I guess a more appropriate title for this post might, "Why I Don't Have a Six Pack Anymore."
Before you start to judge and think,
"...well, you're just giving up and not putting in the hard work anymore,"
or "real competitors are willing to make the sacrifice"
or "you're just making excuses to let yourself go"
then maybe it's time to do a quick ego check on why this matters so much to you.
This article today is a personal rant and is all personal opinion.
It’s not a “call to action” nor am I purposely trying to give any advice here. Some days, we just need some blog space in order to speak out the screaming thoughts in our head hoping someone else might be able to empathize or relate.
Today, I want to talk about my (still) ongoing battle in self acceptance and self love for my body while having a career and passion for an industry that encompasses athleticism, body composition and fitness capabilities. Feel free to jump in along with me in the endeavor to #normalizenormalbodies and to "do what's right, not what's popular."
The one thing I dislike the most about weightlifting as a sport is being defined by a weight class.
Ok, yes, it helps that there are weight classes so that competition amongst individuals of different sizes can be fair.
Though for someone like me who is more interested in general health and wellness for the long term, being confined to a weight class for several years has triggered more body image issues than I ever cared for in my life.
I refuse to be defined by a “number on the scale” anymore. I refuse to believe that I am more or less worthy if I don’t fit into the most suggested weight class I should be for my height.
But how can I possibly think that? If I'm heavier, I’ll have more muscle mass, I'll lift more and I'm more capable of moving weight around like nobody’s business. Shouldn't that make me feel empowered?
Even if I were to just allow my body weight to fall naturally where it wants to, there’s always SOME pressure out there to adjust that number on the scale so it’s as close to one of the weight categories as possible whether you're competitive or not.
Weigh in at 55.5? Well shoot I might as well just left out that extra 16oz latte I had for breakfast to be a little more competitive, instead of just walking in on the scale like no one gives a care. If you weigh in dead center between two weight class categories, people will wonder why you’re there and why you aren’t decided to move up or down.
That’s the way this sport is - people are always defining you and your performance by your weight class. If you’d like a great example, take a look at Kate Nye's and Mattie Rogers’ approach to the current weight class categories.
I personally am a bit turned off and infuriated by the people who continue to post "I just cut down to this weight class again for the 300th time and I'm vascular as F. Follow my program so I can make money off of your desire to be as ripped as me!"
Please tell me someone else feels the same way?
I truly believe most of the thoughts I have had the past several years are due to the type of community I have decided to immerse myself in: Ever since I decided to “become fit” post-college (running races, joining and coaching CrossFit gyms, competing in national weightlifting meets) my friends and colleagues have purposely been people who share my values and goals. I even married someone who I met at CrossFit.
Thus, being constantly surrounded by these people (who are always chasing PRs, measuring macros, liking instagram posts of chiseled 6-pack-ab CrossFit women, posting nutrition infographics and listening to fitness podcasts) my perception of the world is undoubtedly skewed towards the 1% of people who make health and fitness their “life.”
I didn’t really think too much about my weight (other than I lost a lot of body fat from my high school and undergrad years) until I got into weightlifting. I did my first mock meet not knowing at all what any of the weight classes were, and walked onto a scale in full clothing weighing 52.75, defaulting me in the 53kg category.
From that day forward, that number 53kg always stuck in my mind. I had to always maintain that if I wanted to be competitive.
This was prior to all of the knowledge I had about nutrition, cutting weight properly, or knowing how much body weight naturally fluctuates in the course of a day, a week, or even a year. All I cared about then was “eating wholesome, nutrient-dense real foods” since I was on a Paleo-ish kick and just loved quality food.
When you need to become an objective number (rather than a subjective feeling), suddenly everything you do turns into a precise scientific experiment where all the variables need to be controlled and anything you put in your body or lift from the ground needs to be monitored.
All sense of intuitiveness seems to throw itself out the window because when you have advanced-level, rigid goals of lifting certain kgs at a particular weight, there is not much room for error when you make yourself an outlier from the bell curve of athletes.
Any reaction will have an equal and opposite reaction.
Being absolutely restrictive in all my habits for so long, it was only a matter of time before I would “break” and be completely unwilling to return to those ways. Being a competitive athlete (at the level where you expect to podium) comes with making many compromises. Hundreds of small compromises everyday - from saying “no” to hanging out late with friends, rejecting everything except one item on the menu with extra special modifications, holding off work projects in lieu of making sure I got my training sessions in each day, and forgoing “casual rock climbing or hiking” trips with friends because I had to lift heavy the next day and thought I would be too physically worn out.
The breaking point for me was the realization that the compromises I needed to make to be competitive were actually going against my health.
Funny thing was, I got into weightlifting (and other feats of athleticism) in the first place because I wanted to be healthy, strong, fit, and "look great” since I always didn’t feel confident in my body throughout my childhood. Luckily, weightlifting and being diligent about “correct” nutrition did all of that for me! Yet there was a point where I had already reached my peak of health, and anything I was doing beyond that actually pushed me down the mountain in the opposite direction. AKA, being “more fit than I needed to be."
For those of you who haven’t followed me for awhile, I struggled for a couple of years to get my menstrual cycle back once I got off of birth control - The main reason was that my hormones (mainly progesterone and estrogen) were way too low due to my low body fat percentage (< 20%), stress of training and restrictive eating habits.
Through my experience working with a nutrition coach at WAG for a couple of years (yes, even nutrition coaches themselves like me need external nutrition coaches sometimes!), I had discovered that around 56-57kg was the point in which my body decided it didn’t want to have a period anymore. I was ecstatic when new weight class categories were released the summer of 2018 and 55kg was one of them (allowing me a few extra pounds!), but trying to maintain that was still a mental and physical hardship on me.
I remember back when I was on an episode of the Empowered by Iron Podcast still trying to recover my period and I am more than happy to say that I have successfully gotten it back, figured out WHY and WHEN it would halt, and have been boasting a pretty typical menstrual cycle now for over a year (where I can actually track it regularly in an app!)
I am actually now almost back to the weight I used to be in college - no 6-pack anymore, no more “extra small” clothing sizes. I could not come to terms for the longest time that in order for my body to function as a properly functioning female that I could not have a narrower waist and defined abs. I felt that I had lost all of the work that I did the past several years. It was as if my body was always trying to get back to the way it was for the past several years after deciding to "get in shape."
Somedays, I feel that I am just “back where I started.”
As a weightlifting and CrossFit coach, some days I look and feel like a fraud. I don't have the lean and chiseled physique I used to have, and I'm not even lifting as heavy as I used to...so now I don't seem as impressive right away especially when meeting new people who don't know me.
I'm here to tell you that it is absolutely normal to have these thoughts - to feel that you are out of place unless you look-the-look and lift-the-lifts like all the instagram stars.
And in all honesty, being authentic, real, and full of heart will be more impressive than always trying to be ideal.
In reality, I am thousands of miles ahead from where I started my health journey years ago. Today, even though I regained all of the weight back that I lost over the past several years, I am much better off than I have ever been because of the priceless knowledge and experience I have gained in the process of this journey.
Here I am affirming to myself every single day that I am doing what is “healthy” for my body and that I am in a healthy mindset. I try to find humor in the fact that my asian genetics do not allow for the creased abs that many caucasians have at the same body type percentage (follow Jamie Hagiya on Instagram, she’s such an inspiration for me also being asian).
Today, I do not count macros anymore. I am not purposely sticking to “keto,” “paleo” or any particular category of eating. I workout when I feel like working out and I make sure that fitness is fun for me because I want it to be an ongoing, sustainable part of my entire life. I look at the videos and photos of myself from being a mini bitty-strong 53kg and am in awe of how tiny I was. In fact, see below of the ridiculousness I got to when I was at my prime "competitive weight" compared to now.
I knew something was wrong with my perception of body image when I realized I was wearing standard size XS and 0’s and still thought I was too “chunky."
The only reason I would ever want to go back to that size is because it’s costing me money to buy larger clothing sizes again. But now I can find clothes that flatter me and make me feel comfy (rather than clothes that make me feel big. (Anytime you wear clothing that’s too tight, you will always feel “ a little too big").
If being competitive as an athlete is in my future, I want to be CLAWING AT THE DOOR IN DESPERATION to do it again rather than feeling like I’m forcing myself to stay competitive. I don’t want to have the constant voice track of “you should do this, you should do this, you should do this,” but rather “I want to do this, I want to do this, I want to do this.”
I have to trust myself - trust that I have the knowledge to distinguish between what I want and what is best for me. I can notice when "what I want” may not always be in my best interest, so I can make sure that my best interest is what I want.
I choose not to be defined by a weight class anymore for the time being. I choose to be defined by the positive impact I have on others’ lives and the standards that I decide for myself.