I’ve never considered myself an athlete. I’ve never been on a sports team or made a goal or run a mile (unless taking the Presidential Fitness Test in 9th grade counts). So, writing a guest blog for Get Moving month at Silent Springs feels a little weird. Skinny people write about moving. Skinny people write about healthy foods and new longboards and how you can eat squash instead of bacon and still survive in this harsh, harsh world.
But, I’m gonna do it anyway.
I’ve been overweight my whole life. I did not gain a dramatic amount when I got to college or after a break up or as a result of a trauma. I simply gained (and gained and gained) my whole 31 years. The result? A very, very unhealthy woman.
Six months ago I underwent a Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy. And in a little over six months, I have lost 105 pounds. I still have much more to go. But, in that short time my entire life has changed, and while I may not be ready to run a marathon, I am finally starting to think of myself as an athlete. Over the past six months I have learned a lot about food and exercise and athleticism and nutrition, and so here are just a few tips and ideas for those stuck on the couch and not sure they are ready to “Get Moving” in 2013.
1) It doesn’t matter what you look like—all that matters is what you do. I thought I had to lose “x” number of pounds before I could call myself an athlete. I thought that I had to be under a certain weight to join a gym. Guess what—that is wrong, wrong, wrong. The moment I started exercising regularly, I became an athlete. I have the right to consider myself a member of that community, whether I think I am “supposed” to belong or not. Moreover, I had to start treating my body like an athlete’s body. I needed to think about protein (already a huge issues since having the surgery) and I needed to invest in gym clothes and gym shoes and I needed to make the time to put in the work. Athletes grant themselves the time to work out, and I need to do the same.
2) Asking for help is crucial. Three years ago I went to the doctor for the first time in almost ten years. I remember the conversation with the receptionist when I called. After taking basic info, she asked why I needed to be seen. I said, “Well, I’m overweight. And I don’t want to be overweight anymore.” And without a word she knew what tests to order.
Since that time I have gone to more doctors that I can count. I’ve had primary care physicians, nutritionists, personal trainers, physical therapists, certified counselors, surgeons, specialists, nurses, and countless others who have helped me along the way. Some were awesome. Some were awful. But, I kept asking for help, and more importantly, I recognized that I deserved help. I shouldn’t have to apologize for that. No one deserves to feel miserable.
3) Foods really do have a wide variety of calories. This might seem silly, but I don’t think I ever realized how different the calorie count of two items might be. A cupcake and a banana have (about) the same mass. And in my mind, I guess I always knew that there was a difference in calories, but I always assumed that it wasn’t a huge deal—that the difference wasn’t enough to really make a difference. Wrong. A cupcake from a bakery can contain close to 600 calories! A banana contains 172. 400 calories is a LOT. 400 calories is more than an hour of exercise for me, and that is just one item. A whole day of making those kinds of choices leads to (led to) a life of obesity.
4) It’s always easier after you do something once. I was (and still am) embarrassed to go to the gym. I was (and still am) embarrassed to go to a new doctor or to talk to a nutritionist. Heck, I almost had a nervous breakdown going to the Dick’s Sporting Goods to look for shoes. (I just knew everyone was going to laugh—what is SHE doing looking for running shoes? Running shoes are for skinny people.)
Being embarrassed is normal. I’m not going to say it is silly or that you have to stop. It doesn’t work that way. But just know that you are way more concerned than anyone else is. The truth is, the doctors have seen it before, the shoe salesman is bored anyways and would love a chance to talk to someone, and the people at the gym are more concerned with their own bodies than with yours. Do people look at me sometime? Of course. But it happens a lot less than I imagined, and even if they do, who cares?
5) Reject the shame. There is just so much shame associated with being overweight. I know I have felt so much shame and I know that I have been shamed for being fat. But shame only works when we let it. We have no reason to be ashamed, whether we are overweight, skinny, losing, gaining, or anything in between. The moment we start being honest about who we are, we get to take back our confidence. No one gets to make us feel bad. And whether you choose to get moving on your own or by asking for help, whether you lose weight by cutting calories or cutting your stomach, no one gets to tell us that we are doing it wrong. There is no shame in being overweight, and there is no shame in losing it, and there is no shame in making choices to help you get there.
I still have a long way to go in my journey, and getting moving is just a part of that. I have calories to burn, miles to walk, cookies to NOT eat, and new clothes to buy. What matters, though, is that not only am I physically moving (well, not at this exact moment—my new personal trainer just about killed me the other day and I can barely walk), but I am also moving along this journey. I am taking the steps necessary to be the person I want to be, and you can do the same. Whether that means taking a walk, calling the doctor, or setting up an appointment with a counselor or nutritionist, it is time for YOU to start moving. You can do it. We can do it.
We are all athletes, remember?
Dr. Melissa Sara Smith is a postdoctoral teaching fellow at Central
Michigan University where she teaches children's and young adult
literature and studies representations of the body in texts for youth.
She underwent a vertical sleeve gastrectomy at Mid Michigan Medical
Center on July 24, 2012 and has since lost 105 pounds. Her current
goal is to participate in the The 56th Annual Mackinac Bridge Walk in
fall 2013, and she anticipates reaching her goal weight in 2014.