Body Image and Chronic Pain

I have been sizes 4-16 over the last 10 years. I have loved myself through all of those phases, but I can also say that at times my body image issues made my life difficult.

In high school, I was lean and slender having been the varsity tennis captain and training consistently. My parents fed me healthy foods and I was so busy most of the time that I didn’t even have the time to overeat or binge or whatever.

After high school, my chronic pain kicked into overdrive while I was in Canada for college. I gained an enormous amount of weight and got up to 210-215lbs. My thighs chafed painfully, none of my clothes fit, and I hid my round face behind my hair. Walking was difficult and everything hurt all the time.

On the other side of things, I was at my absolute worst pain of all time at my lowest weight, which was about 145-150lbs. I looked better in clothes but I STILL wasn’t satisfied with how I looked. I still had stomach flab and felt weak but I did like pictures of myself, which gave me a confidence boost at times.

beach.jpg

I was so tiny in this picture. My clothes hung off of me and I was wearing shorts for once. I remember needing a heavy duty belt to keep them up too. And for reference, I’m 6’2″ so if I managed to make myself look small, it was quite the feat of nature.

I elated in that clothes fit easier but tormented myself every day with obsessing over food, exercising too much, and beating myself up if I ever went over 1200 calories. 1200 calories!!!! At 6’2″!!!

It’s really hard for people with chronic pain to lose weight. And that’s not because we’re “big-boned” or that “it’s genetics” or whatever, because at the end of the day, it’s calories in, calories out for managing weight. But the issue arises when we’re in so much pain that we can’t go work off some of our intake and even worse, food is a comfort for us. I know for myself, severing the relationship of food to quality of life was extremely difficult. I could handle being in pain or I could handle being hungry. I could not handle both. And for weight loss, it’s just a fact that at times, you will be hungry.

The good news for me is that I don’t give a shit about weight loss anymore. Weight lifting has given me new purpose to replace my body image issues. I go in there wanting to lift heavy and compete against my past records. I don’t go in there thinking, “Okay, I over-ate by 400 calories so if I get on the stationary bike for an hour and then walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes, I should be good.” That kind of thinking was so negative for me. It weighed me down and made me feel bad about myself.

Nowadays, I have put on a little bit of fat in my mid-section, but more like a thin layer that covers everything. I don’t have deep pockets of fat anywhere, and while I do have that new winter layer (lol), I am noticing muscle growth and leaning out in other parts of me. To curb my curiosity, my trainer re-did my measurements and discovered that I had lost 2% body fat in 4 months but I am nearly the same weight when I started. I started at 195lbs and I am at 188lbs now, sometimes fluctuating during the day of course.

That simply means that the plan is working. My lifts are getting better, so if I’m getting stronger but losing fat, my recomp strategy is doing its thing. I’ve also given up on abs. Not because I don’t want them!!! And I still kinda have them even. But to be that low body fat percentage where you could see them clearly defined is not in line with my goals. I would have to turn my back on all my progress just to lose fat so I could see them. Fuck that noise. I can always cut fat later. It would be better to put on some muscle for several more months, increasing my metabolism, and THEN cutting down if I wanted to. But we’ll see.

It’s just freeing to me now that I am happy with whatever body I have because I’m conditioning it for a purpose and not an aesthetic. 

And I’m also aware that if I keep up with the weight lifting, I’ll get an awesome-looking body anyway. So it’s a win win. And now I’m going to go enjoy my morning coffee with my doggo before heading to a summer lunch party in the park with friends.

Thanks for reading 🙂

-Elle

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