Fighting the Fear of Fat
Gaining a few pounds over the winter happens to all of us, its just seems to be one of the unwritten rules. But it is nothing to get down about (easier said than done, I know.) This is something I struggle with during the winter, and what really helps me, is to go out on a hard long run to remind myself that my body is strong, and that is more important than the number on the scale. Your body carries you up and over mountains, down the trails, across countless miles, and it is absolutely amazing! The number on the scale has nothing to do with it!
I hate this too, but I know it happens every year. I’ve started paying attention to the cycle, and know that I always feel a little shitty about my body in December and January, but by March, I always seem to be on the upswing of getting back into good shape. It’s actually helpful to me to know that my weight is so closely related to my training volume, and that my running dictates my healthy weight versus anything else. I also have learned the hard way that it’s absolutely imperative for me to step back in the winter, when my race schedule and the weather usually dictates I do anyway, so I look at the extra pounds as a good sign that I’m doing the right thing by not doing too much. Overall, I’m actually grateful that there’s a noticeable difference when I’m in my peak training versus when I’m more relaxed, otherwise I’d probably get a complex about working my ass off and having nothing change.
There’s actually starting to be some research showing that having a little extra body fat in periods of less intense training may help to prevent injury and is good for overall health. It also shows that it might help with consistency in terms of how fast you can run over the years (i.e. you run well year after year instead of having one great year followed by a bad year).
I spent so many years of my life so focused on the number on the scale, and through conscious effort have been able to break free of it’s grip. That doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally have a freak out when my work pants are getting snug and I think I might soon run out of options to wear, but it’s not an everyday stressor in my life. Here are a few things that might help: 1) Ditch the scale. Seriously, unless you’re packing on some serious pounds it’s not a health or performance concern, and that number is only going to stress you out. 2) Focus on recovery. To quote the amazing Amelia Boone “Beast mode is not an effective training strategy”. Enjoying some downtime, celebrating the holidays, and the few extra pounds that come with it, are letting your body and mind recover for the next racing season. 3) Focus on nutrients, not calories. Yes, some of those extra pounds may be due to eggnog and cookies. However, don’t deprive yourself to try to make up for that. Make sure you’re getting good, nutrient-rich foods into your body, and the occasional treat is not going to be the detriment of your running career. 4) Remember that you are a strong, beautiful, kick-ass woman, and a number on a scale isn’t changing that.
We all need a little extra winter insulation, right?! Take a step back + think about why the weight is sticking. Is it because you’re less active or because your eating habits have taken a nose dive? If you tend to spend more time indoors + off your feet during the winter months, don’t fret about the weight. Once you’re back outdoors + moving when the sun shines when you’re actually outside the office the weight will reallocate itself to muscle. If you take a look at your life + see it’s the eating habits, be a bit more conscious about what you’re eating + why you’re eating. I’m no nutritionist, but I am someone who believes holiday cookies are worth the extra insulation until I can get myself outside more often. Personally, I’m less active in the winter [I live in the mountains + work a seasonal job, time + snow keep me indoors more than I’d like] + I really like cookies…so I have both working against me. I try not to think about it too much, while still keeping my eating in check + making sure the cookies are actually tasty enough to be worth it. Come summer, I’ll get outside more + be in a position to put a bit more effort into moving that winter insulation over to summer runder thigh muscles!
Studies have shown that being at your ultralight “race weight” all the time is detrimental to your health and performance over the long run. There’s nothing wrong with fluctuating weight over the course of the year and it’s often inevitable over the winter months. A healthy amount of fat is good! Especially for us women, it’s essential! Also, just like it’s important to peak in training for your goal race, it’s important to have some intentional recovery down-time. Once the weather warms up and the sun shines a little longer, you’ll burn off those extra pounds no problem as your ramp up your training again. Remind yourself that it’s all part of a healthy cycle!
Unfortunately, I’ve had two back-to-back injuries over these last two winters so, I’ve struggled even more with the issue of weight gain. It can be mentally frustrating, but you know what? Everything is temporary, nothing is permanent. I personally don’t weigh myself anymore, because weight is just a number, it doesn’t define who I am as a person. Will I indulge myself a little more during the winter months? Of course! It’s cold out and the Holidays are all about celebrating time with friends and family. Besides, that what chunky sweaters and flannel leggings are meant for ?
Embrace the squish! As my coach David Roche says, it’s good to get a little out of shape because then you feel like you’ve actually had a rest, whether it’s physical, mental or both. I’m fully embracing other sports at the moment, from biking to climbing to skiing, and I’m gaining weight and not worrying about it. It’s normal!
No one likes to cuddle someone with 0% body fat. Just think of it as extra huggability. You aren’t gaining weight; you’re gaining snuggle points. Plus, winter is cold, so you need insulation so that you can keep running through winter, and get that hot summer body back. It’s a positive feedback cycle, and that is science, so it’s right.
It’s natural for your body to go through periods of storing a little extra (in the winter where we are a bit less active). In fact, it’s probably good for us. It will all balance out in the end and having a little extra weight will help you to recover and in the end will help you come spring and summer time to really push it when you need to. It’s impossible to be in pristine shape every month of the year.
The weight of our body ebbs and flows throughout the year; it is rarely stagnant (unless forced to be). Diet culture teaches us to be fat phobic and to avoid gaining weight at all costs. The truth is that the extra weight may be healthy and what your body needs right now. It is not inherently “bad” or “unhealthy.” Stick to your healthy habits (running, eating the rainbow, sleep, etc.) and, most importantly, don’t stress and trust your body – it is a lot smarter than we give it credit for.
Trail Sisters contributors are a group of inspirational, educational and empowering Women who share a love for the outdoors and trail running. We come from all over and share a bond through our love of the sport.
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