There is No Secret to Getting Fit

My Journey to Fitness

I’m NOT fat anymore?

on December 8, 2013

I was overweight my entire life. I was 37 1/2 when I finally took control of my health and started on my journey to fitness. Being overweight and unhealthy impacted me in so many ways, both mentally and physically.

As a child, I remember being in summer camp on a nature hike. One of the counselors was feeling everyone’s pulse for heart rate and talking about how our hearts were beating faster after the hike. When it was my turn, she felt my neck and told me that she couldn’t feel my pulse because my neck was too fat. It’s events like these that are never forgotten. They leave a mental scar that never fully heals.

There are countless events like this one, from a childhood classmate calling me cow, to my own grandmother telling me a few months before my wedding that I wouldn’t be a beautiful bride because I was too fat (yes, that really happened!). Though I tried not to let things like these bother me on the outside, they’d always be there, in my head.

In addition to things that were said to me, I battled with my body image for my entire life. Sure, most women have body image issues; we are our own worst critics, right? But women (and men) who are significantly overweight have many additional barriers they need to consider. For example, when I was growing up, there were limited plus-sized clothing store options. I had to have my middle school graduation dress made for me (and it wasn’t anything like what I really wanted to wear). It was very difficult to find prom dresses that looked good on me, and I certainly couldn’t wear the trendy dresses many of the other girls were choosing. I felt awkward, uncomfortable and self-conscious in the dresses I did find. I probably don’t even need to mention how incredibly self-conscious I was about wearing a bathing suit in front of others. I never owned a pair of short shorts or wore a bikini past the age of 5. Once I climbed up into my largest sizes, you couldn’t catch me in anything that didn’t cover my upper arms, and capris were the shortest length bottoms I would ever wear.

My high school had P.E. class every day, and twice a week we did aerobics. We also had the much dreaded 1-mile timed run. I had been diagnosed with asthma as a child, so I was always able to get out of running and just walk, but I was always embarrassed to be one of the only walkers in the gym. I had 20 minutes to do my 1 mile walk, and usually came in just under that time, but long after everyone else was finished. I always hated aerobics days because I sweat so easily. Most of my classmates managed to get through aerobics class without so much as a drop of sweat, while I would pour buckets of sweat and turn bright red after just a few minutes. I was always completely embarrassed to go to my next class still dripping with sweat and all red. Turns out, this is just how my body works, but it does take a lot more exertion to work up a sweat now. I’ve finally realized that it’s not unusual to sweat a lot while working out, and I think of it as a way of measuring an excellent workout. This is definitely a big mental shift for me to be able to “embrace my sweatiness”, and not have it be such a source of self-conscious embarrassment. Of course, I still envy the women that can take a 1-hour spin class at my fitness center and manage to leave with not much more than a healthy glow, while I’m wringing out my 1980’s Jane Fonda style sweatband.

The most difficult aspects about being overweight were the limitations I had. There were so many considerations I had to take into account with all sorts of activities. Will the airplane seatbelt even fit? If it doesn’t, do I pretend it does to save myself embarrassment? (The answer was YES!) I would always try to sit near the back of the airplane, hoping that there would be empty seats so I’d have more room, and when I had someone next to me, I would squeeze my arms in and sit in a terribly awkward and uncomfortable position for the duration of the flight. I hated knowing that the person sitting next to me was probably annoyed to have me stuffed in next to them.

I always enjoyed rides at amusement parks. As I got older and bigger, I would tell people that I didn’t enjoy the rides to save myself the total embarrassment of not fitting in the seat after waiting in line, because this actually happened to me once. Truth was, I never stopped enjoying roller coasters, I was just too afraid of not fitting in the seat! Even movie theatre seats were quite tight, and I would always choose an end seat to avoid spilling over into a stranger next to me.

There have been countless activities that I declined in the past because I simply couldn’t enjoy them or my weight, energy, or size wouldn’t allow me to do them. Hot air balloon rides, horseback riding, kayaking, zip lining, sky diving, bike riding, and even running were just a few of the things that were impossible at my heaviest weight.

There was always weight related anxiety and mental “calculations” happening throughout each day. Will I fit between those two chairs, or do I have to go around? Should I get the table or booth, because the booth might be tight? Will that plastic chair hold me, or be wide enough for my hips? Am I the fattest person in the room?

As I started dropping the weight, I could obviously see the differences in my clothes, on the scale, in the mirror and most importantly, with my energy level. I began to do many more active things with my family. I was feeling good and stayed focused on my goal. What’s difficult for people to understand is that I lived as an overweight (I always hated the words ‘fat’ and ‘obese’) person for my ENTIRE life. The mental image I have of myself is not the same image that I see in the mirror. The success others saw in me was not what I was seeing or feeling.

When I hit my original goal back in May, we went to Busch Gardens. I was a size 8 and I knew that I would fit in all of the roller coaster seats, however, I still went through my usual thought process and found myself in line for a roller coaster feeling very anxious. I was looking around to see if there was anyone that was bigger than I was, but, what I was looking for was someone that compared to my much heavier self, not the healthy person that was actually standing in line. I knew what I was thinking didn’t make any sense, I “knew” I would fit in the roller coaster seat, but for some reason there was still a part of me that really thought I wouldn’t. When I sat down, easily fitting, with plenty of room to spare, it wasn’t excitement I was feeling, it was relief.

I continued to shop at the clothing stores I was used to until I realized that I had a whole new world of stores that have opened up to me. When I first went into a clothing store that wasn’t plus-sized, I was sure the sales woman was wondering what I was doing in there. When a sales person asked if she could help me find a size, I would think to myself that she’s wondering how on earth my body fits in that size. I even find myself justifying the sizes I fit into by thinking they must run big. Every time I pull out my current jeans, I look at them and think there’s no way these are going to fit, but somehow they do. My mental image of my body is much, much different than the reality, which I actually do see when I am in front of mirrors. Though it’s fun to be able to shop anywhere now, I definitely have no fashion sense and have no idea what actually looks good on me. I was always so used to just buying what fits that fashion was never a consideration.

The most important changes to me are the changes that have impacted the way I live my life. When I take my kids to a new playground, my daughter looks around and then quickly starts trying out each slide, swing and other climbing apparatus. That’s how I feel about all of the possibilities being fit has opened up to me. I tell people I feel like a kid that wants to try it all out. I never played sports, took exercise classes, or signed up for runs or races. I want to experience and enjoy all of these things now. I’ve always enjoyed nature and the outdoors, and now I’m able to, and want to, do so many more outdoor activities. Kayaking, zip lining, biking and running are all activities I have now been able to enjoy and there are so many other activities I am looking forward to trying out.

I love being able to share my love of fitness with my family and others. This past summer, we participated in fun family track meets, went on hikes, and did lots of fun outdoor, active activities that I wouldn’t have done in the past. I love being a healthy role model for my children. I’ve always encouraged them to be active, but now I am able to participate with them and enjoy being active with them.

I am sitting on an airplane as I type this. As I sat in my seat today, I didn’t automatically loosen the seatbelt strap to the biggest length. “Pull on the loose end of the strap to tighten the buckle”. Wow, I actually have a buckle to tighten now! I have room on either side of my seat and I can even cross my legs as I sit here with the tray table down, without it hitting my stomach or thighs. Though things like this are becoming easier for me to mentally wrap my head around, I still don’t recognize the body I see in the mirror.

At some point I did go from ‘fat’ to fit. I can’t tell you exactly when that was, but I did it. Being healthy and fit has enabled me to do so many things I couldn’t do as an obese person. I’m still working on the mental image I have of myself, but it’s getting easier.

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These are pictures of my kids enjoying our family track meets over the summer. They ran relays with each other and with me and my husband. It’s days and activities like these, seeing their faces and how much they enjoyed it, that I am so glad I made this commitment to health.

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Me on one of the only rides I fit on at Busch Gardens before getting fit.

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Me with my daughter after we rode together on her first upside-down roller coaster. I wouldn’t have been able to fit on this coaster before getting fit. THIS is what matters most. Not the clothes or how I look, but being able to experience this with my daughter! (She didn’t want her picture taken, but she did enjoy the ride!)

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3 responses to “I’m NOT fat anymore?

  1. Micki says:

    Caitlin, I admire you so much.

  2. ubuwan says:

    Amazing! I totally relate to your journey. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  3. Amanda says:

    So many things you said really hit home; I have so many of the same feelings. But, I’m well on my way to changing all that, too.

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