06 July 2012

If Only Moral Superiority Were an Olympic Sport

As always I am chugging along trying to find some fun things to do for fitness while desperately seeking a method to maintain my weight without feeling like a crazy person.  While the fitness thing is pretty good, the whole "diet" thing is misery through and though.  I have discussed that carbs and I must end our long standing co-dependence, but it is so hard.  Sure my weight stabilizes, or even drops, when I cut out the grain carbs.  I feel great while not eating them...until I try to run.  Then it hits me that I have no fuel for that kind of work.  I can do Insanity, endless squats and lunges, ride my bike for miles, even do a full workout of weights and feel fine.  I head out for a run and a single minute in I am sucking wind, seeing stars and contemplating the relative merits of chucking it in my neighbors bushes.  So yeah, the realization that the diet that helps me look the way I want to doesn't let me train the way I want to has pretty much ruined my love for running.  The universe sure has an effed up sense of humor.

The real problem I am up against though is not the weight or the exercise itself, but that the deeper I get into any fitness/diet regime, the more I am appalled by the sense of moral righteousness that seems to accompany certain fitness/diet choices.  This is part of why I am falling out of love with running.  In addition to getting slower, it being harder and me getting fatter (the clear goal of any training program) there is an entire world of people in the community prepared to tell me I am a bad person for it.  While they may not be the majority, there seems to a be a decent percentage of the running population who feels that you don't count as "a real runner" unless you are logging 50 miles a week, running sub-three hour marathons and wearing the approved "real gear."  There is so much fat hate and derision of "joggers" that is really makes you want to just quit.  Why do this if your personal best, or even just your desired goal of a few hours of cardio a week, is never going to be good enough? 

Now running is not alone in this.  Five minutes into my bike research I felt like an incompetent, out of shape moron.  Apparently if I don't own a four figure racing bike with custom everything I might as well not bother.  All of us fat-ass pleasure riders who think tooling around for fitness might be fun are lost causes. 

The list goes on and on.  Don't Crossfit? Then why are your even trying to get fit, all other exercises are BS.  Don't you know that Paleo is the one true path?  How can you eat meat, only Vegans are right with the ethics of the universe? 

Time and time again I see this attitude.  People in flame wars over the right way to count the Weight Watchers points in a cookie.  Women jumping all over another woman for choosing veganism when we all *know* that paleo is the only acceptable choice.  All other diets are poison and you are hurting your kids. (Actual undertones from a group purported to be a safe area for moms to discuss health and fitness.)  Comments sections tearing into a woman because she complained that a race course shut down an hour earlier than listed leaving her to finish her marathon alone in traffic.  "If you can't do it in under four hours why even show up?"  It can really feel like you need to get fit and lose 100 pounds before you are deemed worthy of going to a gym and being seen in public, let alone be permitted to work out in peace without judgement.

My question is simple:  Why are our health/fitness/diet choices viewed as imparting some kind of moral imperative?

The answer is also pretty simple:  Culturally, especially for women, looking a certain way is associated with being a better person.

If you are thin, it is assumed that you must make good choices.  If you are somehow not the male-normalized ideal, it is because you lack self-control and dedication.  If you do not look perfect you must be an imperfect person.  Basically if you are overweight, not running marathons and not undertaking potentially dangerous and extreme measures to maintain the weight we have randomly assigned you, then you are less worthy as a human being.  (It is worth pointing out this great post as a counter-point and to illustrate that as a woman, you can never win on this one: The Skinny on Being Skinny.)

Thankfully I can see this with some perspective.  I know better, and 99 days out of 100 I can just say "what a douche" and move on.  I know that no two bodies are the same and that no one workout or diet is perfect for all.  I can also say that many, if not most, people are really supportive of  new blood joining their chosen sport.  Lots of people who have has their own success with fitness or weight loss are excited for others who wish to do the same.  However, if you are feeling down and are looking for some inspiration to make a change, all this superiority might be just what it takes to turn you right off running/biking/vegetarianism. 

So what to do?  For me, it is keep on keeping on.  Recognize that in exchange for looking and feeling the way I want to I may have to sacrifice progress in my running.  I may *gasp* just have to be a jogger since that is what works for my body right now.   Maybe I am a bad person because I don't feel guilty every day about my weight and my 12 minute miles, but maybe that shouldn't matter.  Slowly but surely I am getting to a point where it doesn't.   It is bloody hard worth though.  Self-acceptance is the hardest part of personal growth.


Christine said...

I love you for writing this post. You are so right about the superiority that exists out there. It can be so hard to look the other way and stay positive about your own fitness goals when you feel people are putting their own labels and judgments on it. Thin doesn't equal happy and capable by any means, but somehow we live in a society where people tend to think that without even realizing it. I took up running about 8 months ago and have a lot of running blogs in my Reader. I went through a definite rough patch before I decided to train for a marathon where I felt like "less than a runner" because I wasn't running 8 min miles. A few weeks later I read somewhere that I should focus on the energy and strength I'm exerting rather than how fast I'm going. Sure some skinny mini might pass me doing 7 min miles, but she might be "cruising" through her workout where I am exerting extra energy with my 10:30 min miles and really pushing myself. I've tried to focus on the growth I can see within myself and not worry about what label "Judgmental Judy" wants to put on me. You're so right that 99 out of 100 days it's easy to do that. Good luck to you in finding the right carb balance to help you have more energy for running.

Ginger said...

I hate the one-up-manship that comes with (not all but) many of the diet/fitness crazes. Honestly, it's a major turnoff for me, and tends to make me avoid *whatever* that is.

Which I know is dumb, because there can be validity in picking pieces of programs (and in reality I kind of do that), but it's so hard to get past the...sneer.

Alexis said...

@Ginger "Sneer" is the perfect word for it and I am getting really sick of it from everything. If you feel the need to make everyone aware that you are a better parent/dieter/runner/person because your way is the only true way...well, you might need to look at who has the problem. You know? Heaven forbid we just be grateful that more people are trying to improve their health.