Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

Miss Fit: Lifestyle Choices

I’ve decided to launch this final fitness column with a bit of my back story to drive home two points: 1) You are the only person entitled to pass judgment on your body; and 2) you can take control of your health and physique at any time with the right information and motivation.

I’ve spent too much of my life wishing I could be skinny. I was a gymnast for the greater part of my youth, and while people remarked on the size of my quads and the definition of my arms, these were not the kinds of complements I desired. During my teen years I yearned for the waifish, lean figure that so frequently bedecked the covers of fashion magazines and beauty billboards. This was never a practical objective. I might have achieved that look by allowing my muscles to atrophy and starving myself, but not without sacrificing my athletic endeavors.

When I arrived at Stanford, my athletic activities came to a screeching halt. The “freshman fifteen” became the “freshman thirty” as, between the drinking culture and the dining halls, I saw my body morph into someone I no longer recognized. I was not the slim, willowy twig I had envied, nor was I the athlete I had once been. I became weight-obsessed and spent two years in a perpetual state of “dieting.” I’d spend some interval adhering to the latest weight loss fad — from Atkins, to fat-free, to vegan, etc. I’d lose a few pounds just to watch the scale creep past the previous landmark as my metabolism slowed and my athleticism plummeted. With each “victory” and subsequent “failure,” I became more and more distanced from reality.

Many of our peers (frequently women) describe similar experiences in college. They relate to the sense of powerlessness and the feelings of failure that accompany an inability to control their bodies. This mentality leads to negative body image, bizarre food rituals and straight-up disordered eating. It may also lead to the perception of exercise as the “solution” for surplus consumption. I shudder remembering the mindless hours I spent on cardio machines to “cancel out” the calories on the days I ate or drank more than I’d meant to.

I had a kind of fitness epiphany late in my sophomore year when I traveled to Wyoming with my family for a ski trip. I hadn’t been skiing in quite some time, but it was something I’d always loved. This time I found myself unable to sustain any level of exertion on the slopes. I turned in my rentals after a few breathless hours and cried myself silly. I then realized two things: 1) “losing weight” is not a productive goal — a state of perpetual diet for the sake of seeing the scale dip is a sure path to frustration and obsessive behavior; 2) I needed to find reliable sources of information to determine a practical goal and see it though.

The first realization has become something of a mantra for me. I believe that weight loss as the natural outcome of a fitness goal is perfectly legitimate. However, I want to scream with frustration when someone asks what she should do to “get skinny,” or looks in the mirror and comments critically that it’s time to diet again.

The second realization launched a progression of landmarks that have subsequently shaped my life.

The first source of information I sought (and highly recommend) was a personal fitness trainer. Stanford actually offers a discount package to students to meet and train with a certified personal instructor. The trainer I worked with became a friend and mentor, helping me outline fitness goals and providing the instruction necessary to achieve them. For basic information, bodybuilding.com has an online training module with videos for instruction on weight lifting and fat loss. You have to ignore a lot of supplement advertisements, but the techniques are solid. That said, having a trainer walk you through your initial workouts is probably the best strategy.

The second source of information I highly recommend is a book called “The Eat-Clean Diet” by Tosca Reno. “Eating clean” may sound like a hackneyed tagline, but it is a system of eating based on common sense and the expertise of personal trainers and nutritionists. As described on the website, “ Eating Clean is not a fad; it’s a way of life. When you Eat Clean your body will react by losing weight if you need to lose, maintaining a healthy weight if that’s where you are, and even gaining weight if you are too skinny.” Tosca Reno, the face of the Clean Eating “movement” is a former figure competitor and contributor to respected health and fitness magazines. Her book has formed the basis of my personal eating choices and is consistent with the advice I’ve received from medical professionals and certified nutritionists. I highly suggest than anyone with an interest in healthy eating pick up a copy.

 

Erica Morgan, ‘11

Thank you for reading the columns, and feel free to email me at emorgan1@stanford.edu with feedback or questions.