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Beginner’s Luck: My Body Is Not A Trash Can

Columnist Meredith Atwood on "how the fat girl got a little fitter"—from the inside out.

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How the fat girl got a little fitter—from the inside out.

I stood on the scale nearly naked and watched as the numbers teetered between 199 and 200 pounds. I stepped off, removed my sports bra, went to the bathroom one more time, let out all of the air from my lungs, and stepped back on the cold, mean little scale. 199. YES! Winner winner grilled chicken dinner!

Until recently, I weighed over 200 pounds. Well over 200 pounds, sometimes. But this summer was actually the first time I fell (and have stayed) below 200 pounds in a span of 10 years.

It never really bothered me because I had made my weight and body size an exterior wall of sorts. My size was a nut that no one could crack. I was 200 pounds of mean, not-so-lean triathlon machine. I prided myself on being the big gal on the race course. The one who, despite her size and jiggle, could still finish iron-distance races, out-swim and out-bike some super-fit racers, and then slug herself to the finish line with a miserably slow run pace, but always squeaking through under the cut-offs (sometimes just barely).

My excuses were always, “Yes, well, I would kick your ass if I lost weight.” But then I never really tried to lose weight and I just continued with my words of “if only _____, then I _____.”

I had a rude awakening in late spring. It first came in the form of admitting my wrongdoings. I hired a nutritionist because I had Ironman Lake Placid coming up and 200 pounds was starting to feel silly. Our initial conversation happened about 10 days before my first half-iron race of the season.

“How do you fuel before your races?” the nutritionist asked me.

“Well, I usually have a ton of Munchkins.” Munchkins, as in the little bitty doughnut holes. And yes, I said that with a straight face, because—well—I was serious. But then I laughed, because I knew how ridiculous it was to admit that to a health professional.

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We were on a Skype call, and she was not laughing. Then I told her about my obsession with beer, pizza and all things bad for me. I had a sort of cleansing that day, admitting the horrible things that I had done to my poor body over the last decade. We talked through many things, and we closed out the call with this conversation:

“I would like for you to fuel properly for the next week before your race,” she said, outlining her expectations.

I listened to her and then protested, “Well, I can’t change my plan this late in the game.”

“What do you mean?” she asked me.

“Well,” I said, “I always eat Munchkins. And I treat my body like a garbage can during taper. Then I race.”

I laughed. She did not.

“And how does that make you feel on race day?”

“Well, races are always hard for me. I’m a fat kid,” I said, laughing again.

“It doesn’t have to be that way, you know,” she said to me.

Something in my head clicked. Whaaaaat?!

I took that to heart, and spent the days leading up to my 70.3 eating well—whole foods, no alcohol, no processed foods. I woke up on race morning and had a healthy breakfast. I showed up to the race more confident. My body was less bloated at the starting line. Heck, I was even down a few pounds.

Then, I proceeded to have an absolutely fantastic race day. I finished with a solid PR and was feeling pretty great. If I can continue to not treat my body like a trash can, what will happen? I was feeling pretty spectacular until a fellow racer came up to me, dying to tell me about her race. Once I told her my time, she waved her hand and said, “Hey! At least you finished.”

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At least I finished? I had a PR kind of day. And I didn’t fuel on doughnut holes. What the heck?!

I realized in that moment that my standard thoughts of “If only I weighed less, I would kick your ass” was actually a very true statement—if I had weighed less, then I would have very likely smoked her time. I was faster than she was in the swim, T1, bike, T2, and then I “lost” on the run. Why? Because I outweighed this chick by an entire kindergartener. By default, I was slower. By default, I would always be slower if I ran weighing 215 pounds.

On that day, I realized that treating my body like a trash can was not only stupid and detrimental to my health, but also something that was standing in my way of being competitive. I am a competitive person—I like winning. For many years in this sport, just seeing the glory of the finish line was enough for me. But after almost five years as a triathlete, was finishing truly enough for me anymore?

I placed a ceiling on my level of success through what I was feeding myself. My decision to fuel myself better had almost zero to do with aesthetics—I wanted to lose weight so I could race faster and have more fun out there on the course. I wanted to see what I could do when I tried to be kind to my body, feed it healthy foods, lay off the processed crap.

Slowly but steadily, my weight continues to drop. As I head into my next race, I am leaner (but not lean) and faster (but not fast). I am the best version of myself—today—because I care about what I am putting into my triathlon machine. While I will certainly be thrilled to just finish my next long race, I also know that it will not be a case of dragging my tired, sluggish and doughnut-fed face across 140.6 miles. I understand that race day comes with zero guarantees. But I also recognize that being the best version of myself does mean that I will toe the line knowing I am ready to do my very best—racing hard and to my full potential from the inside, out.

Meredith Atwood is a wife, mom, attorney, Ironman, coach and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. She is a 2015 Klean Team USA member, lives in Atlanta and blogs at SwimBikeMom.com.

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