A few months ago, a student from Yale University, Frances Chan, blogged in the Huffington Post about her horrific experience with Yale–she was 5’ 2” and about 90 lbs, and they designated her an “eating disorder” case and began to force her to gain weight. The problem was, Chan didn’t have an eating disorder, her body was just the way it was, but their use of the broad (and widely considered inaccurate) BMI measurements labeled her an anorexic that needed saving.
When I read this news, I realized this was the tragedy that would happen should I ever become dictator of the world (or at least master of all media content). I grew up idolizing Sarah Connor from the Terminator movies, and my idea of feminine beauty is this, one of my fighter athlete idols Cris Cyborg:
My view of feminine beauty of course is not something everyone can live up to, not even me. Cyborg is probably two or more weight classes above what I would probably be with a fight-ready body, and I don’t have her long arm reach, good for ground-and-pound from any angle. But a girl can try to live out her dream, can’t she?
Last summer in 2013, I weighed about 160 lbs, as I noted in my post about The Physical Difference Between Asians and Asian Americans. At my heaviest, I was 168 lbs, and I had a clean bill of health from my doctor. But my aching knees from excess body weight, a fear of expensive future health care bills, and an ardent admiration of fighter athlete women inspired me to dive into a frenzy of exercize and nutrition experimentation.
Now, about a year later, I just weighed in at 137 lbs. Originally, I had used my high school weight as a goal–I was 140 lbs my senior year at the pique of my physical fitness. I thought, if I was 140 as a captain of the swim team, then that must be my “healthy weight”.
Then, as I studied all the stats of female MMA fighters, I realized, girls my height or taller were weighing less than my 140 lb goal, most fighting at bantamweight (135 lbs), flyweight (125 lbs), strawweight (115 lbs), and atomweight (105 lbs). That made me re-evaluate my goal.
In high school, I was exercising a lot, but I didn’t really watch my nutrition, so I was probably fit yet fat with all the bad fast food school lunches and oily/salty Taiwanese food at home. It’s like skinny fat, but fit fat instead. I wouldn’t be surprised if my body fat then was over 33%, which is considered obese for most women.
Of course, I do believe I have pretty dense bones relative to other girls my size, and unlike Frances Chan, whom I am only about half an inch taller than, I’ve never had the hyper metabolism that her body probably has to stay at 90 lbs at this height. At the beginning of high school, at 13 years old, I was 100 lbs, but I was 110 lbs after a year of swimming, and steadily gained 10 lbs each year until hitting 140 lbs senior year.
Going back to my 13 year old weight of 100 lbs doesn’t sound at all like a good idea to me, since I’m a grown 36 year old woman now, not a gangly pre-teen. Going down to Frances Chan’s 90 lbs just seems like suicide. I think I was last that weight in 5th grade.
So I’ve taken as my body model another one of my athlete fighter idols, The Karate Hottie Michelle Waterson. She is my height, and she does not normally have a stick-thin figure. Waterson usually walks around at about 120 to 125 lbs, and she drops to 105 to fight at atomweight. Using her as a model, I’ve made my new “healthy weight” goal at 125 lbs, and plan to drop to 115 and stabilize up to 125.
Recently, Waterson has been beefing up, and in her muscle up mode, she is at 128 lbs with 10% body fat. Women normally hover around 20-30% body fat, and it’s extremely hard for women to go below 15%, so I’m amazed she got to 10%!
Currently at 137 lbs and about 27% body fat, I’ve got quite a ways to go before I even come close to Waterson’s amazing shape. And so my nutrition/fitness experiment continues as I try to reach that magic Karate Hottie equilibrium.
One of my greatest fears in my weight cuts is the loss of muscle. My new vocab word of the year is “catabolic”, when muscles break down from work out and need to be replenished with nutrients and energy in order to avoid muscle loss. I try my best to counteract this by bracketing my workouts with eating (feeding myself 2 hrs before workout and within 1 hr after) as well as making sure I have a steady flow of protein in my diet at all times (protein bars, protein drinks, chicken breasts, egg whites).
Of course, my body has visibly changed as a result of all this, and something I never imagined would happen has occurred–Asian aunties are telling me to stop losing weight. They’re telling me that if I lose more weight, I won’t look pretty any more, and that too skinny would make me too gaunt looking. To be realistic, these are all American Asian aunties who have had their views of beauty altered by American standards to at least some small degree. In Taiwan, I am no where CLOSE to the definition of “skinny” there . I don’t think I’m close to it now in America either, and thank goodness, too, because my goal is not “skinny”, my goal is “strong”.
For a moment, though, when the Asian aunties (many of them and at different times and places) started saying “Stop losing weight! Too skinny is not good!”, it made me wonder, “Woah, woah, if the Asian aunties are telling me to stop losing weight, am I possibly going a little over into the realm of anorexia?”
Honestly, though, I really don’t think so. If I was at 10% body fat with a muscular body, I may feel that I was going overboard trying to lose more weight. But at 27% body fat, I really think I’ve got a good chunk of unhealthy weight to shed still, and by targeting my fat and preserving my muscle, I believe I’m really aiming for a stronger and healthier me, not an emaciated one.
I recently told my own mother my new weight, and her jaw dropped. I expected her to say what the other Asian aunties were saying, that I had to stop losing weight or else risk looking “ugly”, but that wasn’t what came out of her mouth.
Instead, she said,
“But you still look so strong!”
For now, I’ll take that as a good sign that I’m not anorexic.