• Lijing Cobb

Wait, weight!

This morning, before I religiously stepped on my scale to check my morning weight, I knew almost exactly the number that would turn up. When it unsurprisingly showed up, I took the number in (so I can put it down on my journal), 119.1. As I walked away from the scale I told myself that it's ok, and I love myself as I am, and I did not regret the food choices I made yesterday (that yummy cheesecake my husband brought home, that heavenly chocolate a friend gave me for Christmas, all the salty mixes and perhaps a cookie or two I ate while playing cards with my relatives last night). Despite all these trained, "positive", self-talk, I knew that I would take back my "ideal" number in a heartbeat, as if it had more of a right to exist in my life, as if it had more weight (wait!) in my whole world of significance and meaning.

115, how I long for you. It's been 18 months since we were steady friends. When Covid rudely interrupted my weekly routine of teaching dozens of physically exhausting classes, you left without saying goodbye. I still don't know if that was a temporary farewell or a forever adieu, but I miss you terribly. I mourn for your loss constantly. I have staged bouts of diet and exercise frenzy to chase after your ghost, but you only materialized on my scale momentarily, like a phantom, once or twice, and then you were gone again, disappeared like you never existed, like we were never inseparable all those years (gosh, how long? Was it 20? 23?). Is it true that you don't care for me anymore? Are we no longer friends?

I am the outcome of a union of two opposite physical genes. My father (and all his 6 siblings) was rail thin. I don't think fat ever existed on his body. My mother (and all her 5 siblings) was plump (that's a nice word. When I was 6 or 7, I was shocked to hear that a pig weighed more than my mom. True story. Still embarrassed to admit that I was that foolish at that age to have blurted out that statement in front of all my relatives and causing my mom great consternation.). Theoretically, I could go either way. For 6 or 7 years in my childhood, I had a tall, handsome, and thin neighbor dad calling me "the little plump one." I could eat 2 huge bowls of white rice mixed with sugar at age 5 (it was the biggest bowl in our cupboard but I wished it was bigger). I would have eaten 3 if there was any left. In middle school, a boy I liked nicknamed me "big butt," but I didn't know how to get rid of that shameful behind. As a freshman in college I helped myself to delicious canteen food liberally and curled my hair (that had nothing to do with my weight but I remember it happening at the same time so it was significant), and soon I was forced to abandon my recklessness because I could not squeeze into any of my limited supply of clothing and had no money to buy new ones.

From sophomore year in college on, I was never "plump" again. I ran 3 miles every other day until my left knee swelled up one day and every time afterwards when I attempted 3 miles. When my running career was over I picked up other exercise habits like volleyball (that's how I met my husband: thank you bad knee!), the elliptical, and at home exercise videos (Cathe Fredrick, anyone?). In that period of my life my husband called me "the food Nazi," because I would sternly call his attention to the fattening effects of everything he enjoyed eating. During my second pregnancy 9 years ago I discovered group fitness, and got trained in literally dozens of different programs over the years, as my appetite for more was just insatiable (and of course, I could literally eat ANYTHING and stay friends with 115.). After I delivered my third and final baby 7 years ago, I went to a training called "BodyAttack" just two weeks after delivery, and I was already back to my pre-pregnancy weight at training (so proud. Who else could have done it?).

My husband said that I was too skinny. I had no fat on me (like my dad) and I had lots of definition. Maybe he was jealous except he wasn't. So I didn't listen to him and tried instead to introduce him to the word "lean." I loved 115. I still do. I love 115 and lean.

My dad had terrible back pain for as long as I could remember. He used to brag that he could lift the most weight out of all the young men at his factory. I'm not sure if that was a regular "weight-training" regimen, or if he actively limited what he ate, or if he had no fat because he smoked like a fiend, but I have vivid memories of him circling his hips around first thing he got out of bed, trying to get some circulation into his low back. That must have started when I was still in middle school, when he was just around 40 years old.

Ah. Light bulb.

About 9 years ago, having never weight trained in my entire life, I was introduced to this weight lifting program called "BodyPump." I got trained to teach this program immediately. I put heavier and heavier weights on my bar, even though the program advertised itself as "light weights, more repetitions." I had to be the person who could squat the most weight, deadlift or clean and press the bar, in those 5-6 minute tracks, in the entire class. Well, I was the instructor, wasn't I? Shouldn't I model with the most I could do? Shouldn't I push my body further, beyond its limits, in the name of expanding my limits?

I was lean and mean, sculpted and admired for what I could do. My participants said I was nuts with adoration. I bathed in the glory and hid my pain in it. The excruciating low back pain on my left side, every time I put that bar on my back and squat down with it, every time I did a deadlift or clean and press. About 6 or 7 years ago, right around my dad's back pain age, I had developed a huge bulge in my left low back, a gigantic knot of tissues and blood in a confused yet determined effort to fortify my slim trunk so that I didn't break in half while maneuvering those heavy weights in all my blind glory. When I got out of bed in the morning, I didn't even have the capacity to do my dad's hip circles. I moved about gingerly, took deep breaths, frowned prodigiously, and longed for the moment when the stiffness and pain went away when I taught my classes. Yes, movement was my savior, but I didn't yet know that some of that movement was slowly but surely destroying my body.

Habits and pride pushed me along the path of destruction, but instincts (thank you my friend) taught me to seek rescue, fight the destruction and stop the carnage. I found Yoga, I found Pilates, I found rest. My bulge was slowly but surely making its retreat. I kept my business however, dancing blithely with my 115. My low back pain eased, lessened, but it certainly didn't say goodbye. In fact, as long as 115 stood by me, back pain stood firm as well, like an unwelcome shadow, rejected but inevitable.

Ah, Covid! Since you rudely interjected your presence into my otherwise routine life (get kids to school, go to my studio to work the whole day, getting back home at 7 or 8pm, eat, sleep, repeat) in March of 2020, my life has been turned around, upside down, inside out. And most persistently, regretfully, shamefacedly, you show up on my scale, departing farther away from my dear friend 115, and seem to have settled comfortably between 118-119. Is this my new friend now? Somewhere between 2 numbers, not even sure which one is better? 115, should you still be in my life?

A life that has a beloved morning routine of journaling and self-care. Seeing kids off and then seeing clients when kids are in school. Some alone time in the afternoon to do whatever I wanted. Taking kids to their various activities in the evening (something I could not and did not do when I had my studio and 115). Exploring new activities like tending to plants, skating, rock climbing. Reading (when I was with 115 pre-covid, I didn't have time for books for about 7 years. My kids might have thought I was book illiterate. Seriously, me, with a doctorate in literature? 115, what did you do to me?). Having weekends to relax and take my kids to do things by myself when my husband is stuck at work.

Wait, weight. You and your significance. I get it now.

115 was a number, a growing pain, a history. It was near and dear to my heart for a long time. It defined me in a lot of ways. I got comfortable with it. I was in a marriage with 115 and it had its bitter and sweet moments. I was lost when it suddenly left me. I kept thinking that it would come back. I didn't do anything to you. I didn't hurt you. Surely you would be back.

But... if your return means the return of your shadowy friend who is inevitable, I don't want you back. If your return means I have to give up my new friends (self-care, recreation with my family, reading, caring for my plants, my blog!), you should definitely stay away.

In other words, I'm saying this to you, my dear lost friend 115: Should you decide to return, please come back in kindness and love. I'm done doing violence to my own body. I'm feeling my way about 118-119, getting to know this new friend a bit more every day. Perhaps one day we shall settle into eternal bliss together. Part of me will miss you and the times we had together, but not the suffering you put me through.

Am I brave enough to say today, I love myself as I am?

September 2019: Les Mills BodyPump launch. Look at me. My back was hurting in that moment, but you couldn't tell, right?

August 2021: Relaxing at the beach with a book! I would have been practicing my choreography instead had I stayed with 115.

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