This essay is from a five-part series about the emotions, challenges, and events surrounding my body, from my 32nd birthday to my 33rd. Read the first part here.
My alarm goes off at 5:15 a.m., but I hit snooze twice because I have worked in the extra 10 minutes to allow this ritual, which feels like stealing candy. It’s above 20 degrees, and although I can run outside, I dress in two pairs of pants, a thermal long sleeve undershirt, a fleece zip up, and a scarf that covers my mouth. The exhaustive layering takes time that I did not build into the schedule.
This pre-dawn date with the gym does not happen every day. Some mornings I am up working on a book that will be rejected by 30-some literary agents later in the year while others I stay hidden under a pile of blankets until the last possible minute that I can without being late to work.
But, today, I am running before most people are awake, and I feel superior to everyone else until I see a middle-aged woman, with her lunch under her arm, stomping off to the bus stop.
At the gym, I peel off my clothes and do rounds of lunges and curls and other weight exercises that I either remember from my high school weightlifting class or examples torn out of women’s fitness magazines under headlines such as “Get that beach booty” and “Nail your vacation bod.” I know nothing about training but I have high hopes that these gym sessions will be what kick starts my weight loss, and subsequently, marathon training.
Being sober has done little to my waistline. It could be all the chocolate, ice cream, and fries that I have green lit into my mouth because “I deserve it,” or it could be that I am not doing enough physically to burn the calories. A piece of me is resentful that I gave up such an accommodating vice like alcohol and my stomach haven’t seen the benefits. “Have you lost any weight?” a friend asked, and when I said no, she replied, “Well, that doesn’t seem worth it, so I am not going to stop drinking.” I’ve been sober for three months, and the scale doesn’t reflect the absence of empty liquor calories nor the handfuls of tortilla chips I eat in a drunken stupor. Still, I hold out hope that the weight will go at some point. It has to.
My runs to the gym are slow, but I am OK with that for now. When I am running 20 miles in the dead heat of August, I will think about these mornings and remark how the hard part is long gone. My newer body, which will be quicker and faster, will reward me with that reassurance.
My day-to-day life is digitized into sets of numbers. I have goals of how much water I should drink each day (two liters), how much sleep I should get (eight hours), how many calories I should eat (1,500), and how many steps I should take (10,000). These goal numbers were cherry-picked out of articles on sites like MindBodyGreen, Popsugar and Elle. I have no reason to believe that I can’t hit them daily. All of these targets were made to get me to a specific number on the scale.
For a couple of years, I stopped weighing myself as an attempt to forge a better relationship with my body, and it worked. With a long history of distorted body image, the scale determined myself worth. Down a few pounds? I could eat an extra slice of pizza and feel good in my tank top and jeans. But if I was a pound heavier than the day before, I ran an extra mile and spend most of the day looking at myself in the mirror to assess how bad it had gotten. Then, one day at a doctor’s appointment, I broke down in tears because I hadn’t lost as much weight as I thought I should while in the midst of marathon training. The nurse tried to assure me that my weight was fine, but I was so angry with myself that I wanted to scream. Hours later, after I had calmed down, I decided that I was no longer going to give power to the scale. I refused to buy one, and whenever I went to the doctor, I closed my eyes and asked the nurse to write the number down without telling me. Not knowing the number was bliss. I no longer had numeric evidence of my shortcomings, so I could no longer berate myself.
When I moved in with my boyfriend last year, he bought a scale to curb his own weight gain. I stayed away from it at first, but like an addict, I thought just one reading wouldn’t hurt anything. I’ll only do it once, to see where I am at, and then go back to ignorance.
We’ve had the scale for four months, and I check my weight most days. It’s 147. My goal is to lose seven pounds, make it an even 140 and match the number on my driver’s license. There isn’t anything unhealthy about trying to lose seven pounds—my boyfriend does that in a month just by avoiding fast food. I bet that that I can even get down to 135, (which I haven’t seen since high school) if I am really careful.
A hand-me-down FitBit keeps me in line for my daily goals. The first thing I do when I wake up, is look at how well I slept. Too many thin blue and pink lines indicate restlessness, which predicts that it will be an arduous day. The black bracelet on my wrist reminds me to get up from my desk every hour if I want to hit my step number. Sometimes, I excuse myself to the bathroom and pace back and forth from one end to the other in an effort to add another 500 steps. I catch my image in the mirror as I strut. There has never been a mirror, window reflection, or shadow that I haven’t checked my shape in. I need to see how my belly protrudes forward and if the thickness of my waist has changed in the last 60 minutes. I do this over and over throughout a single day, for reassurance or justification or habit.
Below the fitness tracker, I wear a Garmin watch to track my runs. I need to know the exact distance of my runs and the mile splits. After each run, I upload the workout to both the Garmin app and Strava so I can proudly spout off my workout to a listening audience and judge my exertion and pace against others’ workouts.. On the Garmin app, I check my heart rate, which I’ve also been trying to acknowledge using the factory built-in heart rate monitor on the gym treadmill. My watch also tells me that heart rate is higher than it should be, indicating that I am pushing too much, but I won’t slow down. My mile times, even in these foundational runs, need to be quicker. I can only race quicker if I run faster, and I bury the voice in my head that suggests this kind of exercise could lead to added stress and strain on my muscles and joints. I don’t care, though. My body will be fine.
It’s 60 degrees in Chicago in February. It shouldn’t be this warm, we all know, and yet we can’t help but feel giddy with the tease of summer. In the Windy City, it’s a sin to waste a nice day, so I plan to run five miles after work before meeting a friend for dinner. I am supposed to ease back into a consistent running schedule before I ramp up to 30-mile weeks, but the nice evening and the eagerness to get to a higher mileage plants the idea that maybe I could run eight this evening. I tick off one mile then two and three, knowing I should turn around, but I only do so after the fourth mile so that my final total is eight. I keep going, even if the light hip pain I’ve had on my right side is throbbing now. The glory of telling my friend, who is far more fit than me with the toned arms of Jennifer Aniston, screams more than the pain.
At dinner my hip hurts so bad that I cannot sit without wincing. It feels like there is a needle stuck inside my joint that the doctor forgot to take out. I have an appointment with my primary care doctor in a few days, and I will bring it up to her. I am confident that this will be my like my knee last year, when I did tests and saw a physical therapist but no conclusions were made. It’s probably fine.
I take off a few days of running, and my hip still hurts. I sit down, it hurts. I stand up, it hurts. I feel pain when I get out of the car, when I am sleeping at night, when I am walking the dog. The pain haunts me.
It’s nothing, I tell myself. It’s nothing.