While I don’t write much about it anymore, my quest for physical fitness, good health, and looking at least OK in my clothes carries on in full force these days. I’m taking Zumba classes at my gym in addition to my weight circuits (40,000+ lbs a pop these days), elliptical hamstering, rowing, recumbent bicycling, and free-weight lifting, and for the last week I’ve even been swimming (at another gym that we have to drive to, but at least it’s a Y and therefore free). I’ve been eating a salad and vegetables and fruit for lunch every day for several months now, and while my clothes aren’t exactly falling off me, I’m feeling more comfortable with the way I look in real life if still not in photographs. (Because I still feel like I look TERRIBLE in photos.)
Last Thursday, I bit the bullet and signed up to have someone pinch my fat in various parts with scientific calipers in order to determine my body fat percentage. It’s something I’ve been curious about for a while, since I haven’t had it tested at all in a few years, and haven’t had it tested with calipers since I was 22 years old and had just started going to the gym I frequented in San Francisco the year I worked there. The other body fat tests I’ve had done in the interim were with some sort of hand-held electric gadget that had questionable validity (especially since I always guesstimate my weight, as I don’t weigh myself at all ever.) I was really, really not looking forward to the pinching and the judging and the inevitable disappointment at the result that I was sure would happen, but I figured that since it was free and since it had been several years I should probably just get it done. I’ve got a body that builds muscle like crazy so BMI and weight aren’t necessarily good indicators of my health but I knew a body fat test would tell me something that just going by clothing fit wouldn’t.
I did my workout and then went into the little room with the scary lady trainer whose classes I will never take because the ropes on her neck freak me out and she pinched me a bunch of times in seven different places – back of my arm, two places on my back, above my knee, next to my belly button, below my ribcage, and someplace else I am forgetting. She had a hard time getting a reading in some of the places, maybe because I had just exercised, I dunno, and it hurt more than I was expecting it to. She plugged each number into a calculator on her computer and then pushed the button.
“18.6”, she said.
Internet, that cannot be right. There is no way on this green earth that my body fat is that low. I think that either she didn’t measure in the right places, the measurements in those places are not indicative of my overall body fat profile, or the fact that I worked out beforehand skewed the results. There is no way in hell that 9 years and 15ish pounds after my first caliper test that my body fat is the same. While it was a bit thrilling at first, because I was expecting to hear a number in the mid-twenties at the lowest, I’ve spent the last several days thinking about how there’s just no way it can be right. I have come to the conclusion that I just carry my fat in different areas than the 7-point test measures, because the only place she measured where I have obvious chub is next to my belly button. But if she’d done something on my upper thigh, my ass, or my hip/side area, there would have been plenty to pinch.
At this point I’m considering asking someone else to redo the test, or asking if I can be tested with the handheld gadget, to get some additional data. I did the math, and if my body fat really is as low as this test indicates, it means that my overall lean mass (i.e., the part that isn’t fat) is more pounds than I weighed for most of college. And if that’s the case, I don’t think there’s anything I’ll ever be able to do, short of a wasting disease that makes me lose lean mass, to get any smaller than I am right now.
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I mentioned the results of my test to a few people over the weekend, with mixed reactions. Most people agreed with me that it’s likely the test was inaccurate, but one person suggested that I cut all sugar and carbs for two weeks and I’d be pleased with the results.
You know what?
No, I will not give up an entire food group. I have been reading various bloggers write about their experiences with various eating plans and lifestyle changes and I’m happy that raw food or vegan or raw vegan or gluten-free or casein-free or GFCF or low carb or no carb or sugar free or paleo or caveman or fasting or WHATEVER works for you. But please do not suggest that I partake in it.
It is possible that if I stop eating X thing for Y amount of time that I will lose some weight, or my shape will change, or magical unicorns will fly out of my butt. But it is also possible that it will go from a change in my eating habits to an obsession and spiral into another eating disorder, which is something I’m just not interested in. And you know what? I *like* food. I like to eat. I like vegetables, and fruits, and chocolate, and nuts, and hot food, and cold food, and protein in various forms, and legumes, and grains. I like bread. I like dessert. I like cheese. I like alcohol, including hard cider. I like all sorts of ethnic foods, and I like all-American foods, and I’m not going to spend my life depriving myself of eating things I like in moderation. I’ve had times when I cut my food intake pretty severely while continuing to exercise excessively and it turned me into a raging harpy. I’d prefer not to be a raging harpy, and it’s taken me years to get to the place where I am in regards to food. It’s fuel, it’s entertainment, it’s good. I do restrict things like simple carbs (stuff made with white flour and white sugar) but mostly I do it because I feel the most healthy when I’m not eating that stuff. My heart doesn’t race, I don’t end up with blood sugar crashes, and I feel healthier. That said, there are times when I do eat junk (though it’s rare, and I usually pair it with some sort of protein in order to stave off the blood sugar crash).
So. I may have 18.6% body fat, or I may not. (I’m guessing not.) I may eat junk sometimes. And I refuse to let other people attempt to coerce me into doing something I don’t want to do: namely, give up eating things I enjoy for an elusive, likely unattainable, and unrealistic goal of looking like women’s magazines say I should. My body is strong and healthy and I can use it to swim or bike or climb a mountain. I’ve made my peace with it, for the most part, and I don’t want to let the experiences of anyone else drag me back toward body dysmorphia.