Monday, January 10, 2011

Believe It or Not

I've discovered something interesting already!

Turns out, I like exercise. No, really.

I enjoy the feeling of it, the idea of it, the results of it.  I even like the little painful reminders the next day that my poor old muscles have been in disuse for far too long.

What I've been missing all these years is a bit of solitude. Now, those who know me will be thinking to themselves that if there is anything I don't lack its solitude. I am a person who fits squarely into the "loner" category. I have my social moments but overall, I spend a good deal of my time blissfully alone.

The problem is that up until now exercise has for me been inextricably linked with other people. As kids exercise is a collective thing, we join little league teams, have gym with our classmates and play outside with our friends. For me these things were fun for a while, but then just as it is now I have a limited supply of sociability. I enjoy being with friends, but eventually I need to refuel with a little alone time. Give me some space a bit of quiet and a good book and I'll be raring to go again soon enough, but without that time I get irritable and surly and anything associated with forcing me to be sociable before I'm ready becomes something negative.

Now, my parents couldn't very well let me go off for a run by myself, or drop me off at a gym and come back for me in an hour. So, as I got older I began to associate exercise with being with other people, and more sedentary things like reading, writing, watching TV with being alone. Exercise was for when I felt sociable, sedentary things were what I did for myself, for solely my own enjoyment.

And while attitudes have started to change slightly, our society sees being alone a lot, or "anti-social behaviour" as something negative, so even when I was old enough to go off and do things on my own, according to most people the best way to get fit was to join a class, or a running club or find someone to go to the gym with.

But exercise is something I want to do for myself, and it turns out, by myself. I put my earphones on, turn up my best playlist of trance music and tune the rest of world out. The only thing left is me and my body. I listen to my breathing, feel my heart rate increase, feel the sheen of sweat on my forehead and the heat rise to my cheeks, turning my face a cheerful shade of red. It's wonderful. The only thing I don't like is stopping. I want to do more, I want to keep going, but thanks to a nasty experience with DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and a story for another day), I know I can't. I am, however, looking forward to training my body up to a point where I can do whatever I want for as long as I want.

I have no doubt there will be times when I am feeling sociable and will want to spend time with friends getting a healthy dose of exercise, but whilst before exercise was something I could only do when I was in the mood, now I've discovered it's something I can do anytime I want.

Who knows, maybe as I get fitter and learn to love exercise even more I'll want to spend all my time hanging out with friends doing something active, but for now its good to know my alone time can be active too.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Beginning of the End

People like numbers. They're solid and dependable, or so we think. Those really in the know are aware that numbers can be invisible and non-existent and can do all sorts of strange things, but to us everyday people they are very comforting. We have statistics for everything nowadays and we love to spread those numbers around. We use numbers to make our case, prove our points, and when we want to know the true state of a situation we say "give us the numbers." To us, numbers are truths.
So here are my numbers:
I'm 24, 5"11, and 230 pounds
The truth is I'm fat.
This is a fact I'm perfectly okay with, its not something I'm denying or upset about. My weight has never been an issue for me, except perhaps when clothes shopping, but I usually get mad at retail stores for ignoring a huge portion of the consumer population which is just stupid and bad business, but I digress. I have somehow managed to avoid the self-esteem issues so often associated with being fat, especially among young women. I have a wonderful supportive family, which probably helped a great deal, but I've always had a very clear sense of just how arbitrary our ideas of what is good and bad really are.
When I was around 7 I had really long hair, all the way down to my butt. My Mum loved it, but I really couldn't be bothered, particularly when it came to brushing it. My poor put upon mother would have to listen to me squeal and squirm as she tried to comb out the rat's nest that had developed due to my neglect. Over and over again she would try to make me see reason, that if I just brushed it regularly it wouldn't get as tangled and wouldn't hurt as much. I responded with this little gem: If no one else brushed their hair I wouldn't have to would I?
I knew brushing my hair didn't stop me from doing anything I needed or liked to do, that it was only really a style issue, and that if everyone suddenly decided messy hair was "in" I would be relieved of my hair brushing duties.  Not surprisingly, my Mum let me cut my hair
This is the kind of thinking that I believe saved me from low self-esteem later in life, and still does. I know that in many cultures, including our own not so long ago,  being fat was a status symbol,  it meant you were wealthy and well fed. The great beauties featured in the masterpieces we hang in art galleries are not the stick thin models of today, but big luscious ladies with plenty of meat on their bones. Being fat is not bad or ugly, its just a state of being which is not currently in favor, and so in my mind has no real affect on what I think about myself.
Now, I am very grateful for not having the typical hang-ups about weight that most do, but it has made getting motivated to lose weight rather difficult. I’m not naive, and I realize that being as heavy as I am is unhealthy, technically I am apart of the obesity statistics now so often in the news. Being overweight is not like having messy hair, it does keep me from doing things I would like to do, and its made me miss a few buses in my time. The typical motivating factors that get most people off to the gym, however, just haven’t worked for me. I don’t care about looks, or fitting into the cute clothes. I know I would probably feel better if I was healthier, but the definition of “better” is so vague, and is one of those things I suspect you have to feel in order to understand, and as I have no recollection of ever being skinnier or healthier than I am right now, its really not that inspiring. 
So, you may be wondering how exactly I can declare this my last year as a fat girl if all the traditional roads to a heathier lifestyle have failed me.
You see, I like learning things. How the universe fits together, how nature does what it does, and all sorts of sciencey stuff, about how human beings work, both physically and socially. I am interested in almost everything, and last week a thought struck me
 “Wouldn’t it be interesting if I were skinny?”
At first I wondered about the little things, like how it feels to wear a skirt without shorts on underneath to prevent chaffing, or how it would feel to sit down without having to pull your shirt out from in between your stomach rolls. But the more I thought about it the more interesting the idea became. Not just the physical stuff, like crossing your legs or sitting comfortably in a Greyhound bus seat (though I suspect that is impossible regardless of your size), but also the psychological stuff like how will people treat me that knew me as big once I start losing weight, how will that differ from people who may never have known me as a fat girl. Will I like my new social status or will it just piss me off? Will I start to see myself differently?  Will my interests change as I become able to do more active things? Did I get fat because I didn’t really like doing active stuff, or did I not like active things because I was unhealthy and unable to do them well?
It’s been almost three weeks since I started thinking about this and I have hundreds of questions. All of which can be answered if I just eat healthier and start exercising.  If I lose weight I will learn new things about an area of life I previously had no idea about. That, for me, is the best motivation.
Today I did my first half hour work out, something I intend to do every day, and twice a week I will try to do a longer one hour work out. My Mum is joining me in this endeavour as I am moving back home now that I’m done university and we have bought smaller plates in order to help us control our portion sizes. I don’t have anything else set out in stone, as routines tend to bore me, which is the exact opposite of what I want. 
As I am a sciencey sort of person I am going to document this process. I’m going to write about different questions that come up, and any interesting developments as I continue my weight loss, including any hiccups or road blocks that I may encounter. I’m also taking a picture near the beginning of every month so that at the end of this year I can look back and see how I’ve changed. (Okay, I admit, I fully intend to do one of those cool time lapse videos set to vaguely emotional piano music, I love those things!)
So here is the first month's picture taken on January 8th 2010, the first day of my last year as a fat girl.