It just happened that way. I meant to make it weeks ago.
Back a very long time ago, I made a dress from an Issey Miyake Vogue pattern. It’s an origami style dress made from a slightly stretchy fabric. It features snap tape and is one of my favourites.
Here I am*, wearing it in November 2007:
Back then I was in second year uni, working in a casual retail job. Any exercise I did was pretty incidental to my lifestyle (walking most places, printing until late at night, &c). A little over a year later, I started working full time on an eleven month contract at the State Library of Victoria. My job was to collect and deliver books from the stacks for people who requested them. I think I figured out that I walked about 11km per shift. I also rode most days, meaning a 22km round trip on my bike. Without intending to, I lost a whole lot of weight. While I probably looked pretty good, I started having random problems like muscle cramps under my arms and problems with my feet.
For the record, here are a couple of photos:
A trip to the doctor about the underarm cramps revealed that my Vitamin D count was at 16. The doctor and I never really figured out the cause of the cramps, but we figured it could be related to the D deficiency combined with a lack of upper body strength.
I got my Vitamin D levels back inline with supplements over summer, then went back to uni to study for my Master of Fine Art in February 2010. I’d moved house and lived about 20km from the CBD by this point, so riding to uni/work wasn’t really an option. I started swimming occasionally and had a 2km walk to and from the train station, so I was still getting exercise, but not as much. The D deficiency had left me terrified of developing osteoporosis and I was contemplating joining a gym to do some weight training. Lacking in both time and money, I put it off. I bought some cheap shoes and started running about 1.5km in the dark each morning. I hated it, but loved seeing all the beautiful stars I never saw at night.
Around the same time, I changed contraception methods to Implanon. I’d put on a bit of weight since leaving the library, but without me really noticing, the implant basically blew me up like a balloon. I think I got it about a month before my little brother’s wedding, and I noticed the weight that day …when none of my dresses fit anymore. I ended up wearing the Issey Miyake dress, as the snaps and stretch meant that I could get it on, at least. I stumbled across this photo on Facebook recently, and it’s what made me recoil in horror enough to make this post.
I know there are people out there who say live-and-let-live, be comfortable in your own skin, blah blah blah. And I agree. Except this was not my own skin. Until this point, I had never been overweight in my life. I have a large frame and have never been (and never will be) willowy, but have always had a fairly healthy diet and an extremely fast metabolism. While it’s been fantastic in every other way, the Implanon slowed my metabolism right down and started stockpiling fat and water for an imaginary future apocalypse. I decided that I would not be held to ransom by my choice of birth control.
I kept up the running and joined the uni gym, which was the only place I could find at a reasonable rate at the time**. I was still very busy so couldn’t go often*** and being a giant introvert, was too scared to use the weights or strength machines, or even ask how they worked. So I spent an hour or two each week on the bicycle and rowing machines. Being a uni gym though, all classes were free for members. I started doing the Hatha Yoga class, but quit because the teacher was a total dick. If he saw you doing a move incorrectly he would snap and treat you like an idiot rather than correcting you in an appropriate, humane fashion. He also told people off for drinking water during class, because “water makes you weak”***. And he wore leggings with patterns that rival train upholstery in ugliness. I did do a fantastic core strength class called Sculpt every week. The trainer played awesome music (Beck, The Flaming Lips… in a gym! crazy!) and was really lovely and helpful, and the class itself was extremely hard work. That ended with the school year though, and it was up in the air as to whether the gym would be closed the next year or not, so I was hesitant to renew my membership.
I kept exercising on a rather casual basis until about June, when I had my biggest “oh fuck” moment. We’d taken the dogs to the vet, and decided to weigh ourselves on the scales while we were there. My normal weight throughout adulthood was around 66kg. That day, it was 80kg. I was so shocked I got off and back on again, but it still said 80. I knew I’d put on some weight, but I hadn’t expected it to be that much. I immediately set myself up to consume a controlled amount of energy each day, pretty much the same food as I’d been eating, but less of it. As someone who’d never tried to lose weight before, but having grown up seeing the stress it caused other people in my family, I wanted to be very careful with how I did this. I didn’t cut out any particular food or drink, I just made sure to record everything and not go over my limit each day. I’m vegetarian, and was raised eating healthy, home made food, so I didn’t feel the need to make any strict adjustments. Sometimes I went over my limit, sometimes I went under. I broke my one cardinal rule of never owning a set of bathroom scales, and lost the 13kg of Implanon weight in 5 months.
Losing that 13kg was all great and fabulous and everything, but I was still worried about the potential for developing osteoporosis. I also have a genetic essential tremor, which hadn’t been officially diagnosed at that time, despite having had it my entire life. I thought building strength might help it (to be honest, it hasn’t, but I have been diagnosed and am medicated now). We moved house and I had more free time since finishing my degree, so I found the closest gym and joined it. I was pretty happy that it was also the least expensive one I could find, as evidenced by THE FACT THAT THEY CLEARLY STATE THEIR FEES ON THEIR WEBSITE! A modern day miracle! The gym is pretty small and unimposing. There are no regular classes that clog up the works. It’s open 24 hours, 7 days. They make you do an orientation where you’re shown every piece of equipment and how it works. I took them up on their personal training joining offer, and upon discovering what I suspected — that my legs and core were in excellent shape but my arms and upper body were as useless as two cats on a pony — the trainer helped me develop a weightlifting plan that focussed on building strength in those areas. The poor trainer only asked me if I wanted to ‘tone’ once, at which point I gave her a confused look and said something to the effect of “no, I want muscles!”
I’ve done a couple of bootcamp courses through the gym now. The first one was ‘ladies only’. I could only make it to one session a week, but I did my 15 minutes of exercise homework every day and ended up losing 2% body fat while retaining my muscle mass. All while eating a normal amount of food. Before that lot of training, I’d been trying not to snack between meals. Turns out my metabolism works far better when I have lots of small meals, so now I make sure to drip feed myself all day. I’m currently doing ‘Tough Training’, which a bunch of gym members are doing in anticipation of Tough Mudder: something I will never, ever do in a million years because it sounds horrific. And despite all my training, I still have the worst sense of balance in the world so would surely die if I did.*****
I ran the Run Melbourne 5km in 27 minutes a few months ago. I would have gone even faster, but got stuck behind thousands of extremely slow walkers. I can deadlift a 40kg barbell. I can plank for close to 4 minutes. There are visible muscles in my arms and back and I can help flip our king-size mattress without a care in the world. And my dress fits perfectly again. Happy New Year!
*Holy heck. I forgot how dark my hair used to be…
**Gyms that refuse to list fees on their websites need to die a horrible death.
****Go go gadget science!
*****I was officially diagnosed with vertigo as a child.