I began mentally composing this blog post when a good friend of mine texted me a polaroid picture from two years ago. I was genuinely astounded at how different I looked then compared to now and how explicitly not-different I feel, despite the fairly huge physical transformation. Time is a funny thing.
And I guess I’m here to share my experience and how it’s really taught me about:
- Recognizing that thinness does not equal health
- Developing a positive body image
- How the numbers on the scale don’t really hold all the answers
- How fitness is a hell of a journey and you have to be patient and enjoy yourself above all things
So here’s my experience. Or: how I learned to stop worrying and fell in love with the process.
THINNESS =/= HEALTH
Some background information about me before I begin, since it’s important that I emphasize that I’ve always been chubby and I’ve always been an active person. At my peak (late teens till I was twenty) I trained 5-6 times a week, at least 2 hours a day and competed locally and internationally in Taekwondo, and after that I moved on to dabble in other sports like muay thai, crossfit, and – most recently – running.
So in summary: I’m not the fittest person on earth by far but I can hold my own. And I want to really, really bring home the point that me being chubby didn’t hinder me in any way at all except in meeting societal expectations of beauty.
And here’s the salacious comparison picture you all clearly clicked on this blog post to see:
And here’s where I prove my point about how being chubs in 2014 did absolutely nothing to hinder me.
This was an annual school cross country event both 2014 Robin and 2016 Robin took part in and both timings are fairly similar. I’d attribute the slight increase in speed to training, really, since I started running in January of 2014 and jumped right into a race just two months later.
Literally nothing has changed except that I now fit into size 10 shorts instead of 12.
HAVING A POSITIVE BODY IMAGE
What’s disheartening is that people at work now take my interest in sports seriously because I finally look the part.
I know it’s an uphill climb towards self-confidence and a healthy self-esteem and that peoples’ preconceptions of chubby people and general… meanness (if I had a dollar for every single time someone’s called me fat to my face) can really bring you down. Loving myself is terribly difficult for some reason, and as I’ve grown I’ve found that I really don’t have time for people who want to tear me down more than I already am doing to myself. And fitness has always been my coping mechanism for this because I’m a spiteful monster and genuinely enjoy beating rude people at something they don’t expect me to be good at. HA.
I absolutely love Cheryl Tay’s Rock the Naked Truth movement for this reason. It motivates people to find confidence through fitness and is, above all else, about accepting yourself and your body for what it is. I’ve attended a few ROCKrunners sessions and everyone was absolutely lovely and accepting. RTNT also organizes other fitness events like weightlifting intro classes, barre and spinning classes, and even nutrition workshops. Worth a try if you’re beginning your foray into fitness and looking for workout buddies who can understand your struggle with body image issues.
NUMBERS ON THE SCALE DON’T HOLD ALL THE ANSWERS
Despite the huge physical difference in the comparison picture I was 70kg in 2014 and I’m still 70kg now. There are so many other ways to track your fitness and weight loss, and I’m only just learning now. Hopefully this blog post will prevent some people from making the same mistakes I did and avoid a whole lot of pain and frustration.
There are a couple of other ways to track progress:
- Take a picture of yourself once a week. Front view and side, wearing the same thing, at around the same time. No sucking in your tummy and flexing because that’ll only hurt your confidence weeks later when you compare pictures and wonder why nothing’s changed. Be honest with yourself and free that food baby for accurate tracking.
- Take measurements. Bicep, waist, hips and thighs are good places to measure. Same thing: once a week, no sucking in your tummy and flexing. Always measure in the exact same spot.
- Track your fitness instead. Maybe you’re shaving minutes off your 5k timing. Maybe you’re lifting heavier at the gym. Maybe you feel less winded after a zumba session. It’s all progress that can’t be seen on the scale and you should celebrate all your victories because you kicked ass.
Key things to note is that change takes a while to manifest and it’s discouraging at first because it’s so hard to kickstart a fitness routine (everything hurts, help) and to go through all that without seeing any difference on the scale feels awful. I’ve been there.
If you have an obsessive personality like I do, I’d like to suggest NOT tracking your progress every single day because you’ll likely develop an unhealthy obsession. And that way leads to eating disorders and overexercising. Which is why I 100% recommend embarking on fitness for fitness’s sake, and not for the sole purpose of weight loss (even if it may be one of your goals) because it makes the process such a negative place to be in and only perpetuates more self-loathing. Don’t do this to yourself. You’re worth so much more than this.
Which brings me to:
ENJOY THE JOURNEY
If it’s going to take a while to get there, why not enjoy yourself while you’re at it? Pick a sport you like. Find something that engages you. Switch it up from time to time if you get bored.
Sustainability is key; if you find something you enjoy, you’re more likely to stay with it. Results will follow naturally.
If you’re like me and have zero motivation, here are some things that helped me on my fitness journey:
- A BUDDY/COMMUNITY. Or at least someone who can keep you on track and understands you well enough to know when to be a hardass and kick you out of bed at 7am in the morning or when to reward you with ice cream and waffles after a run. It’s harder to bail on a workout when someone’s waiting for you, and it’s easier to push through your limits when someone’s wheezing their lungs out next to you. Your mind doesn’t go so quickly to ‘oh god everything hurts let’s stop’ when you’re suffering with someone else. I have a dedicated little workout group that meets every Sunday morning for metcon workouts and runs and we’ve kept it going for more than two years now. Sometimes we meet up to exercise just so we can go eat Ya Kun afterwards. Working out’s far less painful when it’s also a fun social activity.
- ACCOUNTABILITY. Technically this is what a workout buddy is for, but if everyone around you is a lazy bum, then you’ll have to find a way to make yourself accountable. Fitocracy’s worth a look. You could also make a fitness blog and send the link out to everyone. Make plans and put them out there so you’ll think twice before bailing on them.
- GOALS. It’s good to have something to work towards and a concrete way to track your progress and gains, however you want to define them. I downloaded runkeeper on my iphone and it tracks my distance, pace and calories burnt each time I run. My main running goals are to 1) increase my running distance, 2) get faster, and runkeeper helps me keep track of this very easily.
- SIGN YOURSELF UP FOR EVENTS. I mentioned Rock The Naked Truth earlier. You can do what I did and sign yourself up for 5k races and work your way up from there just to give yourself something to train for. Do a Spartan Race if that’s what’ll get you off your couch. A Hello Kitty run! Who cares! Go have fun!
- TREAT YOSELF. I buy myself stuff every time I hit a milestone. The first time I broke 10k I bought myself contact lenses. The first time I accumulated a total of 50k on Runkeeper I bought myself a new pair of Nike pro shorts. Like, I said: Celebrate your badassery because, um, you’re badass?
- KNOW THAT WHATEVER YOU’RE DOING IS ALWAYS BETTER THAN NOTHING. My fitness motto is literally ‘better than nothing’. I could be at home right now eating a tube of Pringles and feeling bad for missing my run but I put on my shoes and walked 5 meters to the lift – BETTER THAN NOTHING. I wanted to run a 6.15min/km pace but I only managed 6.30 – dude it’s better than nothing. Do you see Pringles crumbs on my face right now? Be positive about what you’re doing. There are good days and there are bad days and you’ll inevitably fall off the wagon and miss a month’s worth of workouts because work/school got crazy. But in the end it’s finding the courage to continue putting one foot in front of the other; it’s not the end of the world if you fall a little short because you’re trying. You’re still way ahead of your past self.
HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND FELL IN LOVE WITH THE PROCESS
You know what the oddest thing was? The body transformation I craved when I was younger only came once I stopped my disordered eating and worrying about the numbers on the scale and finally, finally found it in myself to enjoy fitness for itself and not as a way to lose weight or as a grueling training regimen to get ahead in a Taekwondo competition.
I started to like myself a little better and I enjoyed exercising with my friends and I kept at it because it was fun, and I think it says a lot that I only realised the change that my body underwent when my friend sent me a grainy photograph on Whatsapp.
And if this blog post helps someone out there in ANY way at all, I’ll have done what I set out to do.
Feel free to send me a tweet or drop me an email in my contact page if you have any questions, or if you just want to share your story or vent about the difficulties you’ve encountered on your own fitness journey. You’re not alone! And it’s always nice to find people with shared experience!