Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve received emails and seen sponsored ads on my social media feeds from a certain fitness studio chain with a color in their name that I used to belong to, both in Chicago and then in Cleveland, prompting me to re-join for their New Year’s weight loss competition.
In short, f*ck no.
The first thing that crossed my mind was “people are still doing this kind of thing?!” I’ve gotten so far away from a weight-loss-only mindset with regards to fitness and nutrition that I honestly forget that “dieting,” much less doing so while competing head-to-head with others is still a thing. And their members pay an extra fee for this! They ran these challenges when I was a member too, but it required more classes than I was willing to take (and pay for) each week, and something about competing to lose weight just felt weird to me (note that this is the same franchise whose coach yelled during my first class “EARN YOUR DINNER!” to be motivating). I get it, I’ve watched The Biggest Loser, it can be motivating. But it can also be extremely detrimental to certain types of people. Dangling a prize in front of people to lose weight sounds borderline dangerous, because it could lead to people over-exercising and under-eating. And guess what, if you lose a ton of weight that way, it’s likely to come back long after you’ve enjoyed that prize.
Personally, I’m generally competitive in a quiet, unsuspecting kind of way, in that I don’t necessarily need all the attention focused on me winning stuff like this, but I do need to know that I’m overachieving. And I’ve obsessed over my calorie intake to the point of mild anorexia in the past (shout-out to 2004 me who was “skinny” but actually gaunt from consuming 1,000 calories/day and never exercising!). Of course, there are people who can enter challenges like this and get something positive out of the experience, but for me, it just feels icky and like a slippery slope I don’t want to go anywhere near.
At my boot camp we’re halfway through a 6-week challenge called Raise the Bar where the goal is to compete against yourself to improve each week. During the first week we did one specific exercise each day (push-ups, jump ropes, planks, pull-ups, etc.) until we maxed out and set our PR for the challenge. Then we each wrote down, on our own private cards that no one looks at, how many reps we got for each exercise. Each week we’re repeating those exercises with the goal of raising the bar and beating last week’s number.
I love this for two reasons. First, you’re not competing against anyone but last week’s you. Whether you succeed or fail, no one knows but you. I don’t know if we just have a good group of women at my gym, but this seems to be universally motivating to everyone I’ve talked to, and it helps curb the urge to compare ourselves to others because we’re constantly told we’re all at different levels, and that’s OKAY. If anything, I see someone crushing a PR in a way that I haven’t been able to yet and think “I want to do that too.” And rather than competing against each other, we’re encouraged to treat each other as family – to build each other up, be encouraging and supportive, learn each other’s names and give a shout-out when you see someone pushing themselves, help if you see someone struggling, high five as you pass someone. With how cold and ugly so much of our world can feel at times, it’s pretty refreshing.
Second, I’ve always held on to the idea from one of my old trainers that you should aim to walk away from every workout with some kind of PR, meaning you should always be trying to do something just a little bit better than before. Lift a heavier weight, sprint a second faster, run an extra tenth of a mile, do one more squat jump, etc. Whatever it is, see if you can beat your old record. Rather than having a goal of dropping weight in whatever manner you can as fast as you can, we’re being encouraged to get better and stronger. Which of those sounds better? Having lost large amounts of weight and gained it right back several times in the past, I can tell you the mental benefits of measurable improvements are far better and more positive than “being skinny” ever will be.
Knowing that I was able to do 1 more (assisted) pull-up today than last Friday, especially when our pull-up bar freaked me the eff out until a few weeks ago, boosts my confidence hell of a lot more than a number on the scale. But when I saw other women tackling the pull-up bar I decided I wanted to be able to do it too (FOMO kicked in, obvs), so I used this challenge as an opportunity to push outside of my comfort zone and get out of my head.
And that number on the scale, by the way, has gone up 3 pounds since I joined my boot camp; it’s also the same number as my starting weight when I set out to lose 50 pounds with a trainer in 2011. I could honestly give two shits about what the scale tells me because other measurements are giving me better info. My body fat % has dropped significantly, my waist has shrunk, my workout pants are falling off me to the point that I had to size down (not fun on plyometric days btw), and I feel stronger now than I ever have.
It’s funny to think back to my mindsets about this stuff, in both 2004 and 2011. In 2004 I had absolutely no clue about any of this and was just doing Weight Watchers aggressively so I could be skinny. In 2011 I was starting to get that you need to eat well forever and exercise forever if you want results to actually stick. But in the end, my ultimate goal then was still to hit a certain, completely arbitrary number on the scale.
That number is now 50 pounds behind me. I may never get back there, but I don’t really care and it’s not a goal of mine. The younger me never thought my goals would be things like faster burpees, doing a jump rope double-under, 50 consecutive push-ups (I’m at 40!), or 100 jump squats in 2 minutes (current PR is 90), but here I am and it feels pretty good.