Love Fat is the title of the book I’m currently reading. Written by Tabitha Farrar, the novel is a first-hand account of one woman’s journey from being in a severe anorexic, compulsive exercise mindset to now having free and, well, NORMAL cognitions about food, weight, and movement.
This book gives me quite a bit of hope.
As I read about Tabitha’s obsession with exercise (running and spin biking in particular), I couldn’t help but see myself in her words.
I was that girl who would plan a quick escape from work during my lunch break to fit in a five mile run.
I was that girl who would hide shoes and then creep outside in the dead of night so no one would see me because I needed to run.
I was that girl who people would stare and gawk at at the gym because my legs were nothing more than a pair of twigs.
It was like Tabitha was retelling my story.
I am sure there are many of you reading this who can identify.
Exercise is such a crazy, scary, loaded word. Whether it be used as a noun or verb, hearing the term “exercise” makes me cringe a bit.
Which is why I know I also need to overhaul the way I look at my time weightlifting and in the gym.
I recently overhauled my diet (that word too makes me cringe), and rather than be plant-based, I am now eating all the food. All of it. In fact, this past weekend I bought a bunch of chicken, salmon, shrimp, and beef. I had a burger and fries. And it was glorious.
If I could rethink and put into action HOW I eat, why not rethink and put into action a new way of training?
Yes, I said TRAINING. NOT EXERCISE.
Right now, I am six days away from participating in a weightlifting meet. I love weightlifting. I really do. I love the mental skill and discipline required from the sport. I love that it challenges me physically as well as emotionally. I love all of the people I’ve met who participate in the sport are all-inclusive, kind, sincere individuals.
What I don’t love is that for so long, I was treating weightlifting like EXERCISE when in reality, stepping on to the platform to clean and jerk is really TRAINING.
When I ran long distances, I ran because I needed to exorcise the food demons, the eating disorder voice. I ran because I wanted to be able to create such a big caloric deficit that I could eat anything I wanted, but ironically, never did. I ran because when I was done and sweat poured from my head, I felt clean and pure. I ran because I liked the emptiness in my stomach I felt before and after the miles were completed, the transient feeling that erased the fear and trepidation in my spirit.
During these last few weeks as I prepared for this weightlifting meet, I realized that for the majority of the time I snatched and clean and jerked, I was using the sport for the same purposes as long-distance running: to remove myself from the reality of life, as a way to combat the insecurities I faced.
Previous to this past training cycle, I was getting burned out. Really burned out. Part of it was physical (I had gone DAYS AND DAYS AND DAYS with no rest day), but most of the fatigue I felt was mental. I was scared that I wasn’t living up to my own expectations as a weightlifter, comparing my lifts to others…basically, I was living a life of fear. Part of the problem is that I am highly competitive and a perfectionist, so the fact that I wasn’t as great at the snatch as others or not as strong as the gal I follow on IG made me quite upset. And rather than focus in on how I could train to improve, I instead squashed those feelings of anger and frustration by putting on a grin and “doing work.” Now mind you, I know what it takes to “get stronger.” I can give you a textbook definition of sets, reps, volume, and weights necessary for muscle growth. However, I didn’t follow that. I lifted weights that were comfortable for me in great amounts so that I could experience the “runner’s high” I had when I was long distance running. Rather than feel calmness after a ten mile jog, however, I instead looked for that same peace on the platform.
So, what did me trying to find peace look like? Answer: Doing a lot of volume. A. LOT. OF. VOLUME. I was in a continuous hypertrophy cycle. Even if the coach I had programmed something with lower volume, if I didn’t feel like I “earned” or “worked” hard enough, I added on to the program. Horrible, yes, I know. So it’s no wonder that my lifts have stagnated, that I am ashamed of my 1 RMs because they are so low, that I am so accustomed to sets of 10-15 reps that I can easily bang out 5 sets of squats at 12 reps each without breaking a sweat. Why do it? Why be in a perpetual state of “hypertrophy”? Because I was insecure. Scared to actually TRAIN and NOT be drenched in sweat at the end of a session. Scared that if I actually did attempt to get STRONGER and TRAIN, that I would not be burning enough calories and end up a big, fat, weak mess.
These eating disorder thoughts are not realistic or rational (as I can now tell as I type them out). But when I was stuck there, on the platform, doing rep after rep after rep of “work” and longing to feel the ache in my quads of the numerous squats I performed, that voice seemed OH-SO-REAL.
So just like me overhauling my food (helloooooo meat!!!), I am also overhauling the way I look at training.
What will this overhaul entail? First, I am TRAINING not EXERCISING. To me, EXERCISING denotes randomness, movement for the sake of burning calories and nothing else (think of me, running ten miles a day because I wanted to burn enough calories for the sandwich I was going to eat at lunch that day. That is “exercising.”). If I am TRAINING, I will have a plan and purpose to each movement, rep, and set I perform. Rest days will be important because if I am actually TRAINING (and my end goal is to be stronger and more proficient in the lifts), then my CNS and body need to REST in order for my body and mind to GROW. I am looking to move up two weight classes and already bought a new singlet to celebrate that change. I am feeding my body the nutrition it needs in order to perform on and off the platform.
Secondly, I am working with someone to get me stronger. If left to my own devices, I will edit and alter training to help me achieve that “hypertrophy feeling.” This person I am working with is very smart in weightlifting and knows about the struggles I have–I have great trust in him, and even better, I am focused on changing my mindset when I see the program he will outline for me. Knowing that I have worked with very intelligent and talented coaches before (and yet STILL altered their programs to fit my “needs”), I already know the ED voice will be lurking, telling me, “Just add in another set. Another rep. Why not?” Well, I have a programmed response to this voice: Because I HAVE GOALS. Lifting goals, life goals. I don’t want to be held captive by rigidity and fear. I want to see what I can accomplish by giving up control, trusting others, and focusing on what God would want for me (and not just what I would want for myself).
Lastly, I want to be like Tabitha. As I am reading her book, I am seeing that I also need to learn to LOVE FAT. Not just the fat in food or fat on my body, but I am longing to continually embrace FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE the freedom and peace that comes when one fully surrenders herself to recovery. I want to be that person who evaluates why she engages in each action she does, sees whether or not those behaviors are propelling her towards or away from recovery, and then makes the necessary alterations to her environment to support a whole, fulfilled life.
I am going to LOVE FAT. In fact, I am already starting my journey to loving fat. And so far, the fat is glorious.