I was a fat kid. Like, really, really fat. I'm not saying this to get your pity (although, pity me if you feel like it; I was pitiably fat). I was fat enough that my family was concerned and spoke to me about it several times. My mother took me to a nutritionist and everything. People talked to me about it like I didn't realize I was fat. This kind of gentle, "You know, honey... what's going on with... your body... is a serious thing." Because I was so aware I was fat, and so aware that everyone was aware I was fat, I stress-ate in private. I couldn't fit under my bed, but BEHIND my bed was a great spot to drink soy sauce and eat maraschino cherries.
My weight-loss tactic, as well-chronicled in diaries ages 10 to 25, was always, "Stop eating." Food was the problem, so no food was the solution. Calm down, health-conscious reader: I now understand that this was dumb. In fact, I made every single diet mistake that a person could possibly make. I drank CASES of diet soda. I tried to substitute mint gum for breakfast and lunch. I said "No thanks!" to any part of a meal that didn't look appetizing to me (so, basically, salads). Once I even shop-lifted a bunch of diet pills and took them all at once. They smelled like hay. I threw up.
What was amazing about these tactics was that I knew they were supposed to not work, because I obsessively read magazine articles about dieting. I just figured that I was different. I figured that I was going to be the exception to all the rules, and I was going to be great at not-eating, and diet coke was going to satiate me for days. This kind of hubris has generally been my great downfall: unwilling to accept that I am just an average human being with the average capacity to do things, I frequently say, "I know this has never worked for anyone in the history of mankind, but it is going to work for me, because I am the female equivalent of Hercules."
Sophomore year of high school, I finally told a boy I liked him. He was this boy I had been into since I was seven years old. According to every television serial ever, telling the boy I liked him was all I had to do to get him to like me back. He did not like me back. He was very nice about that, but he just didn't. I am absolutely charming, and a pretty good piano player, but at the time, I was gargantuan. See paragraph one.
I was heartbroken and nothing was ever going to repair my heart. This was actually great for my self-control, because it was devastating enough that I didn't think about food all the time for a while. Within two weeks I lost about ten pounds to sheer despair. That felt great.
One day, I decided I would go for a run. I heard that this was a thing people did for exercise (why anyone would voluntarily exercise in their free time was utterly beyond me, except for that the articles I obsessively read about dieting said that exercising was an important part of losing weight). I decided I would run four laps around the football field, which would have been a mile. I ran half a lap. Then I threw up. Then I cried. Then I went home and ate gum.
I went to the track the next day and ran three quarters of a lap. I did not throw up this time, but it was still interminable. There was this little squiggle of a woman running around the outside lap of the track, lap after lap after lap. When she passed me (which she did again and again), she did not seem to even be breathing hard. She looked like Tinker Bell in a track suit. I hated her and everything about her.
It took me a week to run a full lap without stopping. For about a month, I consistently ran two laps every day, and felt very pleased with myself. Tinker Bell was there a lot, and I hated her increasingly by the day. She didn't even have headphones! This lady was sick.
In four months, I could run two miles. Also, I lost a lot -- like, a LOT -- of weight. It was exactly like the diet articles said it would be. People finally started asking me if I had an eating disorder, which was what I had been wanting them to ask when I actually did have one for all the years leading up to this moment. For formerly fat girls, it feels amazing when people ask you if you have an eating disorder. It's like being asked to the prom.
I will skip the "Rocky" montage here and get to the part where I was a in high school, at a healthy-bordering-on-maybe-a-little-too-skinny weight, and I ran a marathon. It was a very emotional experience. I tried to write my college admission essay about it, but thank god some angelic composition teacher told me not to, because there is no way I would have gotten in anywhere with that. Writing about running a marathon is like writing about organizing a blood drive for guide dogs, or a life-changing world-view-altering trip across Europe: you might as well be named Megan and aspire to be an accountant because you're identical to every other 18-year-old on earth.
I'm telling you all this because today I am sore. I am sore because for the tenth or so time, I am beginning cross-training. Cross-training is completely antithetical to everything my brain tells me to do. (To this day, even after all my life lessons from running, my brain tells me to "READ BOOKS JUST ONLY READ BOOKS DON'T DO ANYTHING BUT READ BOOKS AND SOMETIMES MAYBE MAGAZINES. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON'T GO OUTSIDE. YOU MIGHT BE A VAMPIRE. DON'T EXPOSE YOURSELF TO SUNLIGHT. BOOKSBOOKSBOOKSBOOKSBOOKS.") I never join a gym or a yoga studio or anything, partially because I am terrified of working out in front of anyone else, and partially because I am cheap. Instead, I try these self-guided outdoor fitness programs, and they are hard.
For me, strength training is like force feeding myself massive amounts of tree bark. It goes down badly and I hate it. Trying to do a push-up on my knees makes me want to murder. Yesterday, feeling sore from doing some training the day before, I complained to a friend, and he said, "Oh! Doesn't it feel good to be sore like that?" I wanted to push him in front of a car. NO. It does NOT feel good to be sore "like that." It does not feel good to be sore, PERIOD. Not even from sex. Soreness is horrible.
I've been trying to get stronger for the past two years, and it has only ever been hard. Sometimes that makes me want to quit.
But then I remember Tinker Bell and her headphone-less, panting-less runs. These days, when I go home to Portland, I go down to the track for old time's sake. I don't wear headphones anymore (who needs 'em?), and I can easily go for five miles without losing my breath. Sometimes I run laps around other people. (This is rare. I'm a really slow runner. It's probably better to call it "jogging," because that is much more accurate. I actually only ever job laps around people who are walking. But I need to write this for the analogy to work, so just deal with it.) My body can do all these things I never thought it would ever do.
When I was younger, reading articles about dieting, I thought that I was more capable of losing weight by drinking diet soda than the masses were. But I also thought I was totally incapable of any sort of physical feat. For God's sake, I believed with my whole heart I would never be able to enjoy a salad. These days, I eat almost nothing but salad.*
The point is, we've got nothing but time. Things don't have to happen all at once. Maybe one day I'll do a push up and think, "That was a fun and easy push up." Why not? Sky's the limit.
I spent so much of my early life hating my body and wanting to hide it away; destroy it; hurt it; tear it up. I starved it and filled it with sugar and cut holes in it and swallowed it up in sweaty black Spanxx (which are masochistically expensive, by the way). That was silly, because my relationship with my body is the only one I will be in for my entire life. It will even outlast my relationship with my brain. I should be the Tristan to my body's Isolde; the Orpheus to my body's Eurydice; the Jake to my body's Finn.
So, Body, today I'm gonna give you some push ups and squats and other things that make my brain want to puke. But I know that you'll like it. Maybe later we'll have some KALE together, and drink medicinal tea. Cool? I like you. Sorry I took all those diet pills that time.
* Food is tricky. In this essay I made a lot of jokes about eating disorders and gum and eating nauseating food combinations behind my bed, etc. I know that stuff is ugly, and it can be uncomfortable to read about it, but that stuff is SO REAL. Learning to love food -- all kinds of food, of all different colors (even green! Who knew?!) -- could be an essay in and of itself. I'm still figuring it out. I learn a lot from my roommates, and I learn a lot from my sister, and I am just doing the best I can. These days I mostly eat salads. But they have lots of tempeh in them, and I genuinely enjoy them. And also, I go to Juan's Flying Burritos more than one time per week. Look. We have all done stupid stuff having to do with food. It's too bad: food is GREAT. That's the bottom line here. Food is GREAT, and it's too bad that those of us with the most privilege on earth have such a tendency to abuse it.