Imagine cutting out sugar, eating cleaner than you ever have in your entire life, working out daily, running half marathons, lifting heavier weights, getting eight hours of sleep a night, drinking plenty of water, and following literally every weight loss tip you've ever heard or read about — and then not only NOT losing a single pound, but gaining more than 10-percent of your body weight in pounds.
Until recently, I've been about the same weight since the ninth grade. I'm a pretty tiny human, and I've always been petite — at 26 years old and standing only 5 foot 2 (and three quarters!), I still get some clothes from the kids section. So when I began my fitness journey, I never set out to lose weight, but I guess I had anticipated that maybe I would drop a few pounds as a side effect of getting healthier.
About two and a half years ago, I started learning healthy recipes, eating cleaner, learning how to run (and what a burpee is), trying yoga, cutting down on alcohol (almost completely), and living a healthier lifestyle. I noticed changes almost immediately in my body and brain, and I felt fantastic.
This past year and a half, after moving to San Francisco and working as a fitness writer, healthy living became my main priority and focus. Workout classes have become my favorite pastime, and I love grabbing a smoothie or healthy bite with friends. I meal prep, am more conscious than ever of what goes in my body, and work out at *least* five times a week. I even gave up ALL sugar for six weeks this past Spring.
It was at that time that I was cutting out sugar that I also had an annual checkup with my doctor scheduled, which just so happens to be the only time I ever use a scale (I don't own one, and I have never weighed myself regularly). I didn't pay any mind when my doctor asked me to step on the scale for her as she took notes . . . until the arm on that clunky, nearly-ancient metal contraption shot way, way past where I thought it would. Roughly 11 pounds past.
"Before" and Now
While it might sound ridiculous to someone who's been on a mission to lose 20, 50, or even 100 pounds, gaining 11 pounds is quite a bit when you're my size. And when you've been the exact same weight for about 12 years, seeing such a significant change can feel jarring.
Like I mentioned, I wasn't trying to lose weight, but to gain such a significant percentage in spite of all the effort I had put into my body was a huge shock. It felt like a slap in the face, or a gut punch — and then I was immediately ashamed of how devastated I felt. I'm constantly preaching body positivity. "Love yourself no matter what you weigh! Eff the scale! A number does not define you!" I do mean those things, but then the second I put a toe on the scale, I crumbled completely when the number caught me off guard.
It was at that moment I realized that without ever acknowledging it, I had been rooting such a large part of my identity in my weight . . . but why? Why did I tie myself to this one number?
I was so disappointed in myself for not being stronger mentally and emotionally. I felt a sense of responsibility to my friends, community, and women around me to be stronger, and I felt that I had failed everyone, including myself in that moment.
I anxiously looked back at my photos from the past year to try to figure out if I "looked" heavier, as I frantically texted my closest friends for affirmation. Long story short, I came to realize (through the help of friends and my personal trainer) that the weight gain was healthy, and I had lost pounds of fat yet gained pounds of muscle, and that I had nothing to worry about, physically. But that's not the point.
"Before" and Now
In one moment, with one number, I allowed myself to be distracted from all the amazing things that I accomplished in the past year.
My resting heart rate is lower. My VO2 max is higher. My mile time is nearly HALF of what it was just three years ago. I ran more half-marathons, and didn't get as tired. I can do two SoulCycle classes in a row, and keep up the whole time. I can finally (almost!) get that full extension of Bird of Paradise in my yoga classes. I'm lifting heavier weights than I ever could've imagined. I learned proper deadlift form. I can see my abs without flexing (whaaat!). I'm healthier overall. I feel good. I feel strong.
The scale will never be able to tell my story.
It's clear I need to work on my self-esteem; I want to be stronger so I can be a better example for the people I love, and for the women who look to me for strength. Looking back at my moment on the scale, feeling that sense of disappointment in my lack of emotional fortitude, I'm trying to channel what I learned from my chat with Tracee Ellis Ross: self-acceptance can be more forgiving than self-love. She told me, "Self-acceptance for me makes space for me to still be a whole person and to be compassionate and kind and loving to myself, even in moments that have pain in them."
I also truly feel that culturally, we need to shift our focus away from "how many pounds up or down" we are to how we feel, and to all the commitment and work we put into loving ourselves and treating our bodies right. Before-and-after weight-loss stories DO tell this, but oftentimes our fixation is on the weight — the "goal" — rather than the journey itself. We're taught that weight loss is good, and that weight gain is bad, regardless of what we did to get to that point, or what kind of shape we're in.
I heard a quote at this year's Dare to Bare SF (a body-positivity festival hosted by Movemeant Foundation) from SoulCycle instructor Kamelle Mills: "Your body is telling a story about your soul . . . your spirit. What kind of story are you telling?" I know my body is telling a WAY better story than that stupid scale.