I used to believe that fitness came from two sources: Good genes or exercise. I also believed that people only played team sports because they weren’t smart enough to do anything else, and that people only went to the gym if they were vain. I believed that I personally couldn’t go to the gym, even if I wanted to (which I didn’t), because I had fibromyalgia, and all the books and doctors and research agreed that FM patients are exercise-intolerant. Therefore, I was the size I was, that was how it was going to be, the medical establishment backed me up, case closed. Density = destiny.
Now, I’ve lived the following combinations:
Fat, ill, and sedentary
Fat, somewhat okay, and active
Fit, healthy, and active
Lean, healthy, and sedentary
[But I have never been thin and ill].
I haven’t been to the gym in five years. I ran a marathon last fall, but all I’ve done throughout 2015 is walk short distances and do some light yoga and physical therapy. The majority of days this year, I haven’t even done those things; I’ve sat on my patoot holding an ice pack. I weigh slightly less now than I did during the months I was running 30 miles a week. I’m in the same clothing size that I was before, during, and after marathon training. It’s clear to me that weight, size, and body fat are all the result of food intake, based on the data from my food log. I’ve been careful to track my diet and activity level since January 2014.
I know I don’t have “superior genes” leading to a “naturally lean” physique. If that were true, it wouldn’t have taken me until age 39 to become lean and fit. Also, there would be more lean people in my family tree. (Not going there, but we have photo albums dating back to the tintype era). Then there’s the issue of the thyroid disease I suffered in my early 20’s. I had a thyroid nodule, and my hormone levels were at the extreme low end of “normal.” All the objective, measurable data indicate that my “set point” [snort] is “curvy.” I have “birthin’ hips.” Or at least I did. Now I’m a little bitty sub-zero and people tell me, “I can’t picture you ever being fat.” And, “You were obese?!”
Let’s look at some data. Here is my progress chart from MyFitnessPal for the week of 8/9/2015 – 8/15/2015. I weighed the same on Saturday the 15th as I did on Sunday the 9th. My weight was the same within 2/10ths of a pound all week, with the exception of Friday the 14th. What happened?
Here is a screen shot of part of the activity data from my Apple Watch. We see that I won three separate activity awards. I walked almost 6 miles. I doubled my target movement/calorie-burn goal and exceeded my exercise goal by 50%. Although the data don’t show it, I also climbed about 8 flights of stairs that day. I worked out SO MUCH – why did my weight go up a POUND AND A HALF the next day? Ugh. That’s so unfair.
Last, here is a screenshot of the data from the Health app. It shows dietary calories and weight. We see that my calorie consumption spiked on the 13th, my weight spiked on the 14th, my calorie consumption dropped on the 14th, and my weight went back to normal on the 15th. On the low-calorie day, I skipped my afternoon snack and had cabbage instead of a potato with my usual lunch. What may be more interesting is the high-calorie day: I met a friend for lunch, and I got the smaller size of the “brown rice and vegetables” plate. I had a lemonade, but no refills, I had a Frappucino with soy milk and no whipped cream, and I had one cookie. Sounds reasonable? The lunch was over 800 calories and the cookie was nearly 400. Counting the Frappy, my caloric needs for the day were met even if I had skipped both breakfast and dinner. Which I didn’t.
That’s just one day, granted. I have 20 months of data, though, and they support this trend. No matter how much I exercise, if I eat more, I weigh more. That includes days I ran 17 miles. My heaviest weigh-in in six months was the day after I ran my marathon (26.2 miles).
This is what happened. I spent three months on strict calorie restriction. I tracked everything I ate, and all my exercise, with meticulous attention. I figured out why I tended to gain weight, which was a combination of several behaviors. I quit those behaviors and found a daily routine that ended the problem. I eat the same breakfast, lunch, and snack almost every day. I’m careful to eat the recommended daily allowance of micronutrients, via food rather than jars of pills. I love exercise, but the lifestyle I live now seems to work regardless of whether I exercise for months on end, or sit on my caboose for months on end instead.
Believe my words or don’t. My personal experience has been that no doctor or health professional has ever once mentioned my weight, my body fat level, my food intake, or my fitness-related activities. They certainly never have tested my blood for nutrient levels. It’s pretty straightforward to collect these data for yourself. There are various free web-based and smartphone apps to track food intake, or you can use a library book or $6 paperback. If your phone doesn’t already have a pedometer, you can get one at Target for $12, and/or a scale that estimates body fat for about $25. You may already have a tape measure, measuring spoons, and measuring cups. I’d say “there’s only one way to find out,” but actually there are many ways. Whatever data you collect, record them every day and then watch the trend line.
Numbers are just numbers. Data are just data. There are no moral components to this. When my weight fluctuated between overweight and obese and back to overweight, my stress level fluctuated a lot, too. It was a relief to me to get some objective measurements, analyze the trends, and realize that it was within my power to influence these trends. I never realized that I had a choice, because getting fat was something that “just happened” to me. I became fat and unhealthy as an accidental result of factors I didn’t understand. I became lean and fit due to research, experimentation, focus, and applied effort. As it turns out, it’s a lot easier to stay this way than it would be to revert back to my former state. That’s what I want for everyone: an easier life.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.