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Fitness Stories: Her Take

Posted by bmagnus On May - 18 - 2009

workingbLet me tell you a little about myself.

I was never an athletic child. Being short compared to my classmates, I scored poorly on any fitness test that measured us by age instead of height: my short legs couldn’t run as fast; my short arms couldn’t climb as well. I was in 5th grade before it dawned on our Phys Ed teacher that setting the chin-up bar for “average height for xth grader” skewed his results for anyone on my side of the bell curve. He added a folding gym mat for us shorter people, and suddenly 6 girls could do the flex arm hang that never could before! He probably took credit for improving our strength too.

Through Junior High and the first year of High School, I biked a lot. There were actually places I could go on my bike. This was no longer true when we moved to Texas. My physical activity was largely limited to walking around the school. Nonetheless, my BMI on graduation day was 21.2* — well within normal range.

I went to college, and had a bigger campus to walk around. I also had to take a few PE classes, which is where I met the first truly competent coach I ever personally encountered. She was the head Women’s Volleyball coach, and she took the time to point out what I was doing wrong, and more importantly how I could do better. I was still not very athletic, but at least I wasn’t a hazard in the gym. However, I had a typical college student diet. I dodged the “freshmen 15” by only gaining 5 pounds, for a BMI of 22.2. 

In the middle of grad school I got married. My BMI was up to 23.6 — still normal, but getting heavier. Then one night, I came home to find my husband watching a talk show, and I became familiar with the work of Joyce Vedral. Within days, I bought one of her books, the one she wrote with Jean Claude VanDamme’s wife. I started weightlifting.

Because of activities and school schedules, we ate too much fast food. I bulked up, but not in a good way. I moved on to one of Dr. Vedral’s other workouts, but not before my BMI was up to 25.4. I was able to delude myself that a lot of it was muscle. I told myself that BMI is a crock. Right? Besides, I’ve got one of those wide Eastern-European body-types and will never ever be model-skinny. Right? I was full of excuses.

I got out of school and started working full time. I ended up in an office that always had some sort of food: cookies for guests; popcorn with the manager in the afternoons; lunch with “the girls” or with upper management; stopping for a snack on the way to make bank deposits. I was the slimmest woman in the office, but I was still overweight. Sometimes we would decide to diet together, which meant we would buy a big salad bag and a monster sized bottle of reduced fat ranch dressing. This was of course unhealthy on several levels, and I later understood that we were doomed to fail before we began.  By the time the lettuce got brown and disgusting, we had given up. I still walked a bit — both around the neighborhood and across the 6 acre worksite — and we had fencing class once a week. At home, our activity schedule meant we had fast food several days a week for dinner. During this time, my BMI fluctuated between 26.3 and 28.1. I looked like a little sausage, especially in some of the fashions of the day.

I had become convinced that diets were a waste of time. And then I got pregnant.

My official post-pregnancy weight is only 3 pounds more than my official pre-pregnancy weight. That sounds great, doesn’t it? However, my BMI was 28.7! I resigned myself to the idea that most women don’t get their old bodies back after having a baby. I bought size 12 jeans and decided to live with it. For most practical purposes, I had stopped working out except for an occasional leisurely walk around the block or the mall pushing the stroller.

One morning, my husband arrived home from work at the Emergency Room and announced we were going on a diet. He had noticed the progress made by one of the attending physicians on a low-carbohydrate diet. You’ll see my husband’s results on the “About Us” page. He looks even better now. I got back down to college weight, but we did not do any kind of exercise at all. Now we know that this was a mistake: we had only gotten skinny, not fit.

We didn’t add exercise to our routine until several years later in 2001, when we bought a decent stationary bike. Although I was skeptical at the time (and feared it would turn into the expensive clothes rack exercise equipment is in most homes), it has more than paid for itself. We used it 3 days a week for seven years and didn’t have to buy a gym membership (or two). I did strength and flexibility training while he was on the bike, experimenting with Joyce Vedral’s workouts, Shovelglove, and military workouts. He used weights while I biked. We both watched the news while working out. On one hand, we were working out 3 times a week. On the other hand, we would have gotten better results by really concentrating on what we were doing.

In 2008, we decided to try programmed workouts, specifically Tony Horton’s 10 Minute Trainer. We were pleased with the results, and you’ll find our review here. However, we were beginning to think we could get even better results with a more traditional resistance training program. That’s why in 2009 we switched to ChaLEAN Extreme. Our review is here. 

I lost the weight, and I kept it off for years, making me “literally a freak of nature” according to one prominent “fat acceptance” advocate.  Although my BMI did creep back up to 24 for a bit — still “normal”, still lookin good, just not as firm as I’d like — I’m now back down to college weight and in better shape than I have ever been. Because I have more muscle and less fat than I did in college, I wear a size 2 jean now. I didn’t wear a size 2 in Junior High! I won’t get back to High School weight because I am too muscular now — I would have to get to an unhealthy body fat percentage and resort to unhealthy eating practices.

I made great changes in my weight, fitness, and appearance. It is possible. 

* I realize BMI is a controversial measurement. Because I am shorter than most adults, people tend to think my normal weight is anorexically skinny. A gain or loss of 5 pounds on me might be like 10 or 20 pounds on a taller person. By expressing my weight as a ratio with my height, you can start to think of it in terms of what you would weigh at these levels instead of focusing on my relative lightness.

This is an adaptation of a post first published at ShortWoman.com. It has been updated for style and to reflect current practices.

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