BMI is what some experts will tell you to do: Just divide weight by height, and check the online charts to see if you’re fat. But it’s baloney, and tells you nothing about ideal weight or physical fitness–and especially nothing about being at home in your body.
While some in our derby community struggle with eating too little, or others with injury-prone bodies, my challenge had always been carrying around too much weight to effectively use my body. I lost a debilitating amount of weight using Weight Watchers, which helped me learn how to eat by giving me a desire to eat more fibrous, filling foods; moreover, it gave me a support network of people to do it with. Since then, I’ve maintained decently by vowing that whenever I eat, I always try to eat a fresh fruit or veg–as the main ingredient or alongside. Key to this is learning to cook veg properly, and to choose ripe, fresh fruits. While Weight Watchers was a factor for me, I’m convinced that if there were a supportive group that encouraged folks to attain healthy goals in an atmosphere of accountability, I wouldn’t have needed Weight Watchers’ specific program.
The thing that helped more was reading a lot about the food industry–fast food, restaurant food, processed food–and all the ways it’s poisoned our society’s appetite for real food. It all started in 2001 reading Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, then later viewing Supersize Me, progressing through Michael Pollan’s opus, and listening to the growing cacophony of organic farmers’ voices, culminating in the brilliant Food, Inc. Pissing me off tends to motivate me, and I now have developed an appetite for food that I can pretty much name the ingredients of.
Michael Pollan’s simple and good “food rules” I try to live by:
1. Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
2. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients (unless it’s a recipe you’re making from single-ingredient foods).
3. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store.
4. Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot–unless it’s honey, that miracle-food.
5. It is not just what you eat but how you eat. “Always leave the table a little hungry,” Pollan says. “Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full. In Japan, they say eat until you are four-fifths full. Islamic culture has a similar rule, and in German cul
ture they say, ‘Tie off the sack before it’s full.'”
6. Enjoy meals with the people you love; try not to eat alone.
7. Don’t buy food where you buy your gasoline. In the U.S., 20% of food is eaten in the car.
If you’re somehow still tied to your family’s traditional foodways, you’ve got a lot going for you. I’ve got very little of my traditional food culture–Grandma never wrote recipes down, and Mom eschewed Grandma’s ways in the kitchen–so I’ve had to re-invent it for my family. We’ve invested in whole animals from grass-feeding farmers we know and love. We buy yearly shares in community-supported agriculture, which brings a quarter-bushel of local, organic veg to our countertop each week of the growing season. I set out to find traditional recipes, and Mennonite cookbooks have become my mainstay. Even when they occasionally have lard or bacon grease or other “unhealthy” ingredients, they’re way better for you than the crap fast food outlets, chain restaurants, or your grocer’s freezer often put on your plate. I’d argue that lard fills you up and satisfies your mental cravings; processed grains and corn syrup do NOT.
I’d really encourage any of my derby ladies who feel like they need an objective measure of fitness growth to do one of two things: 1) Measure your progress by bodyfat percentage. You can have that measured professionally by fitness trainers who use the caliper or water displacement method. Or you can buy a relatively cheap bodyfat measuring scale, which can tell you with decent accuracy. 2) Get a Polar fitness watch, and measure your fitness index, which is keyed to a prediction of your vO2 max–a rating that measures how much oxygen your body can provide itself during physical stress. Something like Weight Watchers will insist on pounds, and that can be
helpful, but for someone built like a brick house, you’ll want to keep that muscle and energy for derby. Some of the sexiest, most powerful chicks on the track are size 18/20, but they’ve got lower bodyfat percentages and much higher vO2 maxes than I do!
Losing weight is overrated. Finding real food you love to eat, and finding physical things you love to do with your body… Those two things are timeless and positive goals that can apply to everyone. They also keep you from focusing on guilt all the time. Personally? I don’t mind keeping around 5-10 pounds of what I call “cookie weight,” as it’s a joy of my life to eat fantastic baked goods. I just make sure I take a cookie vacation when I’m training for a high-stakes fitness event, where those extra pounds shed could mean a few seconds cut from a lap time. It’s all about personal values and choices.
Want to get happy with your body? Get support. Get angry at the food industry. Get informed about local farmers and ranchers. Get excited about cooking with your friends and family. Get obsessed with a sport or activity that makes you feel awesome.
And getting a cute little derby skirt doesn’t hurt.