My Big Fat DEXA Scan

After a bit of a delay, I managed to get into my local university´s nutrition center for a DEXA scan.  I had been burning quite a bit of mental energy around determining what my intentions were with said scan.

Things that are true:

I wanted to find out how much lean muscle mass I had and to work in the future to either preserve said mass or increase it:

I expected that I would have at least decent bone density and wanted to find out if that was true so that, as a perimenopausal woman, I could make sure that I was taking necessary interventions if I needed to.

Things that are bullshit:

Whatever my body fat percentage was, I was going to be ok with that.

I was absolutely not going to use that body fat percentage and the lean mass numbers as a jumping off point to try to change my body composition to lower the body fat and crank up the lean mass.

I was also not going to spend an obsessive amount of time calculating how many pounds I would have to lose to lower my body fat percentage 1%.  (Ahem, it´s about 4.5)

 

Things I expected:

I honestly thought that my lean body mass was going to be around 135-145lbs (out of my current weight of 270), giving me a body fat percentage of around 50%.  This was based on my lowest athletic weight of about 145 lbs (in high school) and estimated body fat percentage at that time (around 15%).  It was also based on me looking at pictures on the internet of women of different body fat percentages and determining the 50% body looked the most like mine.

I expected my bone density to be at least average.  I eat well, I have good vitamin D levels, I powerlift, I ran a marathon, I´ve been carrying a lot of weight on my frame for quite a bit.

I also expected the folks at the nutrition office to have a thin veil over their fat phobia and to gingerly dance around reporting my BMI of 40 and my body fat percentage.  I frankly expected to have to do a lot of work around convincing them that I´m mostly ok with where I am and that there are things to celebrate about my body and, in fact, I do balance my unhealthy lifestyle (staying up all night, stressing about life and death situations at work, too much coffee) with healthy things (low-sugar, high protein diet, lots of lifting and martial arts and rowing and walking and swimming).

The results:

Overall, I am super-glad I did this.  My tech was a dietician who was actually really, genuinely body positive and talking to her was a joy.  I was shocked to find out that my LBM is actually almost 160lbs.  And my feelings about that are very positive.  (I am weirdly ok with objective validation of the fact that I am fucking huge.) I feel athletic and strong.  I feel like all of my physical training is paying off.  I feel inspired to continue trying to maintain that LBM, even if I do try to lower my body fat.  41% body fat feels like a smaller number than I would have expected. I feel a feeling of balance around trying to reduce that body fat percentage and am pretty darn comfortable with just sitting with my feelings around trying to improve aesthetics, athletic performance, health, aches and pains, flexibility and range of motion.  It feels safe to look into making changes for any of these reasons without being self-hating or obsessive.  I feel more calm than I thought I would.

My bones are made of fucking concrete.  Or concrete and steel.  My bone density is off the chart for a perimenopausal woman.  It feels awesome to know that for the immediate future I can check off one of the worries about aging and focus more on my new liver spots and the fact that I can´t remember where I put my glasses.  (My T-score was 4.3 for all of you stat nerds).

I´m in a pretty big muscle-building phase with my training and plan to go back in 3-4 months and see if there are any changes.  For SCIENCE.

The two docs below are my scan documents.  The crappy scanning has removed some of the details from the charts and graphs, but you get the picture.

Doc Sep 19, 2017, 11:12

Doc Sep 19, 2017, 11:13

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Back to Work: Where a Swim and a Sauna Becomes 150 Kettlebell Swings and Carb-Loading.

This post is going to be a little all over the place, just like me right now.

Part of my sanity-preservation as a solo-practice midwife in a high-service practice (read — I´m on call 24/7 and my phone rings and pings all day every day) is to take about 6-8 weeks off of call every summer so that I can rest, take a vacation or two, recharge, finally clean out all of my closets, and get my attitude on straight again.   For those of you not in small business this is otherwise known as two months unpaid leave. The last baby I delivered in my practice was on June 27.  Just got a call that let me know I will be back in the baby business later today because one of my clients is in early labor. Back to work.

I´ve switched my powerlifting training up a bit.  Right now, finances and time dictate that if I´m going to powerlift it´s going to be with either a self-designed program or with some kind of out-of the box online program.  I had started with Starting Strength, and had beautiful, glorious, newbie gains with it but they have slowed down a bit now that I´m about six months in .  That´s to be expected — I started this process with an ok fitness base and I had lifted before in high school, so my form wasn´t too far off.  

What I need now in order to make progress, I think, is some hypertrophy training, so my next out-of-the-box training program is going to be Juggernaut.  I really like the idea of working with a little bit more volume (when I add in some assistance exercises) and it feels better to work with a sub-maximal load and be making lots of lifts until I can´t work any more instead of trying to hit a new max every session and failing on my first or second or third rep.  Also, things that do need technical help, like my squats, get lots of reps in this phase to practice with under reasonable loads (exhibit A, my Tuesday workout with 50 squats at 85lbs.)

So, Juggernaut has one main lift a day for four days a week and then has assistance exercises worked in. For right now I´m being really flexible with those as my body feels heavily fatigued or tweaked by new loads.  Tuesday´s workout was just the squats.  Thursday I thought I´d bench press and then do some lower-body assistance stuff like leg presses and turkish get-ups.  

One other thing that this means is that my workouts are on a different schedule than the rest of the family, so I´m moving them to the mornings and then tagging along with them and doing easy stuff while they are at the gym.  13 loves to swim and has been pretty consistent about it, so I´ve been hopping in the pool while he´s there.

It feels good to swim again.  You can dig through the archives for a post about my complicated feelings about swimming, but a few more trips to the pool and I am almost exclusively positive about it right now.  

When I was a teenager and swimming 3-5 hours a day I had killer hip mobility which translated very nicely to ballet class and impressing people in yoga.  One of the things that I hope will come back with more frequent swim workouts is mobility in my right hip.  It has been limiting my martial arts progress for a bit and I´m hoping that a few hundred thousand yards of breaststroke will work the rust out.

Circling back to our headline, though — the one bad thing about swimming is that I haven´t worked out a low-tech, low-cost way to be connected to my phone.  So now that I´ve got a baby lined up on the runway,  I can´t go to the pool.  Even sadder, I can´t go to the sauna.  

I´ve developed a small addiction to the sauna, which is ironic, because in real life I absolutely hate being hot.  But the sauna is like a big, fat reset button for my brain chemistry (this is backed by research) and also seems to help me recover from my workouts better.  Plus my skin loves it and, well, vanity.

So, I´m chasing my workout and baking endorphins by doing some kettlebell swings today.  I´m completely overjoyed to report that swinging a 30-lb bell feels way too light now, so I´ve moved up to the 50.  Whoa.  I can’t quite manage it for 200 swings in a row yet, but I´m cranking out sets of 25 while unloading my dishwasher, touching up my toenail polish, eating rice and hot sauce, and whatever else I´m supposed to be doing when I´m going to work in an indeterminate amount of hours and have no idea when I will finish and come home.

For my personal reference and your curiosity, this is what I´m doing these days:

Monday — rest day

Tuesday — lift, martial arts class, easy swim or stretch, sauna

Wednesday — easy swim, sauna

Thursday — lift, easy swim or stretch, sauna

Friday — lift, sauna

Saturday — martial arts class

Sunday, martial arts class, lift

This feels good right now and even though it looks like a lot, I´m enjoying it.

One Plate, Two Plates, Three Plates, Black Belt.

I’ve got a lot of shit on my plate right now (hahahaha, I made a pun).  

I’ve got four babies to deliver in the next four weeks, I’m going to a conference in Toronto for a week with a few thousand other midwives (and pinkhairedchickenmama, yay), my kids have alltheendoftheschoolyearshit and I’m renovating my kitchen.  I’m basically shoehorning in building ikea cabinets and installing paneling and painting and rearranging stuff in boxes in between everything else I’m doing.

So, I’ve not been the best about getting into the gym, but I’m using my time wisely — to set goals.  I had superfastnewbiegains like a lot of beginning powerlifters and got real excited about what might be possible for my future.  But I’m trying to adjust my expectations and set up something a little bit more realistic.  I also don’t have a competition to go to before next year, so I won’t be able to gauge my progress by how I perform at a meet.  That’s ok, because it helps discourage me from trying to pile on too fast.

I have a love affair with the 45lb plates.  I like to give them a little squeeze every time I put one on a bar.  If I ever do competition, I think I’ll feel the same way about the reds, maybe even more so.  But for now, I’m in the land of the imperial at the YMCA and so I’ve set my goals by those plates.

 

I want to bench 135, or one plate.

I want to squat 225, or two plates.

and I want to deadlift 315, or three plates.

That just seems, well, so neat and tidy, doesn’t it?

Those goals are different levels of achievable.  Deadlifting 235 right now feels like I am using every last bit of energy and reserve and willpower to reach the top.  Benching 115 for three feels heavy but solid on the first and then mighty shaky by the third.  And squatting 150 feels like I could do a ton more, but I’m inching up slowly because I don’t have a great spotter available to me and dumping the weights on the safety bar would not only earn me the side-eye of all of the Y employees, it would be embarrassing, which is much worse.

I weigh 265 lbs.  So those aren’t huge goals for my body size, but I’m also an old lady.  You’ve got to climb your own hill.  Also, I’m coming to respect that some of my goals won’t be achievable for five years or more because that is how powerlifting works.  (WATCH OUT M2 LIFTERS 2022.  YOUR ASS IS GRASS).

So, maybe I can hit these goals by next spring?  Or at least some of them?

It’s really hard to judge what I should be able to do by looking at other people.  There just aren’t that many fat old lady powerlifters.  I’m occupying a weird space right now.  I think my training weights would break two of the three state records for women my age and size and yet, I’m nowhere near being competitive (or even qualifying) for nationals.  And the meets tend to have just four or five women total, not even in my age and weight class.  So, I start with my plate goals.  Then, maybe when I meet them, I can set the bar higher (hahaha, another pun), and go for 1, 2, 3 red plates.  That would be impressive.

One other little thing:  the black belt.  I’m going tomorrow to my dojo to watch the black belt testing — judo, jujutsu, and iaido.  My martial art is iaido, which is a kind of inner martial art that uses both wooden and metal swords to cultivate strength, balance, self-control, focus, and agility.  I’m an ikkyu, which is the last stage before shodan, or first black belt.  I’m setting my intention right here and now — I’m looking forward to the future and earning that shodan for myself.  It’s going to take a ton of work, but I have time this summer.  After the four babies, I have eight weeks of only quarter-time work. Eight weeks is not enough time to earn a shodan and not enough time for my plate-stacking, but it is enough time to set focus, set intention, and get a running start.  I commit to training in iaido 4-5 times a week and lifting 4 times a week.  I will sleep and eat well.  I will stretch and practice good self care.  I can do it.

Swimming — Slaying my Fat Unicorn

I did a swimming workout yesterday.  I think, overall, I swam about 1500 yards in somewhere around 40 minutes, in intervals, with a lot of chatting at the end of the pool and screwing around in between.  I love to swim in the ocean, in Great Lakes, and in pools messing around with my kids.  I have not one but two scuba diving trips scheduled with 13 this summer.  We’re diving shipwrecks in Tobermory and off the coast in Key West.  

But swimming for exercise has been something that overwhelms me.  I swam competitively in high school.  Very competitively.  I trained with people who became Olympians, I went to national competitions, I trained six days a week for up to five hours a day.  

And then one day, I just stopped.  I decided I wanted a normal teenage life.  I quit right after I turned 17 and didn’t do another pool workout, well, until yesterday, nearly 30 years later.

Last summer I tried.  I bought a summer-long membership to the masters swim club and then sat on it and didn’t go to a single practice.  I think that being in the group and facing how slow I would be, how weak I had become, was just too big of a demon to slay.  When I was thinking rationally, it seemed pretty logical to assume that I wouldn’t be the first person who had ever participated in a masters sport who had once been really good at something and then somehow gotten old and fat in the decades that followed.  

I think that one of the things that I was really self-conscious about was sharing a lane.  if you are swimming two or three or four people to a lane in a practice and you are a lot slower than everyone else, you get in their way.  It isn’t the same as running in a group and falling behind — you’re actively creating a traffic jam.  And somehow, some kind of body shame around being fat and out of shape was really getting in the way of me occupying my own space and claiming my right to not be fantastic at this on the first day.

Let’s call it the Fat Unicorn Syndrome.  Fat athletes are assumed to be slow and low-skill at their sports.  Lots of people are slow and low-skill at their sports.  Example A, approximately half of my softball team last summer, most of them young and skinny.  I didn’t have much self-worth invested in that — I signed up for the beer.  Fat Unicorns, though, break the rules, by achieving great physical feats despite their fatness. They run half-marathons, crush the Athena class in the triathlons, find their way onto the crew boats, do the multi-day bike trips, etc.  

I totally struggle with participating in a new venture unless I can be a Fat Unicorn.  Especially if I’m on a team or in a group practice where my incompetence affects others.  The truth is that unless we are going to spend the rest of our lives not trying new things, we are going to do things that we are bad at.  I spent the first two years of my martial arts career trying not to fall over, but now that I’m nearly five years in, I’m training for my black belt.  But I think that for some of us fat athletes, there is this extra internal mental pressure. “If I am not instantly excellent at this, people are going to assume it is because of my fatness, and they are also going to assume that I will never be good at it.”  And the heavy weight of people’s low expectations gets in your own head and sets up barriers that certainly seem real.

Stopping swimming for me is absolutely connected to my weight gain in my mind.  I ate like a swimmer when I was actively competing — probably 6000-7000 calories a day.  I was constantly hungry and ate a ton of crap.  So when I stopped, the weight just piled on.  It took me a good ten years to figure out what healthy eating looked like and that helped me stabilize — at about 240 lbs.  So, not doing swimming is tied closely in my mind with “letting myself go,” and with every bit of shame and regret I have about being heavy.  I’m working on those feelings.

But I swam yesterday.  And because I’ve been powerlifting, I had some new core strength and stability that I haven’t had recently.  My heart was pounding after just a few laps, but I didn’t feel that kind of deep exhaustion or weakness or instability that you feel when you try something new and your body isn’t quite ready for it.  It felt, well, just fine.  And I swam on my own time, in a lane with somebody about my speed, then later with 13, who is markedly slower than me.  But I like to think that I made space for him too, to figure out his own pace, his own distance, and his own skill.  We’ll keep going, at least until we hit the shipwrecks this summer.

Training Together, Staying Together Still

13 has discovered a love for assisted chin-ups.  As I was trying desperately to grip the bar during some heavy deadlifts yesterday, he was happily cranking through a set of one million chin ups and flying through the air.

I get it. The thing that I hate the most about chin-ups/pull-ups is the way that even one rep feels like I might separate all of the limbs from my body.  There is something really great about pulling up your body weight freely and easily, even if it is with a lot of help.

Speaking of deadlifts, I’m really struggling with the lack of deadlift space in my little gym.  I managed to work in a set of deadlifts in between a bunch of teen boys — I was working the same weight as they were, but the fact that I was performing them in front of them, with them hanging out and watching, meant that I was super self-conscious and rushed my setup and my grip.  The result was that the lifts were total garbage.  But closing time was creeping up and I just wanted to get them in.  I wish there wasn’t a constant crunch for space.  Or maybe that I felt a little more comfortable claiming the space that is there.