Monthly Archives: October 2013

Weighing the Balance Between Obsession and Health

I’d always wanted to “lose a little weight”: drop a size, get rid of my cankles, say I was at 64kg (141 pounds) instead of 66kg (145 pounds). Whatever that meant. But I couldn’t. I gymmed, ran, counted calories. But the weight never really moved much.

Then I found myself on a stressful, extended work trip, where meal sizes were restricted and I had nothing else to do but exercise every day. Over a six month period I progressively dropped two dress sizes, got rid of my cankles and could say I weighed 58kg (128 pounds). Whatever that meant. I had no ass, boobs or cellulite, and had achieved what I had thought was impossible. No matter that I looked border-line anorexic; if nothing else this was interesting.

Back home, I threw myself enthusiastically into my new-found CrossFit scene and ate quite Paleo; my weight remained stable. I was small. People commented, though: Mum said I was “too thin” while male mates noted my lack of curves. I still thought it was interesting and was pleased with my “achievements.”

Then I tried a 30-day Paleo challenge. What little grains and sugar I had in my diet were cut. The big test was getting rid of alcohol, but 100% Paleo gave me something else to obsess over rather than a recent break up. I dropped more weight and had to add meat to my breakfast to avoid getting even skinnier. I was proud of how I was able to manipulate my body, surprised that something that had always seemed impossible suddenly wasn’t.

And then it was Christmas, holiday time. I decided to quit my job and travel, and found myself totally out of my exercise and diet routines. I partied, went out for dinner with friends, stayed at friends’ houses and had easy access to all kinds of food. I was active but CrossFit sessions were infrequent.

I imagined the weight creeping on even before it had. I was consuming “prohibited” foods and felt guilty. I felt I’d lost control. I lost that pride I had so recently found.

A five month tour around Europe didn’t help. Tapas and beer in Spain; sweet, syrupy pastries in Morocco; sausages wrapped in pancakes, crisp bread and tubed caviar (seriously!) in Norway; cheese in Holland; sausages and mash in Germany; beer in Poland; sweet bread, meat and cream in the Czech Republic. If I hadn’t consumed it, I would have missed out on a massive cultural experience, but every day I thought about what I was eating and how much weight I was putting on.

The food was different, delicious and I couldn’t miss out on it. But my mind was driving me crazy; I was losing control. To stay sane I had to make a decision: since my travel was temporary and had an end date, I could be as healthy as possible on the road… but this wasn’t my time to be super trim or super fit. I would be home soon and surely back in an eating (not diet) and exercise routine which would have me back “in shape” in no time. I had to enjoy this while it lasted.

And then I got thinking about people I’d met on my journey and the attitudes they had towards their bodies:

  • A girl in Spain whose goal was to lose enough weight to have “that little gap at the top of (her) thighs.”
  • Another who complained about being bloated after every meal and restricted calories as a result. She was already so thin she severely lacked strength in her arms but wanted to keep going.
  • A Polish girl who had (probably) been affected by the Spanish mentality and restricted her calories where possible, wanting to lose weight but without working out.
  • Both a girl and a guy in Italy who patted their tummies and said they needed to lose a bump, despite both being quite slim.

All of these people were wonderful and beautiful, but all spent a lot of energy just wanting to be “skinny.”

And then I read blogs. Blogs written by people, like me, who thought they were fat, constantly trying and failing to lose weight, and hating themselves for their failures. And finally it clicked… We are all freakin’ crazy!

None of the people mentioned above were actually overweight, yet they all obsessed over their size, worried what others thought of them and probably would never be entirely satisfied no matter how much they actually lost (humans seem to have this bad habit of always wanting more and more). The thing is that all of these people were focussing on superficialities. And for what? You’re not going to get a prize when you lose those extra 500g because those 500g probably aren’t the difference between being healthy and unhealthy, and a decent person won’t love you more just for being skinny.

I looked at these people and realized that I didn’t want to be like that and needed to find a balance. I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t truly enjoying my travels. Obsessing over every 100g of my weight was detracting from the wonderful things I was living. I thought, If I die tomorrow, I’d kick myself for being so concerned that my pants were a smidgen tighter, rather than fully enjoying a wonderful moment or a marvelous view. This was all temporary, anyway.

What is important, rather than your actual size, is your health. If you need to lose weight for your actual health, make solid changes and do it, but reach a healthy balance. All of those people above need to shift their focus to their health and all need to actually do exercise to achieve this – to improve bone and muscle strength, to improve cardiovascular fitness, to ensure they reach the age of 70 as a healthy, mobile human being.

And so I found myself in Italy, finally with a new approach, on the last leg of my trip.

Day 1: soft white bread wrapped around tuna and olives for breakfast – a typical Venetian food. Homemade pizza for dinner.
Day 2: homemade pasta with homemade pesto for lunch. More homemade pizza for dinner.
Day 5: pasta with tomatoes for dinner and the same on day 7.

By normal standards, my diet was horrendous – it was every shade of yellow and had little nutritional value. But for once I wasn’t worried about gaining weight with every bite. Rather, I enjoyed the cultural experience for what it was. I felt better. Happier. Lighter – as a result of my mood or body I don’t know. I’d been eating but I’d also been to CrossFit, run through a forest, cycled part of Lake Como and walked up, down and around Florence for 8 hours. I was active and still healthy. I could still power up a hill, squat my body weight and prove a solid contender at beach tennis.

And now I’ve left Italy. That experience is over and I may never have it again. But man did I enjoy it.

Back home, I will stick to my new balance. I like the Paleo lifestyle of eating fresh foods with high nutritional value. But I’m healthy and active enough to not have to be pedantic or obsessive – enjoying the odd pizza, ice cream or toast with peanut butter and honey (oh-so-good) won’t kill me.

Imagine that you are like a straight line that is always moving forward in life. Things will happen around you, but you will always be you. This is the best advice that my mother ever gave me. Your weight might go up, but it will also go down again, and so long as you’re healthy, this is ok. No matter what, you are — and always will be — wonderful you.

There is no one-size-fits-all template for health. Consider your own needs and goals, find your balance and then love yourself — for all of your curves, each bit of cellulite, every weird mole, your strong legs, and the getting-stronger arms that you have. Because you really don’t know how for long you’ll be walking around this world, so you may as well have as much fun as you can while you’re here.

As published on the Tabata Times.

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Review: Reebok CrossFit LifeSpark. Dubai.

The international stage of my box jumping tour has begun and it is time to discover what CrossFit boxes outside of New Zealand have to offer.  I am excited, curious.  How different will they be to those in New Zealand?  Does the CrossFit formula easily translate to different countries, cultures and demographics?  And what will it be like doing a CrossFit class in a language that I don’t understand?

You might think that discovering CrossFit overseas would start with a visit to the United States – the home of Crossfit – but the first stop on my tour is Dubai.  This is a city that for me conjures up images of camels, desert, burqas and never-ending skyscrapers, so I was surprised to see on CrossFit.com that there are eight boxes in this city.  Eight!  That’s almost more than Madrid!  This got my brain ticking….what would a box in Dubai be like?  Would women be allowed to attend the classes?  And who would the classes be run by?  Well, ex-pats of course!!

LifeSpark T

The back of the Reebok CrossFit LifeSpark t-shirt

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Review: CrossFit HPU

I was confused.  CrossFit HPU was colocated in central Auckland with Les Mills, one of New Zealand’s largest commercial gym chains.  Was Les Mills suddenly offering CrossFit?  Would the classes be legitimate?  And why was the CrossFit HPU website so different and separate to that of Les Mills? Read the rest of this entry

Review: Rapid CrossFit

The first time I ever heard of Rapid CrossFit was when I saw a sleek, sign-written Rapid CrossFit vehicle cruising around the North Shore, nowhere near the actual location of the box.  It stuck in my mind as I hadn’t yet seen many sign-written CrossFit vehicles around, and I was excited by the expansion of the sport in New Zealand.  I then happened to be temping in a new office and found out that one of the guys did CrossFit and ate paleo.  I quickly sought him out and we were soon sharing stories on work outs, diets and expectations of the upcoming CrossFit Games Open work outs.  Coincidentally, he worked out at Rapid CrossFit and managed to convince me to join him for a 6am session. Read the rest of this entry

Review: CrossFit Birkenhead

I hadn’t expected much from CrossFit Birkenhead given it’s location in the southern North Shore suburb of Birkenhead.  But I should have known better than to pre-judge.  A sexy web page, a good name or a prime location certainly don’t guarantee good coaching or cool people.  CrossFit Birkenhead was a pleasant surprise.

I found CrossFit Birkenhead to be a friendly, homely gym, mostly free of attitudes and egos.  The athletes were keen for a chat, to help with equipment and gave support during the work outs.  I loved the diversity of the athletes there – young, older, fit and not-so-fit, and even one lady who was tall, slim, very fit, and who could whip out consecutive pull ups while boasting silver hair and the face of someone who was well over 55.  She was an inspiration and must be a great asset to the CrossFit Birkenhead community. This is a box where anyone could walk in the door and fit in.  In fact, I liked the vibe there so much that I managed to get back to the gym a few times.  Read the rest of this entry

Review: CrossFit New Market

CrossFit New Market is one of those cruisy, fun places, where they don’t seem to care about some of the details that would be very important to others, but they have a good time.

I’d been warmly invited to go and “throw down” a WOD at CrossFit New Market with a friend of a friend and found almost everyone else to be as friendly as her.  People said hi, came over for a chat, to comment on the work out that we were about to sweat through and owner Jason shook my hand when I walked in, although he didn’t stick around for the session.  I loved all the photos and drawings from his kids that he had stuck on his walls.  This added a friendly, family feel to the place.

Lauren, Ben and me at CrossFit New Market

Lauren, Ben and me at CrossFit New Market

Ben, the young coach that was on for our session, was very enthusiastic, fun and knowledgeable.  He came across well and gave some great tips before the strength and WOD portions of the session.   Read the rest of this entry

Review: CrossFit Quattro

CrossFit Quattro is a box of surprises.  Surprise #1:  owner Dave was the youngest box owner I’d seen so far.  I put him in his late 20’s, although CrossFit and working in a gym (as opposed to a stuffy office) might be doing his skin some favours!  He says he’s been working in the fitness industry for 12 years and is honest about being a FFB (Former Fat Boy).  A good way to keep himself real and approachable.  He pulls his age off, coming across as knowledgeable, organised and friendly.  He even welcomed me to the box when the message about me dropping in appeared to have not gotten through.

Surprise #2:   Read the rest of this entry