She ain’t heavy, she’s a boxer

When I first started working with my trainer, he broached the subject of weight loss to the point where I got so cranky I almost fired him.

I’m a big fan of Health At Every Size and have been ever since I first heard about it a few years ago. People come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and no matter what size you are, losing weight may not be desirable or even doable. I don’t believe everybody should take physical fitness to the extremes that competitive athletes take it (or even to the extreme that I’ve taken it), but taking good care of yourself and being as active as you can at things you enjoy seem like important things. Whether that results in you looking like anybody you’ve ever admired on television is kind of immaterial. It took me a long time to get to the point where I really believed all that and wasn’t just mouthing the words but secretly wishing I were super-skinny. Old habits die hard.

Prior to starting this crazy boxing thing, I’d spent years either passively being unhappy about my weight, being actively obsessive-compulsive about it, and finally settling into this world where I stopped looking at numbers altogether, focused on not eating crap, and tried to just be happy wherever I landed. Where I landed was a walking-around weight on the medium-high end of “normal.” That’s about 10 pounds heavier than I was at my lightest, but then, I could stay there eating pretty much whatever I wanted rather than holding onto my lowest weight by sticking to 16 Weight Watchers points a day (if you’ve ever done their system, you know this translates to about 800 calories – I think that might actually constitute a violation of the Geneva Convention were I a prisoner of war).

So when my trainer asked me to track my food and change my eating habits, I bristled. I was maintaining a comfortable weight, more or less, and I was happy with my food habits – lots of local, organic produce whenever I can get it; lots of lean proteins and whole grains; no high-fructose corn syrup; red meat only when I can have the good stuff. My primary fitness goal when I started working out involved building strength so I could avoid re-aggravating an injury – it had nothing to do with tracking my weight. I wasn’t about to deprive myself of what I considered to be already a well-planned food regimen in the service of improving my body. Having (finally!) (mostly!) gotten to a place where I liked my body and just wanted to take better care of it, I rolled my eyes. A lot.

Still, I was enjoying the actual training sessions and seeing serious results, so eventually I humored him for a couple of weeks and adopted a few of his suggestions, which were really common sense anyway if you know anything about body metabolism and/or history. (The three-square-meals custom sort of comes out of the Industrial Revolution and its mandated lunch breaks. We really do function better on a bunch of small meals spread out throughout the day.) I ate mostly the same stuff, just at different times of the day. With the help of the new and improved eating plan, I was steadily shedding inches and gaining muscle mass, but more importantly I could touch my toes, run a 9-minute mile, and hold my own against a sparring partner. And I had fallen head-over-heels in love with my sport. Screw numbers – those are the important things. When I thought about food as something I had to regulate to make my body change shape according to a goal that wasn’t mine, I still got up on my HAES soapbox a little. But when I thought about food as fuel for the machine, I was happy to take my trainer’s advice into account.

Eventually we didn’t really talk about it. Some days I do exactly what I’m “supposed to” in the food department. Other days I get stuck in a meeting at work, go five hours without eating, and wind up demolishing half of a pizza. (A really delicious Neapolitan-style pizza covered in veggies, but still.) Through it all I’ve gained a ton of muscle and lost maybe three pounds total.

Then I decided I wanted to compete, and unfortunately, boxing is one of only a few competitive sports where you actually have to pay attention to your weight. So now, in my training sessions, we are once again talking about weight loss. Not just talking about it, but pursuing it. My trainer thinks I’d be lighter on my feet as a welterweight, not to mention I’d be able to even more effectively use what’s already shaping up to be a pretty effective size advantage. He’s not wrong. I would be. I’m on the heavy side of middleweight right now, so it’ll be 15 pounds or so, and I think most of it would come off and stay off without starving myself. The last time I tried to get that light, after all, I was half-assedly spending 45 minutes a couple of days a week on the treadmill or in a yoga class, whereas today I’m spending 8-9 hard hours in the gym every week. I’m not looking forward to having to micromanage my food, but if it might improve my performance in the ring, I’m happy to try it.

And now I’m a little stuck on the idea that in deciding to lose weight, maybe I’m betraying my HAES roots a little. Even though I couldn’t care less what I look like. Even though I don’t intend to do anything UNhealthy to get there. Even though I have a good and logical reason to do it. Even though “every size” includes the one I am now, the one I was in college, and the one I’m hoping to be by the time I start fighting. Even though I would love my body and take care of it whether it weighed 150 pounds or 250 or 500. Is it in fact possible to be a fat-acceptance ally while still being on a weight-loss diet, if the diet is part of an athletic training regimen? I hope it is.

So I think it needs to be said very early on in this blog that unless you also intend to box competitively (and maybe even if you do), my fitness goals are not – and should not be – yours. (I do recognize I’m speaking from a tremendous amount of privilege here, particularly able-bodied privilege.) I fully support whatever you’re doing or not doing as far as taking care of your body goes. Only you know what’s best for you. What I’m doing is definitely not for everybody, for a multitude of reasons we’ll get into in the coming days. I’m going to be chronicling what I do in case it interests you, but understand it’s not and never will be a commentary on what YOU do. The only thing I want other people to do is take care of themselves, whatever that means to them.

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