I have had a fraught relationship with my body and my weight. It’s much easier to talk about now, in past tense, than when I was really in the thick of it.
I had a strong desire to be “normal,” whatever that is, and to effortlessly “fit in.” I looked around me and it seemed that everyone was thinner and more at ease than I felt.
Instead of trying to build myself up, I attempted time and time again to whittle myself down. I cultivated a nice, nasty cycle of binging after I’d starved myself enough, followed by starving again. Repeat.
Sometimes I see photos of myself from those years and think about how much my weight and physical appearance haunted my every thought. I wish I could send that younger me a message: You are so much more; invest in yourself and grow.
Truly, it was living in Alaska that started me on a better path. Up here, what I look like matters much less than in, say, New York City, where every building’s reflective surface at street level is a mirror, and every other person looks like a model (or at least they did when I was looking at people comparatively).
Not that the environment of New York City is inherently bad. Far from it, but for me it created a funhouse mirror effect given my state of mind at the time.
In Alaska, my abilities are what matter most. This kind of culture, which reinforces self and community reliance and the endurance to get through brutal and fairy-tale weather alike, provided a rich environment to overcome my eating issues. It took a minute, but over time my relationship to food, my body and ultimately my mental well-being shifted. In Alaska, we eat, and we eat really good food. We take care of one another. And we value being outdoors, in whatever way we like and are able.
Over time, I joined that “we.” It felt like being home.
They say your body replaces all of its cells every seven years. I look back on that time of my life from the vantage point of a “new” me. And, as this new me, I have recently tested my own security in my identity and physical being. It was cautious, it was purposeful, and it was a test:
After slowly gaining unwanted weight, could I shed it without lapsing into old thought patterns and bad habits?
Spoiler: for the most part I’m pleased to announce, yes.
Earlier this winter, I wrote about shedding unwanted pandemic pounds. It started when I noticed that my sweatpants didn’t fit properly anymore. My best friend informed me as only a best friend can that no, they hadn’t shrunk.
This was the seed of motivation. I’m known to be extremely thrifty and efficient when I want to be, and the thought of replacing my entire wardrobe — especially since I have had some of my favorite items an embarrassingly long time and balk at all the effort it would take to replace them — was a no-go.
So, I started looking at my options.
I knew I needed a plan. My go-to “don’t drink or eat sugar” was good for a quick-fix for a month, but not sustainable for anything bigger. I needed something unlikely to trigger my past.
I also wanted a plan that would continue to support my fitness. I can’t run, hike, ski, etc. at the volume I want while hangry; I’ve found it difficult to get lighter while in the most intensive training cycles because it’s damn-near impossible not to eat all the time.
I found a book called “Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance” by Matt Fitzgerald. It provided a path to nourish myself strategically while still maintaining and building my fitness. The author emphasized fat loss versus straight weight loss, which made sense from a performance perspective. It would be a lot easier to run with the same or more power from muscle, coupled with fewer pounds from fat.
And the diet itself didn’t set off red flags for me. No fancy hacks; just lean proteins, dairy, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and good fats.
In December 2020, I started.
The first test came when at first I failed to see any progress. I wanted to throw up my hands. It’s tough for anybody to lose weight. Humans are naturally hard-wired to hoard calories in case of famine (one that, in my case, never comes). I’m always going to be a little “round” — it’s just my build and genetics, plus I’m hypothyroid.
I was tempted to google “cayenne cleanse,” weigh myself daily and nosedive right back into the bad habits I had when I was younger.
But with support from my husband and friends, I kept on playing with my ratios of protein, the timing of my carbohydrate intake (many in the morning, few at dinner) and my training.
I doubled down on including a fun, high-intensity workout once a week and I incorporated some speed into my running.
Lo and behold, it started to work. My progress was slow but steady. And while the program took diligence, planning and work, it didn’t dominate my every thought or my identity. I was still me, Alli, with all of the many facets of my life; one of which at this phase was becoming lither (and fitting once again into my sweatpants).
Last weekend I went on my usual long run. It’s basically the same route I’ve been running every week for over a year now with few exceptions.
The difference was striking. I felt noticeably lighter and — what is this?! — faster! I ran my usual distance a little quicker, and I was a lot less tired at the end.
This is a good, solid basis from which to approach supporting change in my own body. Not because anyone else is doing it, and not so I would look like someone or something else. But to feel and embody more of me? To do more of the things I want to do, better? Yes.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.