Sunday, October 31, 2010

is it just my imagination creeping up on me?

I've been working on this post now for a few hours because I'm having trouble writing without sounding overly whiny. Or psychotic. Or troubled. Or in need of validation. But I guess I'm just going to put it out there and you can think what you will. Per usual.

Ok, so I have issues. I struggle with my body image. And i know a LOT of women do. Actually, I know a lot of men do too. Particularly men that engage in endurance sports.

My concern over weight and how I look started at a fairly young age. Growing up, I was overweight. And my brothers were skinny. A series of events led me to lose weight, like lots of it. Too much, probably. And while I think that's the point in which I developed an unhealthy relationship with food, it's also when I started my love affair with running. I grew to love movement in various forms and the rush I get from activity. and, admittedly.....the way it helps me maintain my weight.

Don't get me wrong. I don't run for how it makes me look. I run because I absolutely love love love it!

And while I have completed a couple Ironmans and won a few smaller races and run lots of 5ks and qualified for Boston, I've also changed my body composition such that it's much more muscular than it used to be. And this added muscle has led to faster times and a lot more endurance and speed. And for whatever reason, I'm not entirely comfortable with this. I mean, I am very comfortable with my physique when I'm beating boys up hills and when I'm making impossible sets at swim practice and out on the trails running for hours on end, but the times when I'm just hanging out or getting ready to go out, I literally yearn for my old waif-ish body.

The crazy part is, even when I was 112lbs (or even a very unhealthy 87lbs), I thought I was a little fat, that I could stand to lose a pound or two. And some days I see pictures of when I first started triathlon and I think "wow. I was so skinny. now i'm just bulky". But the truth is, even when I first started tri, I would complain to my training partner that I needed to lose a few pounds and he, a tad obsessed with fitness and nutrition himself, would help me devise a food plan to aid in that.

So, here's my probelm... it's off-season. And yet, I'm being pretty damn active. But I've also let loose a little on the diet (and by "diet", i simply mean what goes in my mouth rather than a schematic plan) - a little too much sugar, burgers, pizza and beer. And I feel fat. My legs are meaty. And my ass is ample. And my tummy isn't as firm as it was a few months back. I've probably gained a few pounds over the last few months, but most people wouldn't look at me and think "oh...she's hefty".

Just yesterday I saw a picture of myself from about this same time last year, and I remember thinking I was a lard ass then, but now I think I looked pretty lean. I looked healthy. I looked...(gasp!) good.

And the day before that, I may or may not have had a tiny little panic attack because I couldn't find anything to wear in which I didn't look "fat".

So, I guess I'm trying to figure out if I really am to a point where I need to make some drastic changes or if my head is playing tricks with me (and maybe it's a little of both?). And I'm also trying to decide why it is that I don't just relish what I have when I have it. I remember when I was young, someone told me to love the body I had at the time because I'll get older and wish I had appreciated it because I'll never get it back. I guess that holds true no matter how old you get though...because when I'm 40, I'll probably look back at these pictures of now, when I'm 30, and think "wow. i looked so strong!".

And here's something ironic...I see other active women, and I love their thick legs and ample asses and muscular biceps and visible lats. It's sexy. And sometimes, I even think other women with a little extra poundage, not in the form of muscle, look pretty sexy too. Is it just that we live in an image crazed world or is it that my view of what looks good is skewed? Or is it that I do need to start watching very closely how I eat and how I train? Would i be faster and stronger if I lost ten pounds? Or would I lose strength and be tired all the time? Would I be happier being slower but thinner? Or would my peace of mind fly out the window with the rigidity of even more control? I mean, why do I feel guilty if I take a day off or eat ice cream? I KNOW in the grand scheme of things that image doesn't mean anything. I know that five pounds doesn't change me from being attractive to being completely undesireable.

I guess what I'm seeking is some sort of balance. Balance between looking good and feeling good about myself...because they aren't mutually exclusive. Balance between enjoying life for it's indulgences and enjoying life for it's struggles. And I'm ok with seeking something. I mean, if we're constantly content with everything, isn't life boring and stagnant? Or perhaps I'm just justifying my craziness. ha.


Chloe said...

Let me know when you find that balance. I need in on that as well. It's crazy b/c everyone (non-athletes) think I should be losing weight training the way I do - but really I've gained a few lbs. Muscle? Fat? Who knows.

Aimee said...

Ugh...I wish I could help, but I have body issues too. I know it's crazy the way I think, but it is what it is. I've done the same thing with pictures too, but I don't think I've ever been completely happy with my body.
But, from the pictures I've seen of you, you look awesome! You are strong and fit and you should be proud of that.

Joe said...

"Body issues" know no gender, no body type, no sexual preference, no political agenda. I think we all struggle with it at some point. One of the possible downsides of triathlon is that we are regularly exposed to so many absolute physical specimens that its tough to look in the mirror and be happy with what we have. Most frustrating of all is that, at some point, we have genetic limits to what we can achieve.

I think an important thing to keep in mind, though, is that any of us that are actively engaged in the sport are already coming very close to our physical thresholds. From your posts, you clearly do very well in races and your training regimen is admirable. Isn't it nice to know that hard work can land you on a podium? There is a lot to be proud of in that. You've been given one, particular body and you've really seen what its capable of -- tested its limits to the fullest. In the process, you've succeeded in races and met all kinds of like-minded people with a similar desire to find out just what their particular body can do. It might be a 9hr Ironman. It might be a 35min 5K PR. Ultimately the key is to look inwards for our motivation -- not outwards.

One last thing -- speaking as a heterosexual male triathlete in his 30s -- tiny, thin, and frail doesn't do it for us. A girl throttling past us -- tanned, strong (and severely tan-lined - a personal fave) quads powering her past me on an ascent -- THAT is hot...

Sean in NY said...

I agree with Joe's last paragraph. If you're concerned with what other people think of your body, rest assured that athletic men like athletic looking women, not skeletons or anything close to that.

Look at your goals. If your number 1 goal is to be the picture of fitness, ala those chicks on espn that do the fitness competitions, then you're in the wrong sport. If your goals are to get faster in the world of TRI while not feeling guilty about enjoying good food and good beer, then who cares what your body-image is (unless of course it's hindering your goals, which it doesn't seem to be b/c you keep getting faster).

Personally, I would never trade-out food/beer if it meant I could have a perfectly sculpted body. The body may make others happy, but the food/beer makes me happy and keeps me happy. Plus, you said it yourself - one day you'll get old and in lesser shape. The beer/food will be your friend no matter what kind of shape you're in!

tri like mary said...

It's ALWAYS easier to look at other people and appreciate how they look when in reality you may look as good.

Thanks for writing an honest post that, at least in my case, reflects what goes on the head of an athlete.

zencycle said...

You need to decide what _you_ want first. it doesn't sound like you're there yet.

Judi said...

it's all that fucking beer girl! seriously, limit it to once a week. it's time to start keeping that metabolism HIGH and watching what you put in that body.

im fat too. omg. 7 lbs since vegas. fuck it.