65. Strength to Be Strong

65. Strength to Be Strong

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

Strength to Be Strong

Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.

~Jim Rohn

It’s 7 A.M. and I am standing with 160 pounds on my back. I squat one. Two. Three. I slam the barbell back onto the rack and load on more weight. The sweat dripping down my face reminds me that I am a strong woman.

I move to the deadlift station. Can I handle eight sets of deficit deadlifts after ten sets of heavy squats? Of course I can. I am strong.

Rewind to before I discovered lifting. Growing up, I was constantly scrutinized. My family moved to America from Romania. Sometimes they would tell me that I had gotten fat or that I had a huge pimple on my face. They would pat my belly and ask, “When’s the baby due?” or “Did the shirt come with the stomach?” They thought they were being funny, that they were showing affection for me.

I didn’t care when I was growing up — at least, I thought I didn’t care. I would get upset when the boy I had a crush on had a crush on other girls, but I never thought it was because I was ugly or fat.

But then, as adolescence went on, I started to believe that I was ugly and fat because I had acne and I couldn’t fit in my neighbor’s clothes. Other girls around me started “dating” boys, while I couldn’t even get someone to come over and jump on my trampoline with me, let alone take me to a movie or give me a scandalous hug and kiss on the cheek.

Fast forward to college. At this point, I had alternated between being skinny and fit or being fat and lazy. I had gone through periods when I wouldn’t eat anything and periods when I would eat everything. I felt like I couldn’t control how I felt about myself because I couldn’t control how I looked.

I started working out and logging my food. Counting calories isn’t bad as long as you are eating enough to sustain you. I wasn’t starving myself; I was just making sure I wasn’t eating so much that I was gaining weight again.

I would go to the gym and lift or I would go on runs. But I never felt like a real runner or a bodybuilder or anything that actually made me feel good about myself. I was too focused on trying to fit into smaller pants and making sure I would never have to buy a shirt bigger than a size small.

Though I was technically eating right and exercising, and I had lost some weight, I still hated my body. If I weighed in one week and I had only lost half a pound instead of a full one, or if I didn’t lose anything at all, I would binge on frosted sugar cookies, rationalizing that dieting wasn’t working anyway. I fluctuated between eating right and eating poorly, and I was really hard on myself when my mile time was slower than the day before or when I failed a set of squats on a weight that I should have been able to do.

My focus is on being strong. Strength in the weight room can lead to strength in all areas of life.

After a while, I stopped doing my weight loss program. I would go to the gym with my boyfriend, who is a powerlifter and personal trainer, and I would do his workout instead.

Being able to say I weigh a certain amount would probably feel pretty good. But saying I can squat 185 pounds is a completely different feeling. I weigh about the same as I did when I started, but now I have more muscle and my weight is distributed differently.

My focus is on being strong. Strength in the weight room can lead to strength in all areas of life. If I can lift hundreds of pounds, I can handle rejection. If I can lift hundreds of pounds, I can handle the uncertainty of the future, and I can definitely handle not having society’s idea of the “perfect” beach body because that is not what matters. Now I know I can handle anything.

Focusing on my strength rather than my weight has actually helped me manage my weight. When I lift more, I can eat more and without gaining weight. By lifting, I build muscle and redistribute my weight. My legs are still big and my thighs still touch, but now my quad muscles show when I’m standing and I’m proud that they’re so big.

It’s 7 A.M. and I stand with 160 pounds on my back. Every squat is a reminder that I am beautiful, that I deserve to feel beautiful, and that above all else, I am a strong woman.

~Nicole Christine Caratas

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