Emily Howell

As an English teacher, it seems strange to say that I’ve lived most of my teenage, college, and adult life by numbers. What I mean is that I have always found ways to measure my value—as if self worth is something that can be quantified.

In high school and college it was all about the number 4. (4.0 that is.) I measured myself by what kind of grades I made.

In my adult life, however, I have been fixated on the numbers 115 and 2, the numbers I felt like should signify my weight and pant size respectively.

The conflict with this way of thinking is that I profess to be a Christian; I say I believe the Word of God that says that “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” (Psalm 139), yet I have spent years loathing the body that God made for me.

My fitness journey began in 2008. Throughout college and my first year teaching, I put on a little weight every year (thanks to the student center food court and Johnny’s and Canes), and in December of 2008, I found myself at the doctor’s office crying because I could not believe how much I weighed. I was utterly disgusted with myself. That day, with a grim resolution, I vowed to start working out and eating better. The next fall, I was on my way to being healthier with the help of Kate Derveloy, a trainer at the Lambright Center at Louisiana Tech, and then, after she moved to Memphis to go to nursing school, her brother, Evan.

You should know that I am an intense person. Anything that I do, I do at full capacity. I’ve never known how to be any other way. I brush my teeth so vigorously that the enamel comes off. I press down on pencil lead so hard that I can only use 0.9 lead or bigger. And my journey to weight loss was no different. By that following spring, I had begun running, and I was the skinniest I had ever been—high school included. The more I ran, the more weight I lost, the more weight I lost, the better I felt until I weighed about 113 pounds. In about two months, I went from barely being able to eek out a mile to obsessively running long distances of 10-11 miles way too many times a week. I didn’t see it then, but I was becoming obsessed with being a certain size, a certain weight, and eating a certain amount of calories. I weighed myself daily and was extremely hard on myself whenever my weight fluctuated. I lived in fear of “becoming fat again.” Looking back on these toxic, unhealthy mindsets, I realized that I had a very dysfunctional view of my body. I thought of myself at my heaviest (a size 6) as very overweight, and I even saw my new body (a size 0-2) as one that could stand to lose some weight. Although I was never anorexic, I realize now that I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about food, feeling guilty about eating, and worrying that I would gain weight.

My weight had become an idol.

In the fall of 2010 while running a 15K, I injured my knee so badly that I still cannot run more than about 1.5 miles without searing pain shooting through my leg. I think that this injury, which was really disappointing to me at the time, was God’s way of slowing me down so that I could weigh enough to have a baby.

After miscarrying in 2011 and dealing with multiple other health problems unrelated to my weight, I finally was able to hold my baby girl in November of 2012. I wasn’t super psyched at my physique after having Hannah, but I had just grown a human being, so I gave myself some grace. For several months, I did Jillian Michaels videos and Insanity and pushed that baby-laden stroller up and down many, many hills.

Eventually, the exercise videos became not as challenging, so in June of 2014, I signed up for CrossFit Ruston’s Boot Camp. I immediately loved it and decided to sign up for CrossFit as the school year began. I now drag myself out of bed at 4:30 a.m. four days a week to go run, jump, squat, lift, pull-up, push-up and then fall on the floor panting with a group of really motivated type A folks who like to get a work out in before the day starts.

Joining CrossFit has been really good for me physically, but I think the mental benefits have been the most rewarding to me. Fitness has become fun again, and I see my body as a machine to do work rather than a loathsome, imperfect object.

When people ask me why I enjoy CrossFit, these are my typical responses:

It's efficient:

I like CrossFit because I don’t have to think of a work out routine, and it is not possible to ever get bored. Additionally, I do more work in 10 minutes than I would have ever accomplished in an hour and a half back in my treadmill days.

I am safe (unlike in my crazy running days):

Coaches make me stretch before working out. They tell me if I’m not mobile and give me exercises to help me. And if I’m ever doing something wrong, they stop me immediately and show me the right way.

It is encouraging:

I’ve made friends from college students to empty-nesters. No one is judging you at CFR, and there are body types of every kind working on becoming stronger. Everyone cheers you on and helps you finish work-outs when it gets tough.

Perhaps the benefit that has been most valuable to me is my changed body image. I feel that God has used CrossFit to remove the idol of a certain weight or size from my life. At CrossFit, it is not about being skinny; it’s about being healthy. I am stronger and more physically capable at age 31 than I have ever been in my entire life.

Now that I do CrossFit, I can measure my fitness progress—in a healthy way. I can compete against myself and watch myself get stronger and faster.

And I have no clue how much I weigh.

Christian Dunn1 Comment