I am overweight. Morbidly so, according to whichever entity classifies these things. Since being young I’ve been this way so, for me, it’s my normal. It’s not something I particularly like to talk about, because I’m embarrassed about it, and whilst society is in the midst of an obesity crisis, it is still somewhat taboo to talk about. It must be the first thing people notice when they see me, but of course it isn’t mentioned. And it’s a really personal thing. I wouldn’t be writing this blog post so candidly if it weren’t for the fact that there might be other people out there that I could help by telling my story.
I don’t feel fat. Someone once said to me “it must be easier to move around now you’ve lost a bit of weight”. Apart from being quite hurt by the statement, I didn’t think so. This is my normal so I’ve never known any different. If moving around is difficult for me, I don’t know it. Yes, I used to get out of breath really quickly going upstairs or running for a bus, but I put that down to being very unfit. My weight doesn’t enter my consciousness most of the time. I don’t think “That was hard because I’m overweight”. I just feel like me.
With a combination of clean eating and a pretty hardcore exercise regime I’ve lost 30kg. It’s a lot of weight and I’m very pleased but I don’t particularly feel physically different. Yes, I’m fitter and I can do lots of things now that I didn’t used to be able to, but in my head that’s not linked to my weight loss. I attribute it to fitness development, though of course the two are intertwined. Trouble is, I’ve still got about 20 – 30kg still to lose, so I’m still classed as really, really obese.
Today I went on a group road bike cycle. Carrying an injured knee and having had little sleep last night, I found it really tough at first. It felt like all my fitness had disappeared overnight. In fact, I found the whole thing tough but I did my best every single minute of it. Here’s the thing though. I made that ride so much harder for myself by the conversation I was having in my head. “You don’t belong in this cycling group. You’re too useless. What are you thinking, imagining that you can do this? Stupid woman.” The rest of the group were long gone, and there was me, stuck at the back, trying really hard but ultimately very slow. I thought that this would be the last time I’d ride with this group because I clearly didn’t belong there. I would go away, ride on my own, get fitter and then come back. And then, with that thought, I was sad. Going away to ride on my own is to be marginalised. I don’t feel any different than anyone else, so I’ve always been wary of marginalisation, of being treated differently because of my size and weight. Ironically, I’ve done it to myself sometimes, and if I left the cycling group that is what I would be doing again. Saying I don’t belong because I’m overweight. I don’t belong because I’m different to the rest of you. I don’t belong because I’m not good enough.
And then I realised.
Whilst I don’t feel any different, while I don’t walk around thinking how fat I feel, I’m overweight and physical things must be harder for me than for others. I’m carrying an extra 30kg around with me. So yeah, I’m slower at riding a bike. So would anyone be if they put a 30kg weight on their back and tried to ride. Am I slower at doing my reps in an exercise class? Yes. So would anyone be if they put a 30kg weight on their back and tried to do the class.
I’m not saying that my weight is an excuse. I want to carry on doing all the things I’ve been doing for the past 8 months and I don’t want to be treated any differently than anyone else. I’m not about to start missing exercise classes or not working as hard in them or not doing my absolute best just because it’s harder for me. There is no excuse for not going out and getting what you want. In my case, what I want is on the other side of some ridiculously hard and sustained work. And I will get there because there is absolutely no excuse to not give it my absolute all.
But what this realisation is, rather than an excuse, is a good reason. It’s a good reason to not hate myself for being last, for being slowest, for being worse than what feels like everyone else. It makes sense that I’m last, slowest, worse. I have a 30kg disadvantage at the moment, and it used to be much more. It’s just logical.
More than being just a reason to not hate myself, this realisation is also an illumination of why I should be really proud of myself. Despite things being harder for me, I’ve never given up. I’ve taken part in whichever mainstream exercise classes I’ve wanted to. I’ve kept working with The Trainer for 8 months when everyone thought I’d never keep it up. I’ve gone from not being able to ride a bike at all to being able to ride 30km, 50km and 70km. I can swim front crawl now. I’ve done two sprint triathlons in a gym setting and I’ve attended CrossFit Foundations. I’ve battled through exercise classes where I’ve felt different, worse, slowest and I’ve had tears in my eyes because I’ve hated myself so much. And yet I never gave up. I kept going, slowly, to be best of my overweight body’s ability. Despite the 30kg extra weight wrapped around me I’ve finished class after class and I’ve worked hard and I’ve never given up. I’ve been in the gym every day and doing what I should. I’ve eaten clean. There are lots of people who haven’t done what I’ve done. Maybe I’m not as fit as lots of people but I have mental strength and determination and a fighting spirit and a refusal to accept excuses from myself. It’s these attributes that have got me the incredible results I’ve seen in the past 8 months.
And if that wasn’t reason enough to admire myself, I’ve done all of this at the same time as maintaining a Distinction average mark in a Masters degree. I’m putting energy into encouraging others to get involved, and most importantly I’m leading the fitness agenda for my family. My little boy will grow up with a love of exercise that I’ve had to spend sweat, blood and tears to gain. I’m cooking nutritious food for my family and I’m holding down a full time job to show my son what it means to be an empowered woman. I’ve battled some significant health challenges and I’ve never really missed a beat whilst doing all of it. I’ve made it look easy.
I still dislike my slowness and the fact I lag behind many others. It irritates me and I want to change it. But I’ve been using that as a stick to beat myself with. That is entirely unreasonable and it is very unhealthy. I now choose to accept my slowness and lack of fitness and my size and weight as where I am right now. I’ll use it as fuel to push harder, to keep trying, to keep improving. And all the time I do that I’ll be losing weight and reducing the size of the challenge.
And today I’ve gained so much more than the number on a scale that I’ll lose. I’ve gained the insight to admire myself, to be my own biggest fan, to be truly proud of my achievements every single day that I’m out there, making it happen.