My Pants

For the record, it was really hard for me to write this post. The more I read it, the more ungrateful I felt. My life is pretty good, albeit chaotic. As grateful as I am for what I have, I am also human. I've been criticized for even mentioning I need to watch my weight simply because I am not obese. I've swallowed my words when wanting to chime in about diet or exercise, because I'm often quickly shut down by those with "bigger problems". I'll save the issue of body image and related criticisms for another post, but the short of it is, we all have self-image issues, regardless of what the scale says.  Well, I promised an earlier post would not be about my pants, and yet here I am, about to write a post about my pants. Bear with me.

About two months ago, I ventured out to the mall to find some jeans. My favorite jeans had developed a hole, deeming them unsuitable for work. Naturally, I ended up at The Gap--mom's best friend. The Gap has been a reliable source of everything from khaki skirts in my high school years to conservative work wear in my 30s. And they stocked tall sizes, which is not easy to find. I knew I could find a pair of sensible jeans there.

Not only did I find some tall jeans in my size--they were NOT the low-rise, midriff-aka-muffin-top jeans that I can't seem to escape. (Seriously, am I the only one who is "apple shaped" out there?) These jeans were mid-rise beauties with a "tummy-taming" front panel. Little did I know that that panel would soon dictate my life. Let me explain:

One of the reasons I love The Gap is its consistency. I know when all else fails, if I just drop $100 on the sale rack at the Gap, I will be good for a few months. Another truism about The Gap is that its jeans stretch with wear. You can get a few days of booty-hugging style out of them before they start to droop, only to be brought back to life after a wash cycle. In light of this fact, I made sure to buy jeans that were on the snug side of comfortable, knowing they would soon stretch and I would be back to my flat-bottom self--why not beat the jeans at their own game?

Well, the joke was on me, friends. That #*@$ tummy panel kept the pants from stretching. The first time I wore them, I thought to myself, "give it a few hours--you'll be able to sit down soon enough." Alas, that panel would not budge. And while it tamed the lower half of my tummy, well, let's just say the dreaded muffin top was back. I was able to button only one of the two buttons, and was forced to cover that extra, protruding button with a loose shirt. I kicked myself for being so hasty in my purchase. The jeans went to the back of my closet.

A few weeks ago, I decided maybe it was time to find some new jeans. After an unsuccessful trip to the mall, I decided to break out those Gap jeans and give myself a laugh. Light from the heavens filled the room as I comfortably buttoned both buttons--no muffin top. I'd been running a lot more, maybe eating a bit better. Whatever I was doing, I needed to keep doing. I was not going to let the jeans win again.

But then life got in the way. The work started picking up, and I was in crisis-prevention mode at work. I skipped lunchtime runs and opted for frozen, processed meals. I gave into that emotional stress eating and added a cookie to every lunch. I went on a business trip, during which I went on two short runs, which were, sadly, over-shadowed by those 400-calorie cookies sent from heaven (or purveyors of Hyatt's baked goods). Add to that my second full-time job--parenting--and here I am, four unhealthy weeks later, defeated.

That second button is simply too much.

It's true what they say--that weight isn't everything. My weight has stayed in the same 5-7-pound range since I had kids. I always say, as long as I am healthy and strong, I don't care about my weight. I've never worried about weight, never been on a diet. But the truth is, I weighed a few pounds more than I do now when I was training for triathlons, when I was at my fitness peak. You can bet those jeans would have fit then. Sure, I've had two kids since then, and I am not too naive to know that my body will never go back to what it once was. But I also know how I eat and live, and if I did both of those better, I wouldn't be cursing any buttons.

Exit, bathroom scale; enter, Gap jeans.

I'm determined not to buy new jeans, but to fit into the ones I have. Comfortably. Not because I want to be a certain size, but because I want to be healthy, and I know what good health means for me. It doesn't mean living in a nearly constant state of stress (cortisol has a huge effect on weight), and it certainly doesn't mean relying on sugary snacks for emotional contentment. It means prioritizing eating well and exercising above all else (except in extreme circumstances), and learning to integrate these healthy practices into my family and work lives so I don't have to choose between being healthy and being a mom/employee. If I can master that, the jeans will follow.

Question for Our Readers:

How do you integrate good health into your crazy schedule?

Who is Cait?

I get more feedback than the average gal when I run. I hear “right on!” from dudes I am trying to ignore. “You go girl!” is a common one from the ladies, too. This happens on the road, on race courses, out on the trails. If I see ten people out on my run, I can almost guarantee at least one or two of them will say something to me. If you closed your eyes and listened to my run, you’d think I’m one impressive athlete, but you’d be wrong—I am definitely not a fast runner.

I am a fat runner.

You read that right. I run a solid 11-minute mile on a flat surface, and it’s not rare to catch me chugging up long hills at a less-than-blistering 13-minute pace. People cheer me on because I’m straight-up chubby, and it’s not often you see a 30-something woman carrying 40 extra pounds along for 5 miles, except for perhaps on reality TV.Wahine

Sure, runners are generally an inclusive bunch, and on some days the cheering masses are right—I do need a little affirmation. Still, often those hurrahs just serve to remind me that no matter how many hours I’ve logged on my feet, no matter how many more miles I’ve run than they have this week, I’m still considered less of an athlete because of the extra pounds.

I combat the feeling by reminding myself of my boosters' good intentions, make a mental note that I should not be turning lemonade into lemons, and feel lucky that I am, in fact, doing great (and weren’t they kind to notice?). It usually works.

Last spring, while training for my first half-marathon, I often ran a particularly hilly 6-mile route. I killed it on those hills back then, and I loved taking in the views from the road. One freakishly cold afternoon, I rounded a bend on my way back downhill to see a chubby 20-something woman jogging toward me, hustling her way uphill.

Finally, I got it: The urge to say “you go girl!” was overwhelming.

I found it hard to suppress not only because she was chunky, but because she was running hard and smiling and clearly working her butt off on that hill. I opened my mouth to cheer her on, and closed it again. We both knew we were athletes, and that with every step we were at proving that women don't have to be skinny to be healthy.

It took a long time to get to the place where I worry more about my fitness than my body fat, and I plan to stay here by cooking (and sharing!) my mostly plant-based recipes.  Rather than pursuing weight loss, I try to focus on health in my cooking, eating, running, and writing, while trying to fit it all into my crazy life.  There will be days when I skip the cooking, running, and writing altogether, and weeks when my infant son keeps me up so much at night that junk food takes the place of sleep, but I’m ok if my pursuit is of “good enough” and not so much perfection.

All that to say that I will likely continue to be the big girl on the race course, and you are welcome to cheer me on.