Last night before I went to bed I weighed myself, as usual, and what happened is something I never would have expected at the beginning of the year. I looked down and saw the numbers: 189.7. POUNDS. But what happened next was truly shocking.
I smiled. Then I went to bed perfectly happy.
I don't know exactly when it started, but at some point in my adolescence I became really body conscious. I wouldn't characterize it as dissatisfaction with how I looked, just a hyper awareness of it. That awareness usually fueled my competitive side and sparked my interest in exercise and weight lifting. Both were very positive outlets for me. I loved to see my progress from week to week, growing stronger and more muscular.
By the time I started playing baseball in high school, I was in love with working out. I started doing P90X, and was lifting at least once a day. On several occasions I was up by five in the morning to get a workout in before school. Then I hit a snag with a tendinitis injury in my throwing arm and lower back troubles that slowed down my baseball practice and earned a doctor-mandated cessation of weight lifting. Without that positive outlet for my stress, I got lazy. By the time I was allowed to work out again, I never really wanted to. I had lost the drive, and the excitement wasn't there anymore.
When I started cycling seriously in college, I developed a serious mental struggle with my weight. I was not big by any means, but my natural body type was not typical of the world's fastest cyclists. Cycling can basically be boiled down to one number for a gauge of your ability to succeed: Power to weight ratio. Other things obviously come into play, like your pain tolerance, VO2, threshold, yada yada. But the higher your power/weight ratio is, the faster you can be. There are two ways to get this number up.
1. Get stronger, and increase your power numbers.
2. Lose weight
Since I considered myself above my optimal weight to really succeed, I fixated on dropping some pounds.
To set the scene: I'm 5 feet 11 inches tall. When I first started this process I was a little over 165 pounds, and hoping to get closer to 160.
My method of attack was to ride more. Cardio burns fat, so you lose the weight you don't need. But my legs just got bigger and bigger. I put on weight! So by my senior year of college I was hovering around 172, and dying to get back to 165. Nevermind the fact that I was racing better than I ever had, I was fixated on losing the weight. I just couldn't shed any though.
When I moved to Colorado, my diet got a lot cleaner and I was riding more than ever. I quickly dropped down to the 165ish mark, and was fairly content, but not really. I had become so accustomed to being disappointed when I stepped on the scale, that it didn't matter what number I saw. I always wanted it to be lower. I was so set on getting lighter that I stopped refueling my body the way I should have after hard rides. I ate a lot, but it was always a struggle to not eat less. When my legs felt terrible every time I rode, I refused to acknowledge my weight as the source of the problem. You see, losing weight to increase your power to weight ratio is only effective as long as you are able to maintain your power numbers. I should have realized that my power was dropping because I was too light for my body's own good. But I refused.
When I got back from Team Smartstop training camp at the end of January this year, I stepped on the scale for the first time in a couple weeks. I was 161 pounds. I hadn't seen a number that low since before high school. I was so happy. Nevermind how terribly I rode at camp, and how exhausted I felt. My weight was down as low I thought I could possibly go, and I was happy. I was a twig, and it was wrong.
A lot of cyclists have similar stories. Weight is such a concern in the sport that eating habits border on eating disorders. I was weighing myself probably a dozen times daily. When I woke up, after any meal, after any trip to the bathroom, after every ride, and before bed. Obsessive is the only word for it.
When I decided to step away from cycling, my desire to push myself remained. A door was opened up for me to start lifting weights again. I quickly remembered why I loved it so much. There's nothing like finishing an awesome workout with exhausted and tingling muscles. There's even an appreciation for the soreness that you wake up with the next day. With every workout comes a sense of accomplishment. I was finally in a position to build around my natural body type again. I started eating to gain weight and muscle. I ate without regrets and the constant thought of how long I'd have to ride to burn it off. I stopped caring about my weight. I'd step on the scale, see a higher number and be happy with it. Before long I was knocking on the door of 180 pounds.
Most days, after I get home from work, I hit the weight room for an hour and a half to two hours. During that time, it's always about building, getting better, and getting stronger. My focus is not on hitting a number, it's about being better than the last time. I can't put words to how good it feels to be happy with my physique again. Yes, I still pay a lot of attention to it. A lot. But it's always positive.
The difference a year makes is incredible. I've gained nearly 30 pounds in less than ten months, and I could not be happier. I've got muscles in places they've never been before, definition I always wanted, oh yeah, and a beard.
I've finally dropped the weight weenie act.