Fat

TreebeardTeaching

There is a current and recurrent thread amongst HEMA and other martial arts disciplines that mocks the fat instructor. It’s one of those things that everyone feels comfortable jumping in on.

Five years ago I dropped 50lbs. It was just after finishing my Precision Nutrition certification.

One of the most common things you will hear about choosing a health or fitness professional is that you should never chose a fat one.

I was sitting at 195, with a good body composition, stellar bloodwork and fitness abilities.

And yet every time I looked in the mirror I wanted to scream. I was terrified.

I don’t think I can describe the fear.  You’ve either felt it or you haven’t. I looked in the mirror and saw a ghost. I was an insubstantial freak and every ounce of weight that left me was leaving me more and more transparent. Empty. Invisible. Vulnerable.

When I stepped on the scale and saw my weight go down, I wanted to vomit.

I smiled and posed and joked about being tiny, but I felt a literal fear of being tiny.

I don’t quite know when the body dysmorphia started, but it’s not uncommon in my family. Anorexia and bulimia in my generation and the following, diabetes in the previous.

Weight is always a topic at every single family gathering.

I remember being a kid, and my brother and I would steal my mom’s “diet” caramels that were kept in the fridge. I seem to recall they were some sort of bizarre 1970’s thing where you could purchase amphetimine-laced candies to help stay trim.

In high school I was obsessed with my sunken chest and thin frame. I hated to take my shirt off because people would see that I didn’t have the muscles I was supposed to have. When I started up weightlifting with my friends, we would hit the scale every chance we could to see if we’d gained even a half pound.

I was maybe 18 or 19 when I went on my first diet. My mom wanted to try weight watchers and I wanted to support her. I lost 20lbs in a month and thought it was fun…and promptly put it back on.

I started to explore powerlifting and veganism, and my weight started to creep up. The belly grew but the chest never seemed to, no matter how much weight I lifted, it always looked sunken and hollow. I started working IT and the weight rocketed up. I once dropped a loaded barbell on my chest because I glanced at my arms and saw that they were so thin that it was impossible for them to pick that much weight up…never mind that is was my second set. Took awhile to go back to the gym after that.

I panicked one day when I stepped on a scale while visiting relatives and saw that weigh had gone from my usual 135, and my more comfortable 150…to 185. I felt like a giant whale. Went on a major diet, and dropped 60lbs in three months.

Since then it’s been the constant yo-yo. I diet and lose weight, and then it creeps back on plus more.

Six years ago I hit 247 and decided enough was enough. The PN certification course was teaching me excellent nutrition tools, far better than any diet I had ever been on before, so I started to apply them. It worked perfectly until I hit 195, and then I couldn’t handle the fear of losing weight anymore. One thing I had learned in my certification process was how strong the psychological factors involved in weight loss were. The brain is the number one decider of weight, for many reasons.

So I sat there in my panic and made a decision.

I decided I wasn’t going to think about my weight anymore. No more diet. Food was a reward for me, and large weight was a safe feeling place to be. Being strong mattered more to me than anything. I realized I had to come to peace with myself before I could do anything to change myself.

So I resolved to stop worrying about what I ate, to stop worrying about how I looked, and to work solely on how I felt about myself.

Five years now I’ve been quieting myself everytime I look in a mirror and feel small. I’ve been letting myself relax when I saw that I needed to go up a belt notch. I’ve been slowly learning to first accept myself, and then I moved on to healing myself.

Two months ago I stepped back on the scale for the first time in five years, and saw that I was up to 267. Classic rebound weight gain. My hormonal balance around metabolism might be shot for the rest of my life from the cycles of yo-yo dieting. My blood work is still good, my overall health is still excellent, but there are the occasional readings where my blood pressure seems to have gone up. It’s not consistent yet.

Two months ago I felt calm. I’d come to peace with a lot of the demons of my past, and with a very supportive wife was finally coming to a bit of peace with my body. I was content to be where I was for the rest of my life. So I started the hardest ever nutrition plan. I started to eat slightly less. In order to tackle the metabolic problems, I’m going to attempt to lose no more than two pounds a week…preferably only one pound a week.

It’s very difficult. I know I can dump the weight like a rocket…but I know it will eventually come back on if I do. I must do it slow. It’s important to lose weight for me now not for looks, but because I’m getting older and I still have very much I want to do. Mechanical pressure on the internal organs is not correlated to productive aging, and I’ve got far too much to do to be inefficient about it.

Possibly the greatest difficulty I face is psychological, though. I’m a more than competent fighter, so the demons of my childhood are well put away, and only occasionally mutter from their rough graves. The voice of my peers is far harder to face.

It’s difficult to watch friends and people you meet steal glances down at your belly. It’s especially difficult to see people making fun of fat instructors, and it’s difficult because it makes me hugely angry.

It makes me angry not because it’s unfair, but because for all their talk of the value of skill…they will still judge on looks. I’m fat, but others are thin, or pretty. Or ugly. The line is that you can always lose weight, so it’s a thing you can control and therefor it’s okay to mock, but the fault there is in the desire to mock.

I spent my childhood being bullied. I know many people in the martial arts community had the same experience, but I cannot tolerate that their response to that bullying is to become a bully the moment they find the means. Where is the desire to protect others from the harm you experienced? It’s a huge failing in a martial arts instructor to engage in such behaviour. It’s an even bigger failure to support and encourage it, because it’s an absolution of responsibility. It’s an ignorance of the roots of violence and depredation.

My anger is an issue because of the violence of my background wants me to answer back with violence, and that is a stress that will literally kill me. Rage was a companion I carried within me for decades, and the brain responds to such stress with inflammation and dumps of hormones that scavenge muscles and build fat, and break the whole system down.

So I find myself wondering today if I’m really ready to lose weight or not. I’ve come to peace with a lot of things inside me, but I haven’t really learned how to come to peace with the world as it is yet. I’m still undecided as to whether I even want to come to peace with it, or work to change it. I can work and teach my students, and hope that will have an impact, but some days the world just feels so very big, and I feel so small and insubstantial.

I can shrink myself, but I think I must also make my world shrink a little, too.

2 Comments

  1. This is a fantastic article. As an overweight instructor myself (I weigh 240 and should really weigh 190, but at 53 losing the weight is a challenge – But I did weigh 290 and dropped 50 pounds last year) I am constantly judged by people who assume I don’t have any value as a martial artist because I am fat. I have to work twice as hard to show competence as a thin instructor. Thank you for addressing this article, and the issue with weight loss and body image.

  2. I imagine it’s much the same prejudice that overweight dancers encounter constantly. And I imagine martial arts is similarly complicated by the physical fact that our eyes tend to see a larger person’s movements as less defined, less large and slower even when they’re not. For a big dancer to look as if the exact same moves are as taut and defined as a smaller dancer’s, she must exert more energy and move more exaggeratedly (while incidentally carrying, in my case, 120 lbs that most dancers would not) Compliments, when they come, are generally of the surprised variety — aloud —> “You’re a really good dancer”; not said, but understood —> “for a fat girl”.

Leave a Reply