There is a deodorant commercial airing right now where Lolo Jones, an Olympic track athlete, talks about how hard it is to be an Olympic track athlete and then says that she is now going to compete in Bobsled in the winter Olympics. In another similar commercial Olympic Soccer player Alex Morgan explains that when she’s not playing soccer she does stand up paddle-boarding and that “if you’re not sweating, you’re not working hard enough.” At the end both women say “I do more.” and big block letters on the screen say “Do: More.”
The first time I saw the commercial I thought “That’s awesome!” and I thought back with pride to a couple weeks ago when I had a video shoot to do to celebrate the success of Fit Fatties Across America. I was sick and felt absolutely horrible but I took great pride in going to the shoot and acting like everything was mostly fine and that I “sounded better than I felt,” (holy crap was that a lie!). I came home and got much sicker.
These two things have helped me realize that one of my old issues was trying to come back. A big part of my eating disorder was compulsive exercise but I didn’t call it that – I called it “being hardcore.” [Trigger Warning for Three step classes in a row? No problem – now let’s do 45 minutes each on the elliptical, treadmill, rowing machine and stair machine before I hit the weights. It included never feeling like I had done enough and proudly ignoring all of my bodies signals like hunger, soreness, pain, and sickness. It also included being praised for behavior that was very destructive. People constantly said that they wished they had my discipline. Or, the worst thing now that I look back, that I was their inspiration. Yikes – sorry about that.
Happily I was able to recognize the mindset and stop it before I traveled any farther down a bad road. I was able to admit that ignoring my body is not how I want to treat it. I take another look at that deodorant commercial and realize that, to me, the message is not awesome. These women are allowed to do whatever they want – if they want to do ten Olympic sports that’s completely their business. But why must we constantly be told that whatever we’re doing is not enough? As fat people, this message can be overwhelming since we’re told that a fat body is evidence that we aren’t doing “enough.” I can’t even count how many times I’ve been told that I need to “eat less and exercise more” by someone who hasn’t even bothered to ask what I eat or how much I exercise.
But of course it’s not just fat people, no matter what our size, the message is clear: we’re never doing enough. Doing 2 hours in the gym a day? Not enough. Olympic athlete, but only in one Olympic sport? Not enough.
Enough. We all get to choose how highly we prioritize movement, what kind of movement we do and how much. If you had asked me during my compulsive exercise days, I would have guessed that you needed at least 2 hours of movement a day to have any health benefit. I remember how shocked I as when I found out that studies show that 30 minutes a day was the sweet spot, and that people benefited from even an hour a week of movement (there’s a great, though not 100% fat friendly video about that here [Trigger warning: I think that the video contains great information if you can get past the brief mention of “obesity as a problem” in the beginning]. What if our public health messaging was about “do what you want to and can, and celebrate that” instead of “work out like it’s a job” or “you will never be doing enough”.
Everywhere I look I am encouraged to be “hardcore”…work out more, workout harder, treat my body like a limitation to overcome instead of like a partner, ignore my bodies signals. I gave that the old college try and it did not work out, so I will continue to try to treat my body like a friend, move in ways that are joyful and help me reach my goals, and celebrate what I do – instead of beating myself up for what I don’t. The hardcore habit was hard to kick but, for me, it was worth the effort.
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