What It Means to Be Thin

I have always been a fairly capable athlete, but my weight has bounced around a little over the years, particularly as my allergies and asthma have worsened. A few years ago, I had my treatment regimen reorganized, and while it took some time for everything to work smoothly, it was particularly nice to be able to step up my physical activity again.

In 2011, as winter approached, I decided I’d like to have a home option for a good workout on days I didn’t feel like riding my bike, and I got a rowing machine. That’s when I realized how much difference the better medical management made. Within 6 months, my body fat percentage, already well within the healthy range, dropped by 25%. I looked different. Lean.

Anyone who has lost a lot of weight has encountered this: people remark on it, and it’s usually positive, if clumsy, but all kinds of loaded terms come out. Skinny. Thin. Sometimes people we are close to have a negative response when we make a big change in exercise pattern or appearance, and the comments are frankly unkind. They may make fun of choosing fruit instead of a cookie, or warn against losing any more weight.

When my body fat percentage dropped, I only lost a few pounds. I replaced about 70% of the fat weight with lean body mass, tested before and after by BOD POD. (I had suspected my body would change, and I was interested to see how.) But I still got remarks like “too thin,” and expressions of concern. People with a chronic illness can become very lean, after all, even if there are no body-image issues at play, and I had been having health problems. Assuming that those remarks came from a place of caring, I tried to explain that my athletic performance was increasing in pretty much every way, but the only people who really engage with that line of reasoning are already doing the same things and, if anything, bring it up more likely to see if they can adopt your approach.

Over the winter holiday week, my mother and I were talking about some frustrations I’d experienced, and how I was feeling better overall. She made a lot of “thin” remarks last year, and it was a little frustrating, especially because I felt it was clear that my performance was improving. And she said, “I just remember you saying years ago that you felt that being thin equaled being depressed.”

She’s absolutely right, and I’m surprised I didn’t think of it. I am deeply sorry she had even a moment’s concern over why my body was changing so much, especially now that I have also realized that being heavier was part of the same problem. What matters to me now is keeping it all in balance: activity, food, sleep, well-being. Plus giving a little more thought to what people are trying to say when they comment on the surface.

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