A former Facebook friend - he deleted me after a string of haikus - asked me the following:
"Shauntay, your workout videos are really challenging. I can't do some of these moves and I'm in the most pristine condition that I've ever been in my life. Why are you still fat but you're an endurance runner? THAT really makes no sense to me. Are you remaining fat to be relevant to other fat people? Your story is inspiring but you have to know that eventually your knees will give out. From following your page I know that you don't like this stance. Plenty of credible studies show that obesity is an epidemic to communities of color. I watch your content and I know your son is a diabetic. Surely with great effort on both of your parts, it can be reversed.
I'm from Staten Island, by way of the Bronx and if you need for me to create a meal plan that's under 2000 calories, I can do that for you. I work for __________ in _________, NY and it's a top of the line facility. Heard your last podcast on body positivity..... the very first thing you said is that body positivity is not promoting obesity. Okay fine..... but you are doing it.
This is not a jab but more of a concern for you and your family's health. I used to be fat too and I felt downright awful. My black wife was obese too so don't think I'm trying to be a racist. You have a responsibility to your platform to reeducate them on the proper ways of nutrition, fitness and their bodies. Being fat doesn't make you fit.....period. I'm not being a 'concern troll.'
My Yo-Yo Weight Journey
An abundance of people ask me why do I choose to engage with people who hold views like this--I think the conversation is necessary. Seeing one side of a story or refusing to hear someone out doesn't help me grow as a person. I'm not advocating for all of my readers to take on my approach but this might help you understand why I say, do and react differently to each inquiry. With this stated, I'm going to give you an understanding of how I became fat, reached my breaking point, loss weight and eventually gained some back as an endurance athlete. And after all of this is stated, I'll answer his question--and probably get the proverbial pink elephant out of the room: Why Am I Still a Fat Endurance Athlete?
Skinny Muscular Me to New Mom
In high school, I remember being teased for being the "skinny bitch," and not just skinny but a muscular stereotypical 'mannish' looking teenager; I didn't feel comfortable with my washboard abs and pronounced shoulders. I had the cross between a Bratz Doll size head with a Marvin the Martian defined jaw line--the relationship that I had with my body was downright awful. Teenage years made me feel like shit. I remember light 'jokes' from family members and friends who thought I didn't eat enough to 'fat girls' who thought I was snobbish because I was accused of being one of those prissy light skinned black girls that attracted all of the boys--in contrast, my boney ass was literally being tossed in the garbage from my male friends who saw me as 'the homey' with the solid hand to hand combat skills.
Despite loving my inner circle, I desperately wanted curves and to be dark skinned; colorism is a conversation of its own for another day. For at least eight years, I prayed to look like my then best friends--thick hips, bigger boobs and because my genetics didn't want to give my mother's chocolate complexion, I just prayed a bit harder to move from the double A cup and rectangular frame.
After high school, I was three years into my relationship - now husband - and the weight finally picked up--it only took for one of many miscarriages, stress from working in chaotic environments, working two jobs, going to college full time and alternating visiting my sick dad and sister in the hospital. I suppose if you wish for something hard enough, you'll get it.
I gained some necessary weight after my husband and I successfully got pregnant with my son. Honestly, I was naive about how hard it would be to go back to pre-pregnancy weight. After my husband's namesake was born, I went through a nasty stint of postpartum depression--still eating as if I was pregnant and blamed it on requirements for breast feeding. By this point, my relationship with food was purely emotional. Before I knew it, I was well over 230 pounds after finishing culinary school. My weight fluctuated a bit more once my health started failing from sciatica, disc degeneration, shitty Vitamin B levels, cancer scares and of course, being obese--I stopped counting after 265 pounds.
Weight Loss Journey to Fitness Journey
To spare you the long winded story about my running adventures, you can watch the video above or indulge in the latter articles in the Press section. Brief summary: After tipping the scales at 265 lbs. and I grew frustrated of counting, I lost 100 pounds in a year due to my self created fitness and nutrition regimen; at some moments, I would get guidance here and there. Ten pounds away from my goal weight, I realized my mind never caught up to the weight loss. And more than anything, I hated the way that I looked. A gym bro was born from this revelation--can I truly be fat AND fit? Absolutely--and I did a shit load of research to make sure I could do it without finding myself back at 265 pounds. My goal isn't to be in the higher 200s but my ideal shape rests somewhere around 185 - 200 lbs when doing the exorbitant amount of strength work that I do. Without it, I'd still be in the overweight section at 160 lbs--still too high according the infamous BMI.
On Accidentally Starving Myself While Trying to Lose Weight
Disclaimer: Just in case you don't read beyond this point, I am not telling people not to lose weight, to stay fat or stray away from eating under 2000 calories/day. I am only sharing MY story.
But there's a huge part of my story that I left out--I almost died from advice like Mr. Ex-Facebook Buddy up there. Eating less than 2000 calories a day sent me to ER MULTIPLE times.
In April 2015, while training for multiple events, I was on my way to work and collapsed while trying to clock in. Diagnosis: Severe dehydration and out of all things--Malnutrition. Wait, WTF? How?! I was 188 lbs, 5'3 and a half, running 4 - 5 days a week with an average mileage of 40 a week. Honestly, I laughed hard while having five bags of fluid pumped into my body and being evaluated by a mental health team.
"Ma'am, are you starving yourself?" -This was what a resident asked me as a team of six swarmed me while checking my vitals.
As a rude NYer, I told them in my most charming way to get out of my face. When being discharged, I learned that my chaotic regimen required 2600 to even 3000 calories on fitness days. I panicked because I had absolutely no idea how I was going to cram in so many calories.
Because fitness -particularly running- is my form of oxygen, I knew I had to find a way to make all of this work: I didn't desire to lose anything lower than 185 pounds with muscle but didn't desire to go back to the health issues that I had at 265 pounds. In turn, I spoke to nutritionists, sport therapists and picked brains of people who made it work. After all, losing your hearing, vision and sweating in 23 degree weather all before passing out in the middle of a restaurant wasn't the highlight of my life. In turn, I find myself answer this alleged concerned citizen's question above.
The Skinny On Being Fat As an Endurance Athlete
For clarification purposes, I do not nor have I ever had diabetes. As some who followed me so intensely, I wonder where he was under the impression that I have this diagnosis. In addition, this discussion on Type One diabetes is exceptionally redundant and tiresome--it is an autoimmune disease contrary to type two. My son's condition was not caused by an excessive indulgence in a sweet tooth nor my fat folds; his pancreas doesn't work. Thanks to assumptions like these, I even wrote a 2000 word article for the Huffington Post about 'What It's Really Like to Parent A Child With a Chronic Illness'. Before you make assumptions on how we can improve our conditions, ask for my medical chart while I ask for your credentials, license number and a sleuth of information to even take you serious.
Honestly, I didn't want to be hostile in response but after corresponding with this gentleman, I was overwhelmingly frustrated. For someone who wasn't heckling, he had no problem indicating how "funny" he thought the tagline on my website was to him: "I'm fit. I'm fat. I'm an athlete." Yeah...it tickled my soul too like reading his ridiculous amounts of dots in his ellipses or the notion that he had to prove to me he wasn't a racist by throwing his "black wife" into the discussion. For the record Sir: I have white relatives. See...we're even. If only he could feel my eyes roll into the Canadian Border, jump Trump's hairline and have drinks in Tijuana. Despite his approach, I genuinely do want to answer this question.
1. Most people who are training for endurance events like marathons tend to gain muscle mass, which means sometimes your scale don't mean shit.
Continue an activity for a certain amount of time and your endurance will build over time...hence endurance running. Better yet, if you DON'T change up your routine after a prolonged period or push yourself after a while, there's a chance that your highly proficient and intelligent body will translate this into conditioning and toning. Incorporating strength training into my routine is enough to make my 220+ frame appear smaller at times. Nevertheless, please don't stray away from these routines, as it aids with your metabolism and makes your body stronger when pounding the pavement to cycling for 50 miles. Instead focus on your body fat percentage versus this illusive body mass index--an altered scale that states according to x height, everyone should weigh within a certain range.
2. Your glucose levels are out of whack from the endurance training.
So what does that all mean? Well, glucose is sugar, right. To avoid burnouts or sending your body into starvation mode like my extreme case in 2015, you need just enough food in your body to let it know that it shouldn't be eating at your muscles. If your body doesn't have enough calories going in as its burning out, it holds your fat hostage and sacrifices your muscles. In hindsight, I realize how much I was complaining about plateauing from training as a newbie marathoner. Harsh lesson learned.
3. Overestimating how many calories that we need.
I'll share a little secret with y'all: When I'm looking to lose weight, I tend to do this off training season. Why? Because I'm not going as hard and I can figure out on average what my calories should look like all week long. Consistent workouts that's not bouncing around the place like right now means that I know how much of a deficit I'm aiming for weekly. A healthy amount of weight to lose is between 1 - 2 pounds a week which equates to 3500 - 7000 calories from your diet. And as much as I LOVE my FitBit and MyFitnessPal, these devices and apps are giving us rough estimates of what our diet intake/calorie burn truly is. Let it serve as a target range.
4. You're not eating a super clean diet.
Personally, I refuse to eat a super clean bodybuilder's diet for too long. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it but it's ridiculously strict. I will admit that it's probably ideal for an ultra runner like me who is doing triathlons, ultra marathons and powerlifting. I'm exceptionally disciplined in my fitness regimen but strive to be consistent in my eating habits.
My nutrition is around 40 to 50 percent protein, 25 to 30 percent carbs and 25 to 30 percent fat. Sometimes I don't eat enough carbs but I strive to aim for complex carbs. On the other hand, I'm not perfect. As a plus size woman with a few hormonal instabilities, when I indulge in something a bit for a few days, I'll hold onto it more than the average person. Like most human beings, I have shitty food intake days but this is not a habit. I avoid eating too many fatty foods, things that are ridiculously processed, frying products or overindulging in my favorite types of junk food. But guess what: I don't particularly care because it's not the end of the world and my blood work is in order. Hell, when I was 210 lbs, I was forming a six pack but sure, I'm not healthy at all. Please remember that abs aren't only made in the gym but heavily in the kitchen. No need for you to be concerned.
Matter of fact, this brings me to one of the main reasons why I'm still a fat runner...
5. I don't run to lose weight.
I love my body where it's presently at and despite having a larger gut than some, I'm really damn healthy. And dare I say the word 'fit.' Fuck yeah I will. From a PT test that I took, when I applied myself, I was able to knock out 2 miles in 18 minutes 34 seconds; it sucked like hell but I was able to do it. For someone who is roughly 220 lbs at a 5'3 muscular frame, I'm not trying to hear that I'm not "fit" from you. In this same day, I knocked out 122 pushups in correct form, 200 squats and 50 terribly feeling unmodified burpees--I invite any naysayer to come join me at the gym for a day. Crazily enough, after I had lunch, I went for a 30 mile leisure ride. But it's okay...I'm not fit because I don't weight ___ pounds, right? But who am I to tell this to the man who says he's in pristine condition and cannot do some of my workouts. Flattery will get you a juice box with me but not far--you tried though.
As previously mentioned, I don't desire to go below 185 pounds at this present time. According to the BMI, I was STILL dangerously close to being morbidly obese but I look at this picture...do I still look plus size? I guarantee you that I was dancing on a size 10 - 12, closer to a 12. At that time I was not lifting weights. I'm presently 220 or so pounds and I am now a perfect 12 in most companies and sometimes a 14.
6. Just in case I missed a few things, here's some other factors to consider.
How Douche Baggy Did You Get With Your Haikus?
...this much. In my defense, I asked my followers if I should embrace the petty and they told me to let the force be strong for the day. Every haiku is a response to areas of his conversation. Please bare in mind that the entire email and my responses were not listed above.
So Why Are You Still Fat Again?
I just am. Seriously.
But since people like him are so inquisitive, I have some serious questions to bounce back at you:
Respect that not all fat people will be this open or transparent about answering these questions. To many, this is offensive as hell. For me, I am reminded when I walk into a gym -intentionally wearing headphones- or running on the pavement for hours that I look like the pink elephant in the room. It is HARD as hell some days to disregard the shady ass comments that I get:
"Keep up the great work. You'll lose those pounds in a long time."
"Oh, you're not really signed up for a half marathon/marathon/ultra marathon."
"I love seeing a big girl getting it in. If I could move like that at that size, I wouldn't care about being fat either."
These. Things. Are. Not. Compliments. I'll take the "fat bitch" comments over these any day because I like my coffee black with no sugar, if you get what I mean. And please please please...if someone decides not to give you a detailed answer, know that you're not entitled to any response. They shouldn't have to smile it off. They don't owe you five extra minutes to hear their position. We're not all being 'sensitive' or seeking enablers. Even if it's coming from a 'good place' doesn't mean that we HAVE to be receptive to it. Why? Because it's their fucking bodies. Before you ever strolled around, we knew we were fat--we don't need your help pointing out the obvious. Sometimes the best way to get your point across is being successful in your own journeys. Inspiring people inspire future inspiring people--be dynamic in your own lives and I'll do the same.