I “posted” this awhile back – privately. I was hanging on to it for a better time, and also feeling a little weary posting such a different topic. One that’s a little more personal, but also one that I think shares such an important lesson for all of us – especially during this new year. The topic is on body weight. We often times chase a number, believing that the lightest we’ve weighed, is now the standard for which we should always strive for, no matter the effort. And although I’ve not had the same struggle or hardships many of you have had, I also struggled. Some may roll their eyes, unable to look past the seemingly “skinny” exterior and not understand the internal hurdles. And that is totally ok. Although, I share numbers with you as reference points, try to look past those and search for that deeper message….
I read this article not too long ago, entitled, “Ideal Body weight, is there such a thing?” It was an interesting read, backed by some science and some old- and new-school calculations. (More on that later).
But it was the subject line that intrigued me. There was a point in my young adult life (22-year-old Katie) that was dependent on the number on the scale. However, surprisingly up until that point I had never cared much about my weight. Growing up, I was always active, which kept me at a healthy and strong weight.
(This is where I need to put the plug that maybe my story isn’t completely relatable. I had friends and family members who – all they could talk about was that number. It seemed to run their everyday. Up two pounds? Bad mood. Down two pounds? Great mood. I never really got it until I too allowed that number too much control.)
Let’s start from the beginning ….
Beginning with high school. As I said, I was a pretty active teen – I played soccer and softball, ran track and cross country. I was lucky to have a coach who really cared about strength training and kept us in the weight room throughout the year. It was always something I enjoyed and felt like I excelled in. My senior track year, I think I weighed in at 147 pounds and was about 5’9” (close to the height I am today). I ate what I wanted, worked out a ton and never really cared about my body shape and size.
Fast forward to my first year in college. I was running division 1 track at St. Louis University. I was a short hurdler (100m) and was given the opportunity to test out my athleticism (ahem, Mark) in the heptathlon (hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin and 800m).
That first summer into fall, I spent a lot of time in the weight room and on the track. My off-season consisted of 2-3 practices/day. When I came back for holiday break in December, I was a solid, 177 pounds.
Thirty pounds (consisting of mostly lower body muscle …and maybe some fried chicken, pancakes and honey buns). The crazy thing? I was working with a nutritionist at the time to be sure I was eating adequately. She had me on a 3,500 calorie diet per day. Pretty sure it went all to the booty.
To be honest, it was a weird feeling. I felt fit and strong, but my body had such a difficult time moving the added weight around. My body had never carried that much weight before and sure enough it crumbled. That first year, even with all the workouts, strength training and preparation, I was in and out of the trainer’s room – injury after injury. I felt defeated and frustrated with all the time and effort I had put in, only to have my body fail me.
After my first year of college, I ended up transferring to another institution to continue my track and field career. That second year was completely different. Much more conditioning (and a lot more booze). With the exception of the binge drinking, I had never felt more physically fit. I lost some of the extra muscle I put on the first year and started to feel fast again. We stuck to one practice a day, and my body so enjoyed the rest it was getting. I think during this phase I was about 150-155 pounds.
Unfortunately, some lingering injuries still plagued me, and my track career ended. And my drinking career took off. You hear a lot of former college athletes talk about the whole -crisis” you get after you retire from your sport and from competition. It’s true and a real thing. I had no idea who I was. I didn’t want to work out alone, so I didn’t work out at all. The only thing that moved actively was my weight. That year and a half I slowly gained weight and topped off around 167-170 pounds.
Right around this time I remember seeing a picture. A picture I hated. I thought I looked huge. I was fixated on it and was determined to “fix” myself. I started working out again and found my identity… or so I thought. Of course I lost a little weight in the beginning, and it felt great. I was proud of myself. People commented on my appearance and I felt like I was committed to something again. So I continued – looking into new ways to lose weight: longer workouts, lower-calorie recipes, and supplements to promote fat loss…. You get the idea.
About 4-ish months after obsessing over my weight, checking the scale every day, I weighed in at 143 pounds. To some, I looked healthy and thin. Internally, I was a mess. I was so focused on that number – stressing to move it lower and lower, however I could – healthy or not. I completely lost sight of my health in that number.
- It may not look that extreme. But what was really going on? Here’s what I was doing and experiencing:
- 6-8 miles, everyday + light strength training
- Extremely low-calorie (I remember seeing my food tracker at 700 calories … PER DAY)
- Diet void of meat, dairy, fat, sugar and gluten or grains
- ECA stack supplementation (Ephedrine, Caffeine, Aspirin … purchased from Canada *cue eye roll*)
- Loss of menstrual cycle
- Onset of hypothyroidism – medication prescribed “for the rest of my life”
- Couldn’t sleep, skin issues, severe anxiety
All due to an ideal number.
So, back to that article I read the other day … It gave instructions on calculating my “ideal weight” by looking at your lean body mass, BMI and current weight. I calculated mine and guess what number popped up in the calculator? 143 pounds.
My heart sank a little … that was the weight I felt unhealthiest at.
I tried to give this article the benefit of the doubt. I did not lose the weight healthfully. At all. I let that number dictate my life.
We believe that a number should determine our “ideals” … our happiness. Our health. Our identity. That an ideal weight should be the focal point and the reason we work so hard and put so much effort into our diets and workouts. It’s seen as the foundation that everything should be built off.
And it’s bullshit.
Our daily successes and failures, happiness and health should instead rest on deeper developments – how we’re feeling, how our true health is, how efficient we are, our overall mental, physical and emotional health, how we’re inspiring and helping others to be more healthy. This should be the ideal we strive for. Not a number. Could I get down to a healthy 143 pounds? Maybe. Do I want to? Absolutely not.
As I sit back and look at these photos and weights, the weights truly mean nothing. The only thing they represented was a reference point. Even at my lightest weight – the weight that others praised as the “ideal weight” – I felt most unhealthy. My ideal is being truly healthy. Being strong, having fun, loving life and not stressing over something so insignificant as a number.
This new year, let’s focus more on understanding our bodies and achieving better overall health – mentally and emotionally, working hard in the gym and nourishing our bodies properly. Don’t let something arbitrary hold more control that your overall health and happiness.