On Sunday I did something I’ve been too afraid to do since I first gained (and lost and gained…) weight 8 years ago…
My goal was 20 minutes.
I ended up doing an entire full-body, 55 minute weights circuit workout. On the training floor. With all the men.
Beginning in 8th grade, I started to strength train a lot for swimming. I loved lifting weights. I used to have early morning workouts during the week, and, depending on the day, I was either in the pool or in the weight room, and I always had a much easier time getting up to hit the weight room, than I did the pool, because I just loved strength training. I also used to start my weights workouts with 20-30 minutes of Pilates, which just made me love it even more, and definitely made for a more well-rounded workout.
I wasn’t afraid to add more weight (I had worked with enough trainers and read enough to know that women biologically cannot bulk up naturally-even when lifting heavily, we just don’t have enough testosterone to build muscle like that) and I loved how strong I felt, how well my body responded to lifting weights, and loved the power it gave me in the water, since when you swim you are constantly pushing and pulling against the resistance of the water.
But when I started severely restricting food early on in my Freshmen year of college until I psychologically and physically caved and binged on anything and everything, not only could I no longer physically hit the weight room, but I had next to zero confidence.
Every summer I would work my ass off (literally) only to have all the weight (and then some) gained back by my birthday in mid-November (happy birthday to me…ugh). I would remain 25-30 pounds overweight the rest of the school year, only to kick off June going balls to the wall trying to get in shape by the end of August.
Since old habits die hard, I struggled with this my first year or so in New York, too.
Fast forward to today, years later, and slowly I lost all the weight I had put on, taken off, rinse and repeat for ohhhh a good 6 (7?, lost count) years and weight, and food, and all the uncomfortable, self-defeating emotions and thought patterns are gone. I finally beat binge eating and restricting food for good about two years ago. I literally eat what I want, when I want-and even (shocking, I know) how much I want.
But while I no longer feel body conscious and am back to what I call my happy weight***, I had still been incredibly intimidated when I thought about getting back into the weight room. And I thought about it almost every day: “I used to love strength training, just do it, Laura, just dive into it-all it takes is one day to make a change in a new direction…” I would say over and over and yet… I couldn’t do it. For months.
Well, recently David started hitting the weight room-hard-and every night we talk about what sets he did that day. I always want to know what he did and he likes talking about it since he too has always loved lifting so it’s the perfect nightly geek out for us.
As I have been listening to him, I’m thinking to myself: “I know all these exercises. I know the form. I know the modifications when you are just starting out and building strength. I know the supersets and the rest periods and the *fancy* workouts like pyramid sets and different circuits to work opposing muscle groups.”
We were talking about all these different exercises and I realized I was jealous of him doing these. Wtf, Laura?! Then DO them.
Talking to him also reminded me how much knowledge, and experience, I actually HAVE with weight lifting, and frankly, it gave me both the little confidence boost I needed and lit a fire under my ass.
I realized, and remembered, that I not only love weight lifting, but I know my way around the weight room-whether it’s machines or dumbbells or barbells or free weights or cable pulleys or kettle bells. I know what to do, I’ve just been too afraid to do it.
So what was stopping me?
I still had a tiny voice in the back of my head saying, I don’t want to be the chubby girl in the weight room with all the men.
Because, you guys, here’s the thing. When you lose all body confidence (or really any type of self-confidence, it can relate to your confidence in relationships or professionally or with school) you begin to forget who you are at your core. You forget the things you love to do, and… even when you begin to slowly gain the confidence back, it still may take a while to remember: “Oh! Hey! I have reinvented myself! I do not have to feel self-conscious, I am in control of my life and I feel awesome!”. (super cheese, right? Haha).
Now, let me tell you, this does NOT suddenly happen when you lose the weight-it takes A LOT of serious psychological effort, at least for me, I still saw myself as the “chubby girl” for a long time (I was still buying clothes that were too big because I still saw myself that negatively, I was always shocked when the clothes were too baggy…Took a while…). Plus, since it was so long ago that I didn’t have “food issues” (and the weight issues that follow), it feels like another lifetime-I really can’t remember how I felt back at 18 right before I started to think about-and struggle with-food for the first time. I am just barely starting to remember what my sense of self was back then, and seeing aspects of that “old self” coming back in the way I carry myself and in my passions, and this is two years removed from any disordered eating. But I CAN still easily remember thinking to myself “will I ever NOT struggle with food? I don’t even remember what it feels like to not struggle with food all.the.time”. Well, friends, now I do know what it feels like and it’s fabulous. :)
BUT I also know this fear of the weight room-or even gym in general-isn’t just me. I mean, this is why women’s only gyms started. Because for so many women, there is a feeling of vulnerability, self-consciousness and feeling exposed when entering a gym or strength training floor when you aren’t used to it. I hear this from female friends and coworkers all the time, even if a woman wants to get physically fit, she is often hesitant to start at a gym until she is fit because she is embarrassed of herself, her body, her lack of knowledge and form (and this actually goes for cardio too, when I’m talking to women who are new to exercise in general). All too often I hear women tell me that they want to lose the weight before joining a gym because they are embarrassed. I get it.
But we all start somewhere. Some of us re-start somewhere over and over. ;)
Perseverance is failing 19 times
and succeeding the 20th.
Over and over I have heard women tell me the reason they do not strength train (other than the (misguided) fear of bulking up), is that they are intimidated being (close to) the only woman on the training floor-especially if she has never lifted and feels like she is being watched for proper form or how much weight she is lifting.
Even though I have experience weight lifting, and am finally feeling more body confident, I was still putting off starting lifting for months, so I completely understand where these women are coming from.
I think we constantly re-define ourselves, and our perception of self, as we go through life and all of life’s stages and all of life’s unexpected curve balls and, for me, this newest *version* of myself is still something I am trying to conceptualize and define. Who am I? What do I like? What drives me emotionally, intellectually, economically, physically? What do I do for fun? Where do I have personal boundaries set? What are my goals? Who do I want to become?
As we go through life, especially when faced with significant life changes, or adversity, we have to step back and think about what our new life means to us.
I was still worried I would look like I didn’t know what I was doing, or that I would stand out like a sore thumb for being one of the token women lifting, but, all of these were just internal fears. Guess what? I was the only woman for a while. And I did not care. I really needed to just bite the bullet and do it in order to start thinking of, and defining, my current life as the Laura who loves weight lifting.
Sometimes the hardest part is starting.
*** Healthy weight, to me, is: the weight we all get to when we don’t have to *try* to maintain it. When we are at our healthy weight we can eat a lot on Sunday while watching 10 straight hours of football and then naturally crave fresh, healthy foods Monday; we get into a good exercise routine and even when we miss a day don’t feel the need to “make up” for it by over-exercising or under-eating and our “normal” hunger lets us know our metabolism is humming along at a healthy rate. You feel your healthy weight when your body has hit it’s set-point and your clothes are comfortable day in and day out without doing anything extreme in any way. I am NOT a personal trainer nor am I a doctor or registered dietician, but I AM a professional Health Coach and my ear is always open to anyone struggling to find his/her healthy weight. Plus, I’ve likely been there/done that so I am always happy to discuss my journey with anyone who needs an open listener. :)