Fat Girl at the Gym

About 3 months ago, I decided to listen to my husband. No, it was not the first time… but when it comes to fitness, it was never a good idea for my husband to try and “help” me. My husband is a Marine. He has never been more than 5 pounds overweight in his entire life and wore the same dress blues from age 18 until he was in his thirties. He finally had to replace them, but mostly because he had gained a large amount of muscle from starting CrossFit during a deployment. He is active, and even though he hates running… he does it. When he decided to quit his pack a day smoking habit, he used an aid for about two seconds… then put them down and never picked one up again. He just believes that if you make a decision to do something, that is it. Why should there be a question?

And then there is me. I have hated exercise ever since I can remember. Part of that, I am sure, is because I was diagnosed with JRA (Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis) as a young child. I don’t remember a time when my knees didn’t hurt, and there have always been negative feelings towards physical activity for me. I was not good at it, and because of the JRA was slow. I distinctly remember an elementary school PE teacher’s comments and roll of the eyes about how I was so slow and couldn’t run like the other kids… despite the doctors note in my file explaining why. As an adult I have battled my weight every single day, have an unhealthy relationship with food, and never figured out an exercise I enjoyed. You would not catch me running anywhere… unless there was a serial killer, wielding a knife, riding a grizzly bear, chasing me. Even then, we all know that at my weight and fitness level, I was gonna be mauled and my remains would be kept in little jars in some wacko’s shop.

My husband loves me and has stuck with me through thick and, well there was never really “thin”. At my heaviest I was dangerously close to 300 pounds, after years of prolonged steroid use from asthma. My RA went into “remission” for years and when it returned, doctors were convinced that all my problems would be solved if I just “lost a little weight”…that I never had RA to begin with. Fast forward 10 years and over 35 doctors, and I finally got a diagnosis of RA as an adult. That was, of course after I had gained 85 pounds with my first daughter, had a gastric bypass, battled severe depression after a family tragedy, lost weight, gained weight, had a couple unexpected surgeries, lost weight, gained weight, and then finally had a surprise pregnancy where I gained 35 pounds. After my official diagnosis, I tried and failed 3 different medications before finally figuring out a medication that was helpful. For the first time in my adult life I had a few days without pain and the fatigue fog was lifting. I seriously didn’t remember sleeping without pain in 15 years, walking without pain in 15 years, or not feeling exhausted every minute of the day in 15 years. It was amazing!

But now, here I was with some extra energy, less pain… and in absolutely terrible shape. You couldn’t find a single muscle on my body. I was out of breath just holding my baby, and even though my pain was being helped by the medication, even walking was a challenge. But, I knew that I had to start somewhere. I used a product that tracked my calories burned and steps taken every day. It was eye-opening. I was doing NOTHING. So we started parking the car at the back of parking lots, I got out of the house at night with the stroller and walked… sometimes it was only for 10 minutes before I had to stop. But I knew that I had to move more every day. And it helped. I was able to walk in the mall on the weekend with my family without having to use the wheelchair. We even went to Disney World for Spring Break, and though it was hard, I never had to get a wheelchair once. I was very proud. I had lost a few pounds, but nothing to write home about.

And this is where we get to the part of the story where I listened to my husband. During his last deployment, he discovered CrossFit. On their website they describe the sport in part as, “a broad, general and inclusive fitness. We have sought to build a program that will best prepare trainees for any physical contingency – not only for the unknown, but for the unknowable.” My knowledge of the sport was that my husband came home in the best shape of his life… lean muscle everywhere, in places I had never noticed muscle before. He talked about it a lot. He watched videos. He told me that everyone could do it. We had arguments about this concept because I told him that no, not everyone could. He would show me pictures of warriors without limbs excelling in the sport. He even tried showing me videos of pregnant women doing crazy exercises while I was pregnant. He only did that couple of times before I think he started to fear for his life. I wanted him to quit talking about it, and there was no way in hell I was ever going to try a workout with him…I don’t care how “scalable” he said it was. My husband, coaching me through any kind of fitness, was a recipe for divorce papers.

But then, a new CrossFit gym opened in the mall. At this point I was walking more and doing better with my meds. He was smart. He went in first on his own to find out about how the program worked. Then, he took me to the mall “just to talk to them”. The coaches were very nice, and didn’t bat an eye when I gave them all of my medical issues. They said they would scale everything. Still, I thought that meant I would be watching a group of crazy fitness freaks workout while I sat on the floor staring at the rolls on my stomach. And then, don’t ask me why or how, I agreed to attend a free, introductory class.

On the day of the class, I put on my clothes, my tennis shoes, grabbed a water bottle and blindly followed my husband out the door and to the “box”, which is what those crazy CrossFitters call their gym. By the time we were standing in front of the huge glass windows, RIGHT across from the food court, where the majority of mall patrons were located… I thought I would vomit. Not one single fiber of my being wanted to go into that box. But I walked in. The instructor had us all stand around in a circle LOOKING AT EACH OTHER, and begin the “warm-up”. The first exercise was jumping jacks. That is one of the worst ranges of motion for an overweight person. Body parts jiggle, they smack against one another, you can barely get your frame up off the ground, and when you lift your hands above your head your shirt rides up and exposes your belly… to the other people in the circle, thank you very much. I wanted to die. I felt like I would. I was the fattest person in the room. I was the weakest. I was the slowest. I could only do about three without stopping and only about 10 total. With my husband standing right next to me we finished the warm-up… that left me wheezing and feeling that certain death was right around the corner. He turned to me and said “You think that is bad, we haven’t even started the workout yet!” Barely able to breathe, I gathered all of my strength to grumble some obscenities his way. He decided it best to let someone else “motivate” me and took a different place in the circle.

I don’t remember what that first WOD (Workout of the Day) was, but I do know that the coaches were kind and reassuring. They did scale every single movement to something that I could do… as long as I kept doing a range of motion. I do remember that the workout sucked. It was hard. But that halfway through I self-consciously looked around, just knowing that people were staring at me and judging… to realize that not one single soul cared about me… they were too busy trying to survive the workout as well. After we finished, I found my way to a 20 inch box, sat down… and sobbed. I couldn’t believe I made it through. I had finished something really difficult for MY body. I didn’t give up, even though every single piece of me wanted to. It was a good feeling. It was an addictive feeling.

Fast forward to 3 months later and I have now completed 32 WOD’s at that CrossFit box. I have only lost about 4 pounds and one pants size, but for the first time in my life I stopped focusing on the weight. I still have 100 pounds to lose, and I know that those pounds must come off for my health. So we have started phase 2 of this journey which is to deal with the food issues and that is going well so far. But for now, here are the accomplishments I am so proud to share: 1) I can get in and out of a bathtub without any assistance… something that was impossible before. 2) I am no longer winded holding my daughter. 3) I can row for 1000 meters without stopping and can run (slow, but still) for 200 meters without stopping 4) When I fly I no longer need a seat belt extender or help from another passenger to get my carryon in the overhead compartment 5) I can walk/run an entire 5k 6) I have a bicep! But the biggest thing is that I LOVE going to the box now… it is my stress relief. I am still the fattest, weakest, and slowest person in the box… but I could care less.

Erin Before and After

That is my before and after picture. As you can see, I am still not comfortable putting my face out there on top of my body, but this is a step. I also still have a long way to go. It took me a while to decide to share this journey with you all. I debated myself over the title and labeling myself as “fat”. I know what people will say. Why use that term to describe myself… it is demeaning and I shouldn’t think of myself in that way. But why not? It is the truth. I am fat. I don’t have to be that way forever though. I heard Dr. Phil say recently that winners deal with the truth. And if it takes being honest to win this battle of the bulge, then so be it… let’s go. You know those 10 jumping jacks I started out with? We recently did a WOD where I completed 150 of them. It took me a while, but I did it. Stuff still jiggles and slaps together… but I just see it as my body being honest with me. It is telling me the truth. Sure, I am still the fat girl at the gym… but I am stronger than yesterday, and not as strong as I will be tomorrow. And I can handle that kind of truth, Col Jessup.

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