Weight, bodies, agency, and a few good months 📉
Saturday, August 18, 2018 :: Tagged under: essay personal pablolife. ⏰ 8 minutes.
Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄
The song for this post is Circus Galop, composed for player pianos by Marc-André Hamelin.
Few things are as affecting to a person than their relationship to their body, and by extension there are few more significant narratives in society than body size, shape, and weight loss. Someone in your life (likely at least a few) struggles or has struggled with disordered eating. When I talk about body and weight, I don't mean tread lightly on what is a deep and loaded topic.
With that in mind, I've taken a few initiatives that I'm happy with regarding how I see my body. For the last three months, I've made some alterations to my lifestyle and lost about 30 pounds. I'll be detailing what I've done (and continue to be doing), and some surrounding context. You can jump right to what I'm doing, or the surrounding context. Naturally I'd be delighted if you read both, but realistically most people will have a lot more interest in one more than the other.
Bodies, shaming, patriarchy
Fat shaming is unabashed bullshit. Being fat or thin, like being tall or short, or having a certain color of hair, is a property of someone's meat vessel at a particular point in time and not a meaningful window into anything interesting about that person.
All other meat-vessel-property context still applies: a person can apply agency on it (you may not choose your face or height, but you can choose your haircut, wear makeup or stylish clothes, etc.), those avenues of agency are also complicated and frequently connected to privilege (makeup is expensive, time to invest is easier or harder to find), and any judgement of meat-vessel-properties is usually rife with bugs and largely a reflection of the biases and ignorances of the person judging.
Fat people are hit especially hard by this: any photo of a fat person online gets commented on by awful humans, there are entire website dedicated to hating on them. It's culturally acceptable for people to react to fat bodies with performative disgust, which is a silly and hurtful thing to do about someone's body.
I'm not the person best-equipped to write about this in-depth; I recommend Lindy West and/or Melissa McEwan. Just want to state my intentions around and awareness of this horseshit before going into my last three months, since wanting and subsequently choosing to lose weight isn't a neutral decision.
Calories in, Calories Out
The basis of my changes have involved diet and exercise. These topics are very loaded, and the science behind bodies and weight loss is in flux and frequently contested.
I really appreciated this video on the value of exercise as it relates to weight loss, especially in the long term (spoiler alert: it's highly overstated). There's also great research on how "calories in/calories out" is an uphill climb as a lifelong strategy. This isn't simple.
Of course it's fucking capitalism
If you do nothing else, you'll want to read Body Positivity is a Scam.
Done that? Great! You probably know that I attribute many of society's largest ills to how I've observed capitalism practiced in my lifetime. Why are we taking in so many bad calories? Did you see how much our government is trying to put cheese into everything we eat, to subsidize farmers who made so much useless cheese? Hey, the soda industry is worth at least $20 billion dollars, the snack food market is $47b. There is money to be made in selling us crap.
In the spirit of "invent a disease, sell the cure" it's also a fact that weight loss is a $68b industry. I suspect this overlaps significantly with the $80b fitness industry.
All this to say
My favorite line after the 2008 bailouts is "we privatized the gains and socialized the losses"; a few assholes got very rich ruining our futures, pensions, and the economy, and we all had to pay for it out of our taxes.
A similar thing happens with a lot of culture in late capitalism: a comparably small number of people get very rich paying off a couple thousand policymakers and subordinates to create this system where no single person is accountable, or even technically doing anything outright evil, but the results in aggregate are a sick society that hates themselves, their bodies, and fights uphill for their entire life to find relief they're structurally prevented from finding. Very smart people spend their entire professional lives trying to make numbers on a spreadsheet go green, but the impact this has on the real world is stuff like corn syrup being in everything.
I'll never tell someone to "love your body"; given all the above, how could you expect that of anyone? And what would it even mean to do so when "loving" it usually means winning an unfair game, at the expense of other people? What I can say, a bit more safely, is own your relationship with your body. If you want to love it, determine exactly what this means to you specifically. From there you will be empowered to make choices towards that end.
What I've been doing
(Disclaimer that I'm able to do a lot of this because I have a fair bit of disposable income working as a software engineer.)
The main impetus that got me started on this were two posts from Matt Might: one on weight loss, and one on gaining strength. His posts are very practically-minded, explaining the thinking behind his steps and how he achieved them, I found them to be excellent places to start.
A goal for this process: I want to look like Chris Hemsworth dancing in Ghostbusters.
To do this, I'd need low body fat but still have significant muscle mass. Since I have pretty high body fat and low muscle mass, I'm starting with weight loss while preserving as much lean mass as I can, then I plan to bulk up in the Fall months. After that, another cut around Winter.
At a high level:
I pick a direction for my weight: lose, gain, or maintain. I've been at "lose" for three months.
I track calories and eat toward that goal.
In order to maximize lean mass and minimize fat, whichever direction I'm moving:
- Make sure I get enough protein in my diet.
- Try to do resistance training (weight lifting) regularly.
Do many cardio workouts. While this gives me extra calorie budget while losing weight, the primary reason I do it is for health benefits that keep me happy and motivated throughout the process.
I have a FitBit Charge 2, and I track calories in the Fitbit app. Alternatives are MyFitnessPal, Google Fit for Android users or HealthKit for iOS users.
I mostly look up what I ate in their database and find the closest match. It's involves a fair bit of approximation. Sometimes restaurants have their calorie counts listed, and if it's a chain like Chipotle or Subway or Five Guys, they have online calorie counters. Here was how I used Five Guys' calorie information to build something like a burger for 421 calories.
I also track my weight in the app. I went to the Wirecutter and picked up their favorite "smart scale" but it really suffices to log it in manually. I log a few times a day since there's a lot of variation.
From training to be a Pon de FLO instructor and working on fitness tracking for ClassPass, I can tell you that consumer-grade devices are horribly imprecise, and the data you get from them are a proxy of a proxy of a proxy. But it helps me set intention, and as long as it's wrong in a consistent way I still get value out of it.
Moving more (cardio)
My last gig before Lyft was ClassPass, which put me in something of an advantage in knowing about studio fitness in NYC. Here are studios I've tried and have reactions to, if you have zero interest in NYC studio fitness, scroll down:
Peloton is my favorite spin class. I like most of the instructors, it's pretty posh (willing to bet the in-studio experience is a loss leader, their real business is the bike sales), and the classes don't have silly bouncing in your chair. It's near my office and I can normally find class I like.
Flywheel is right next to my office. It's got silly chair bouncing, but I still get good workouts and can't beat the convenience, especially with ClassPass's monthly limits.
KORE is a solid HIIT class, near my office, usually with space. I worry sometimes about injury, since sometimes they'll do reasonably sophisticated movements without a lot of explanations (Romanian Deadlifts come to mind) and it's enough weight that you can't call it a rest day if you've done resistance training recently, but the instructors are attentive and I make modifications as necessary.
I have mixed feelings about ConBody's branding, but it is a hell of a workout. I soak through whatever I'm wearing and I love that it's all bodyweight. Main thing keeping me from going more frequently is that it's not near where I work.
Zumba! I still love dance fitness more than any other workout. Unfortunately, NYC eats Zumba instructors: previous favorite classes are unavailable. That said, I've never had a bad class with Z Club NY, which has classes in Upper West Side, Upper East Side, and SoHo. None are convenient locations, but when I need to dance I'll make it happen. I've taken classes with Anna, Volha, Mario, and Guillermo and they've all been fabulous.
What happened to Pon de FLO? The studio closed. They still have classes a few times a week. It's a great workout but I haven't been able to incorporate it.
I learned a friend of mine walked 3 hours to work every day. When I heard this, I figured why not try this myself? When possible, I walk to and from work. It's about 80 minutes.
This is a real investment, but I'm loving it. It's time to myself. I listen to podcasts and audiobooks. I cross the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge once or twice a day. It's as much for clearing my head as it is for the calorie benefit.
I'd like to get into a stretching routine: I've never put much attention to flexibility and think it would do me well, especially if I keep dancing.
I bought some new clothes. That was fun.
After I hit my next target weight, I think I'll start gaining; I'd like a bit more muscle mass.
I might finally get that tattoo. I've had a few ideas but I've held off for years because I didn't like the body it would be on. I'm a lot more at peace with it, not because there's less of it, but because I feel more connected to it; that I'm glad it's my partner rather than just beholden to it.
One of my favorite articles this year was this analysis/monument to a blog post about one woman's wedding preparations to be her most glammed self. You should read it. What comes to mind is this notion that wow this game is terrible and rigged but also yo I want to win this game.
After a few years of therapy I'm trying to exercise more agency in my life. I feel like I have a lot of issues owning that I want things and subsequently putting myself on the line to reach them. I'm happy with the progress of this recent initiative, here's hoping I continue to get as much out of it 😄
Thanks for the read! Disagreed? Violent agreement!? Feel free to join my mailing list, drop me a line at , or leave a comment below! I'd love to hear from you 😄