Weight Lost, Race Weight, and Body Image

So… I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a long time, but I’ve kind of been living in denial.

I was fat.

Since November-ish I have lost 20 pounds. I’m 5’4″. I have weighed 145-ish pretty steadily since middle of college and have always kind of considered it to be my “happy weight” since I could never really lose any pounds. According to my height’s BMI, I should weigh between 108-145 pounds. Anything over 145 pounds was getting into the overweight zone. I did not want to be there. Of course, BMI isn’t the best tool to measure one’s body weight and health especially if your an athlete. I’ve always been pretty muscular. My junior year of high school I weighed 130 pounds and had 17% body fat. I skied, played lacrosse almost year around and rode horses competitively. My horses were boarded a half mile down the street from us so most nights I would walk down there to take care of them. I was lucky that my mom did all the morning chores, but I still did my fair share of mucking stalls, throwing hale bales, carrying 50 pound grain bags up a hill to the barn. It was work. I had muscles from all that work and sports. However, I’ve always had issues with body image. I have two younger sisters that are both tall, long legged, and naturally thin. I’m built more like my mother. Short with very short legs and a long torso. Because I am not tall and skinny like mys sisters, my father use to tell me I was fat and I shouldn’t eat something almost on a daily basis. It sucked! I mostly ignored his comments, but secretly they hurt. No one wants to be told they are fat, especially from one of their parents. In retrospect, I realized that it was bullying. A couple years ago I completely blew up at him about it and told him in not so many nice words that it wasn’t cool. No parents (or anyone for that matter) should tell their child that they are fat on a daily basis, especially if they really weren’t at the time. If your child does have some weight issues then it’s best to address them in more appropriate way.

Fast forward to my college years. I actually lost some weight my first year of college because I wasn’t eating as much as I should have been. Then sophomore year was when I started making some good friends and we did some partying. I always ate fairly healthy (or what I thought was healthy at the time) at the cafe, mostly sandwiches, salads and soups. And, of course, cookies. I have yet to meet a cookie I didn’t like (well, that’s not completely true since I don’t like caramel or butterscotch). I would go to the gym, but my workouts would consist of the stationary bike and the elliptical. I always read too during my workouts since I had a ton of homework as a science major. I hardly ever did any strength work and sometimes I would go to a yoga class once a week. I gained a few pounds in college, but I was pretty consistent around 135-ish. Then I graduated in December 2008 and my mother my diagnosed with a very rare and fatal neurological disease that killed her within 10 weeks of diagnosis. Obviously, when your body is under an immense amount of stress, you gain weight. Stress coupled with the constant flow of delicious food friends and family kept dropping off for us, I gained a few pounds. Later that fall I did a 4 week long bootcamp class that had 3 sessions a week at 5:30am. It was a ton of fun and I got into good shape, but I never really lost any weight. Then I started competing in triathlons in 2010 and trained (and won my AG) in my first half-ironman last year. Again, with all the training I was doing I never really lost any weight.

I never considered myself overweight, but I could tell that my body wanted to lose weight. Last fall I ordered a scale with body fat percentage. I honestly could care less what my actual weight in pounds is, but I do care about my body fat percentage since that is a better indicator of a healthy weight. My body fat percentage was around 25%. Not overweight, but leaning towards that. Last year I got a taste of podium finishes and I decided that I wanted to become more of a competitive athlete vs. a recreational one. I also decided that I prefer long course triathlons and I knew that an Ironman would be in my near future very soon. I decided to hire a triathlon coach and also a personal trainer to help me reach my goals. Both were the best decisions I have made in a very long time and I have both of them to thank for helping me get where I am today! So, thanks Mary and Kelsey! You ladies rock!

Anyway, last week I weighed myself and my scale read 125 lbs and 19.9% body fat! That is about 20 pounds since December-ish. I’m still not at my goal, but I’m very happy. Many people have been noticing lately too, probably because none of my clothes fit and I look a bit like a hot mess since I hate buying new clothes. The two new pairs of jeans I purchased at the end of April are now getting too big again too. Grr… I know I shouldn’t complain since most women would kill to have this problem.

But all this weight loss has got me to really thinking about the issue of weight and health. I have three prospectives on the issue:

  1. As a Woman – I think we’re all aware of the constant bombardment society, especially young girls, get from the media about being stick thin. It’s rather sad that our society focuses so much time and money to look like models and celebrities. The British Association of Model Agents looks for female models to be at least 5’8″ tall with the measurements of 34-24-24(1). The average BMI for top fashion models is 16.3. The healthy range is between 18 and 25. Fifty years ago the average woman was 5’3-4″ with a waist of 24-25″, and weighed about 120 lbs and wore a size 8(2). Today, the typical American woman is 5’4″, has a waist of 34-35″, weighs between 140-150 pounds and wears a size 12-14(2). Back when Marilyn Monroe was hott stuff, she wore a size 8. Today’s models generally wear a size 0. For most modelling agencies around the world, size 6 is now considered plus-size(3). Interestingly enough too, in order to cater women’s vanity, fashion designers have manipulated clothing sizes so truly larger sizes are marked small. A size 8 in the 1950s is now marketed as a size 4, although clothing sizes and fit vary according to designer(2). Then we have the issue of magazines and tv advertisements that air brush models to make them look more “beautiful.” We currently live in a society that strives for perfection. But what is perfection? In the United States, more than 10 million women and 1 million men are fighting a battle with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia(4). In the recent years I believe we have witnessed a push towards accepting and educating ourselves and young girls (and boys) that it’s okay (and healthy) to not look like Kim Kardashian or Jennifer Aniston. Our bodies do amazing things on a daily basis and we should love our bodies no matter what size, shape or color. 
  2. As a Public Health Student/Professional – There is no question that our country is on the verge of a major epidemic of obesity. Obesity is a common, serious, and expensive condition. More than one-third of American adults are currently obese in the United States(5). Between 2009-2010, almost 17% of US children ages 2-19 years old were obese(6). Obesity can lead to the development of other serious health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer(5). In 2008 the associated medical costs of obesity were estimated to be over $147 billion dollars(5). Current predictions for obesity trends, predict that more than 42% of American will be obese by 2030 if nothing is done to prevent it(7). It is also estimated that another third of Americans are overweight(8). Overweight is defined as having a BMI of 25-29.9 and obese is defined as having a BMI greater than 30. As most of us can decipher, the United States is in a serious health and economic crisis with the ever rising number of overweight and obese population. As individuals, we need to focus of keeping ourselves and our families (especially our children) active and healthy. As individuals, we can work towards creating a healthy community environment that will hopefully encourage more people to strive to live a healthy lifestyle. We must act now to change our future.
  3. As an Endurance Athlete – As an endurance athlete we are taught that being lean leads to better sports performance. We all work hard to reduce our body fat percentage, increase our lean body mass, and strive to achieve our optimal race weight. This past week I watched a USAT webinar on Body Composition Management presented by QT2 Systems founder and head coach, Jesse Kropelnicki. Kropelnicki is a very well respected coach in the sport and coaches some of the most elite athletes in the sport. I found this seminar interesting. Some things I agreed with him about and a few things I did not. On thing that I completely agreed with him about was the fact that athletes should eat to support their training and racing and not the other way around. The one thing that I didn’t really agree on was the body fat percentage of athletes for optimal performance. He believes that the optimal body fat should be between 5-18% depending on length of goal race, age, gender, race level and a few other factors. Now, various coaches, sports nutritionists and registered dietitians will give you different body fat measurements. Every person needs a certain percentage of essential body fat to our bodies can survive on a daily basis. According to Nancy Clark, men need about 3-5% essential fat whereas women need 11-14%(9). Very low fat range for men is between 7-10% and for women is between 14-17%. Anything below 15% for women become dangerous due to hormonal changes and lost of menstruation among other possible health risks. Personally, I believe that as athletes we should not necessarily chase the optimal number on the scale or percentage of body fat, but strive to achieve a healthy and “happy” weight for our bodies and remain injury free. 
I think that as we all travel through our own weight loss and/or fitness goals, that we remember that it isn’t necessarily the number on the scale that we should strive for, but a healthy and fit body that allows us to do the things we love. 
So, what do you think about the issue of weight, race weight, body fat, and body image?

1. http://www.associationofmodelagents.org/become-a-model/getting-started-as-a-model.html
2. http://blogs.webmd.com/pamela-peeke-md/2010/01/just-what-is-an-average-womans-size-anymore.html
3. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/01/most-models-meet-criteria-for-anorexia-size-6-is-plus-size-magazine/
4. http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/information-resources/general-information.php
5. http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html
6. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db82.pdf
7. http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/story/2012-05-07/obesity-projections-adults/54791430/1
8. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/overwt.htm
9. Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, 4th Ed. 
~ Happy Training!