Throwing Out the Scale vs. Being Defined by your Body Weight – Strict vs Intuitive Eating for Weightlifting

Throwing Out The Scale vs Being Defined By Weight Class - Weightlifting Woman

Boy, do I wish I could just throw out the scale one day and not care about what it says. Wouldn’t that be great?

More and more women are now starting to realize and adopt the idea that they should “throw out the scale” – Who cares about the number on the scale anymore? Look in the mirror: how do you look? How do you feel? What can you lift? Can you squat or deadlift over 200 lbs? Can you snatch over your body weight? Can you do a pull-up? Do you have the grip strength to hang off the side of a cliff for 20 minutes while someone comes to rescue you because you wanted to taste the wild strawberries?

Imagine a life where the amount of mass you were made of only mattered if you were on some cruise ship that was unevenly weighted, and you happened to be the perfect size to properly balance the boat so it wouldn’t sink if you moved to the other side. How stress relieving would that be…to not have to be judged or defined by some number anymore by anyone, including yourself? A true measurement of health and fitness is not about what you weigh after all, but rather about how you feel, how your body systems function, and what you are capable of.

WELL, what’s stopping me from living this dream? I can certainly toss away the scale if I WANTED to…it’s my choice after all whether I decide I want the number on the scale to define me or not. Well, as a competitive weightlifter, the choice has kind of already been made.

Weighing 115.4 lbs around year 2014 when I was constantly staying under 53kg as an amateur weightlifter

Amidst this motivational outlook on body composition and beauty…how do you fit in when you’re in a sport where you are defined by a weight class and need to stay in that weight class?  You can’t throw out the scale – but you need to live by it day-to-day (unless you’re 90+ at heart!)


weightlifting woman 53kg transformation

Various stages of me going from college body – to “triathlete” (2nd photo) – to crossfit/obstacle course racer, to weightlifter across the last 6 years. These are literally the only few “ab” photos I have of me sadly to show. Note that from the 2nd photo through the last photo, I’ve been literally the same pant/dress size! 

I’ve always  wanted to weigh 115 lbs.

Back in middle/high school, that’s the number I thought I needed to be attractive…or to look lean like those magazine models. I weighed about 135 then and struggled so hard to drop the weight but never made it until after college, when I started all sorts of running, triathlon, crossfit, and exercise as my side hobbies and to defeat the boredom from moving out to a new place on my own.

115 lbs. is still above the average recommended “Healthy” BMI for my height of 4’11” 3/4 (I like to round up to 5). Most women my height can be as low as 95 lbs. and as high as 123 and still be in the “healthy” BMI range.

Now I can happily say I’ve reached that weight, have even dropped below that weight, and now…choose to be a little heavier now (just around 120).

Funny thing is, in the last 5 years (since 2011) I have worn the same exact clothing size with up to a 12 lb difference. When I was 110 I wore 0’s and XS, and now as I am about 122 I still wear 0’s and XS. Wait, it gets better – my body fat % actually decreased!

Basically, I just packed on a ginormous amount of muscle!


Am I as attractive as I hoped I would be finally achieving my “goal weight”?

Of course, I feel that way! BUT I’ve also come to realize that this number I was trying to reach was also an ideal weight for me in weightlifting.

How did I decided that being a 53kg lifter was ideal for me?

1. Here’s a cool article from Bob Takano, complete with a chart, that lays out pretty much the ideal weight class you should be in based on your height. I found this chart a few years ago and since then have nestled myself in 53kg class since I was already in that range when I started weightlifting and thought I would fill it out nicely in a few years.

2. I also visually compare my body visually to that of other world-class record-breaking weightlifters in my class: Do I look chunkier? leaner? shorter? taller? If I Photoshopped my head on top of Li Ping or Zulfiya Chinshanlo (both world record holders in the 53kg class), would my body be indistinguishable from their’s?

3. I tried cutting to be a 48kg once and miserably never made it. I should also consider the last time I weighed 105 I was probably a pre-puberty tyke in 4rd grade.

 

So…does my body like staying at my “ideal weight-class?”

Oh the million dollar question…yes AND no.

Staying below 53kg was easy at first back when I was still in my “endurance” phase of my life: I was running countless miles per week, working out 1-2 times per day, 7-8 days in a row, and also experimenting with all sorts of Whole30, Paleo, Zone, Low Carb, and what-not diets that were refreshingly new and a fun challenge. I was in my mid-20’s, fresh out of college and full of figuring-out-adulting energy. I also felt that I was doing a great service to my body by shifting a focus to eating wholesome, nutrient-dense foods compared to the loads of pizza, pasta, bagels and buffets of pre-graduate life – and my body certainly responded positively and kept the weight off!

But after completing an Ironman Triathlon and checked that off the bucket list, I ditched the long-distance training. I switched to primarily strength-focused sports like Weightlifting and CrossFit (which has some endurance components, but let’s be honest it’s a lot of hypertrophy training). I started noticing my weight would gradually want to creep upwards, and my appetite start to increase more and more. Pretty soon, maintaining under 115lbs was a chore and I found myself hovering just below 120 on most given days. I had to be eating super strict to stay below 53 (like if I even looked at a chocolate bar I would gain a pound).

Super strict meant: no gluten/bread/pasta, no cheese, no extra chocolate in the evenings, limited nut intake, no drinks, and hardly ever eating out. Sounds fun, right? (sarcastically).

If you read between the lines, super strict actually meant: no social life, no fun experimenting with food, no “taco tuesdays”, constantly obsessing about food, feeling guilty at parties & social events, feeling limited on menus when eating out, constantly making lists of “all the foods I want to eat after weigh-ins” while browsing food photos on Pinterest.


Now, making weight for every lifting meet is like a game.

How heavy can I be, and how much food can I manage to eat whilst still being able to cut to weigh 52.99 without loss of performance or being hangry for 3-4 weeks in a row?

I have this theory though, but I’m too afraid to try it until after Nationals.

…Are you ready for my “theory”?

I’m pretty sure that the stress of having to maintain a certain weight is actually what’s making it hard to maintain that weight. 

STRESSING ABOUT WEIGHT = POUNDS STAY ON!!! (or KG for you weightlifters)

If I just followed my intuition, didn’t give a crap about what I weighed in at any lifting meet on any day, and ate whatever I wanted when I felt like it, and never looked at the scale…You  know what, I might just weigh under 53 most of the time.

But, because I constantly stress out about what I have to eat, when I have to eat, and what I CAN eat, the stress makes me hold onto weight, because my body never really knows when to relax or when it’s gonna get what it really wants and craves. If I just intuitively ate without sticking to a schedule, counting out all the macros, calories, meal timing, and what not, my body would just intuitively know what it craves, when it’s hungry, when to stop eating. There would be NO FUSS about food at all.

Unfortunately, I’m too afraid to try “intuitive eating” – Cause I’m too number-driven & sciency – I can’t trust doing things “by feel” and by intuition when I’ve relied on numbers for sooooo long! Nationals (in under 2 months) is too close to try new things. They say “never try new things” when you’re so close to a competition.


So, how do you deal with wanting to eat ALL the things, but knowing that you have a substantially competitive advantage being in a certain weight class?

Well, you have two choices:

  1. You DON’T CARE. You make peace with the fact that your health and body’s needs for nourishment at that time is more important than your competition, and you thus choose to just toss out the scale and lift at whatever class you happen to fall in. If you’re 1kg away within a few days of a competition, maybe you make the little effort to cut back on fluids and get down to the lower class, but otherwise, YOU DON’T CARE. You accept that as you get older, your body doesn’t recover as fast, likes to receive more calories (especially if you’re gonna be a mom someday), and may not even keep up strength relative to your early-20s counterparts getting into the weightlifting game. You lift, and you compete, and whether your total will get you 20th place in a higher class, or 5th place in a lighter class, it DON’T matter to you because you care more about the numbers you lifted rather than the prize you got.
  2. You COMMIT. You compromise and sacrifice because competing to you is more important than your health at this moment in your life. BUT, there’s a trade-off that’s gotta happen some point in time when you realize that it’s going to be tough and difficult to maintain this lifestyle for the long term, and in a continuous manner. If you choose to commit, you have decided that it brings you more joy to finish with a higher place compared to your competition, or that the sacrifice is potentially worth breaking a record or getting a spot on the podium someday.

In the end, your decision to choose what weight-class you’re in should be based on what will make you the most satisfied and happiest in the end.

Are you doing this because you get the MOST joy and happiness from the numbers you can lift at a certain body weight? Or because you feel that there’s a chance…even the slightest chance…that you’ll break a record or get a spot on the podium at a pretty big competition coming up? [Hmm…sounds like the stage of my life where I’m at right now?]

Does happiness really come with having floods of admiration and thousands of instagram/facebook likes because of your ripped 6-pack abs photo, or because your lift at a national competition made it to a HookGrip posting because you were able to cut to that weight class?

OR, might you find the most joy and happiness just because you love weightlifting for what it is – you lift what you want, you don’t care about your “weight class,” you get to eat all the things you want, AND everyone is still envious of your thighs to die for. I don’t know about you, but I find the most happiness through sharing the joy of weightlifting with friends who also love weightlifting, and having friends I can joke around with about missed lifts, breaking through PR plateaus, and eating tacos with post-workout.

 

Stay tuned for another upcoming article about more woman issues – next week (or three weeks at this rate of my rather busy life!) I’ll tackle the issue of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea in female weightlifters…