestly? That’s stupid. I like food. Food keeps me alive, and it brings me pleasure. There’s nothing shameful about eating, and I refuse to teach myself that there is.
I do, however, want to make sure I’m eating enough. I’m a vegetarian, which means that there are things that I have a little more difficulty getting into my diet. I don’t want to tell myself, “No, you can’t have that candy bar,” I want to be able to say, “Well, I need more iron; better eat some spinach.” (Right before I eat that candy bar for dessert.) I want to be able to count nutrients without counting fat or calories, but, short of hiring a nutritionist (not in the budget), I don’t know how to do that. (If you know of an app that does this, let me know!)
When I told my husband I was going to get healthy without weighing or measuring myself first, he asked, “How will you know if you’re making progress?”
He missed the point.
My progress won’t be counted by numbers on a scale. Instead, I’ll have victories. “I picked up something heavy today, and it was easy.” “I played tag with the kids and didn’t get tired.” “I got out of bed today, and my body didn’t hurt.”