Why I’m Gaining Fat (And Not Doing Anything About It)

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 2.29.39 PMLet me preface this post by acknowledging that I am not fat.

“Fat,” when used as an adjective is supposed to just means that a person has too much body fat. How much is too much? That depends who you ask, but we all have to have body fat. In a healthy range, body fat is neither good nor bad. It just is.

15 months ago, when the below photos were taken, I had a very low percentage of body fat. I was light in both spirit and body; it was a playful, restful, easy, anxiety-free time in my life. My habits, shape, and size reflected that.

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As you can see, my waist measurement back then was around 24.5 inches. Throughout this year, while I’ve certainly fluctuated here and there, I’ve been comfortably hovering around 27 inches. Sleep and rest and self-care got pushed to the far back burner while I was in school and building my business. It was a stressful and productive year. Again, my habits, shape, and size reflected that.

But this week I measured at almost 30 inches. I’ve been noticing my weight slowly creeping up recently based on how I look and feel, too. Other than the total 5 extra inches around my waist, I can tell I’m carrying more fat now by the way my clothes fit, the way I look naked, and the number on the scale. Here are a few photos taken in the last week or two, just for comparison.

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Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not complaining. I actually think I look pretty great, but I’m fascinated with changes like this, and I take “listening to my body” very seriously.

So what’s been different lately?

First of all, my workouts lately have been spectacularly bad. Normally I show up to my workouts excited to lift some weights, but the last couple of weeks I’ve been dreading them. I feel weak and unmotivated and bored. I notice myself negotiating and procrastinating. Picking easier stuff to do, or doing less reps. Checking the clock and quitting halfway through.

Lately I don’t want to lift. I don’t want to do cardio either. What I want is for someone to carry me to bed and take care of me. I want to curl up and eat ice cream and watch a video of a panda and a sloth being best friends. Not exactly a fat-burning activity. 

Secondly, I’m not typically a dessert person, but lately I’ve been craving sweets and carbs like crazy. I want to drive to Carbsville USA, and pull my vehicle directly into Sugar Plaza. Plus I want heavy, hearty, fatty food. And I can’t seem to get full. It’s almost like I want to just keep eating until I get that numb feeling that comes when you’re so distracted by how full you are that you can’t focus on anything else.

You could easily chalk this all up to “emotional eating,” and call it a day. But I think it goes deeper than that.

Fat to the rescue!

I have a non-scientific theory about body fat I want to share with you.

Your body is smart. It asks you to eat the exact right amount of food and do the exact right amount of movement, to maintain the exact right amount of body fat. How does it determine the “right amount?” Certainly your modern fashion-model-and-photoshop saturated brain doesn’t get a say in this decision, right? Or else weight loss would be easy for everyone.

My hypothesis is that your body chooses to carry the amount of fat it believes it needs to protect itself. More fat = more protection.

Protect you from what? In caveman times, body fat protected you from cold, sickness, and starvation. But nowadays it protects you from all manner of vulnerability, including unwanted sexual attention, or getting a job/partner/life that you don’t feel you deserve. I’ll leave it to you to consider what you might need protecting from, because it’s such a deeply personal and individual journey for everyone.

Thank to research, we now know that when a person has chronically elevated levels of stress, it’s harder and sometimes impossible for them to lose fat. Your body can’t tell the difference between environmental stress, like getting chased by a lion, and self-imposed modern stress, like a deadline at work, or saying mean things to yourself all day. That means that regularly experiencing mental/emotional unrest, dread, anxiety, stress, fear, or any other “unsafe” emotion can cause fat gain, or at the very least, resist fat loss.

I think we’ve been obsessing over and treating a symptom (fat), instead of the cause (the lack of inner freedom, ease, and safety). It’s no wonder fat loss is so damn hard. We’ve been trying to logic things out with math equations and chemistry experiments. But what if it’s as simple as: “fat shows up to protect you”?

Losing fat and being lean require an enormous amount of emotional safety. You’re out there in the world with literally nothing to protect you. You’ve gotta feel pretty damn empowered, safe, and confident in yourself to pull that off. 

I think when you feel scared and vulnerable, your body protects you the only way it knows how. After all, your body can’t tell the difference between your fear of an upcoming long desolate winter, versus an upcoming career or life change. All it knows is you need protecting and it wants to help.

So why is my body calling in the body fat troops recently?

Easy. Because I’m moving out of NYC this week, I don’t have much of a plan other than “follow my heart,” and I don’t know WTF to expect. I’m giving up training clients, my sense of stability, and the whole idea of having a home. My life and identity are getting thrown up into the air, and that makes me feel scared and vulnerable. I have a lot of positive thoughts and emotions about it too, but that doesn’t affect the deep sense of unease and vulnerability.

If I believe that my body is here to serve and protect me (and I do), than it makes total sense for my body to offer me a little extra padding right now. I’m even grateful for it.

It’s not protecting me from anything logical, mind you. From feeling small and exposed out there in the big bad world, maybe. Or possibly from being seen as too desirable, so I can get my footing in peace without getting hit on? Hell, maybe it’s just pragmatism, and my body is protecting me from bumping into the new corners of new furniture, since I won’t know where anything is.

Who knows. It doesn’t really matter, though. I feel it happening and here’s the key:

Not fighting it.

If I thought I had to stay very lean in order to maintain my worth, I would be panicking right now. I’d be asking questions like “why is my body trying to ruin my life!?”

Very likely the stress of my body’s apparent betrayal alone would cause me to gain more weight, even if I flew into lockdown mode trying to prevent it. I could restrict my caloric intake, but that would result in backlash hunger and resentment, because I haven’t done anything wrong and I deserve to be full, dammit! I could force myself to work out MORE and HARDER, trying to burn fat and calories and offset the food intake, but that would add to my already elevated stress levels, and make it harder and harder to lose fat as time went on.

For anyone who attaches their self-worth to their bodyfat percentage, experiencing periods of waxing fat levels results in emotional hell. They end up trapped in behavioral cycles that take a very long time to undo. But your fat is just a message, and when you stop seeing it as the enemy you can start seeing it as a valuable teammate.

I’m consciously letting myself gain some fat. I’m letting myself quit my workouts to go home and rest instead. I’m letting myself eat more food, more often. (Healthy food for the most part, but still.) I’m managing stress by being gentle with myself during this transition, and by facing my feelings head-on, so they can’t rule me.

And most importantly, I’m not fighting the behaviors that will continue to slowly pad me.

Maybe my lean NYC body needs to fatten up a bit to make it in the big bad world. Who knows? I trust my body, and I see no reason to spend my valuable energy in fighting it.

Maybe I’ll gain a pound or two, and then lose it in a few weeks when I feel safe again. Maybe I’ll gain 5 or 10 pounds slowly over the next few months, or maybe the simple act of writing this post will cause my body to stabilize, and keep me where I am. Maybe I’ll experience a surge of safety and joy when I leave, and end up leaner than ever.

It doesn’t matter. Because my body fat doesn’t define anything about me. It’s simply a message, a flag, a suggestion, a memo from my body. Right now I think it’s saying “Giddy up partner, shit’s about to get real.” My body and I are on the same team, and I would never kick someone off my team for trying to help. 

I would miss my abs for a while if I kept gaining weight, and I might be annoyed if my favorite fall clothes didn’t fit for a while. But my relationship with my body isn’t worth risking.


 

I am passionate about helping women learn to love their bodies. That includes unlearning what a woman “should” be, feeling empowered and confident in yourself, embracing your authentic power, and creating a life so kick-ass and beautiful that you hardly have any time or energy left over to think about how your body looks. 😉

That’s why I created 

The Empowered Women Project

— for women like you, who are sick of being judged for what you look like, and want to focus instead on all the amazing things you can do and be. Click here to know more

 

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