I used to think the only downside of becoming lean was the work it took to get here. Don’t get me wrong, I look and feel much better at 15.9% body fat, than I did last year at 30%. I would not go back to the fat old days for anything. The transformation has been a gradual process. Along with my self image, my perception of others has also changed. People that used to look normal to me are looking a bit chunky these days. This is not good news for my spouse. When I see a woman that is about the size I used to be (size 14-16), I relive the pain of having arms that look like sausages even when there was firm muscle underneath. Now when I shop for clothes, the size that I used to wear looks huge. This didn’t happen overnight mind you—when I first put on a size 8 pair of jeans that fit, I was certain that it was only because that particular pair had a defect of some kind. I bought them furtively, thinking I had gotten away with something. Now my closet is full of size 8’s and they all fit. The reduction in body fat has, unfortunately, also made me a slower swimmer. I used to have a built-in flotation device that kept my hips nicely elevated in the water. Now I have noticed that my swims are not as relaxed as before. I don’t know what to do with my feet and it seems to take more effort to slide through the water. The cardiovascular advantage of becoming smaller and more dense has thus far, been overshadowed by the buoyancy issue. Go figure.The other problem is that I have become a real wimp in cold of any kind-especially cold water. I used to do open water swims in the ocean year-round without a wetsuit and with minimal suffering. Geez, at my last race, I wore a wetsuit, a thermal wetsuit liner, an insulated swim cap and booties for crying out loud, and I could barely tolerate 56 degree water for the swim.In my article, “Life is Too Short For Unflattering Photos,” I lamented the frustration of training hard, only to have race photos that made me look like a sack of potatoes in spandex. The cellulite may have been firm, but it still looked ugly. All I wanted in life was for those ripples to go away. Well, they have—sort of. Now the ripples are gone, but the skin is taking it’s time shrinking back. This shows up in the photos in a most annoying manner.
I have discussed this issue with fellow “masters” athletes and apparently this is common. You see, as you age, your skin loses elasticity. If you lose 40 pounds at age 25, your skin will just shrink right back to its usual firmness. At 45…..well, let’s just say my body composition test should have 3 numbers, lean weight, fat weight, and extra skin weight. Sounds disgusting, doesn’t it?Yeah, it isn’t all wine and roses to be lean, but I would rather have to dress to hide my extra skin than one to hide to my extra fat. I am sure glad I resisted the urge to get tattoos...
Author of the latest in the Ironman Series of books,
"Ironplanner: Iron-distance organizer for triathletes", USAT level 1 coach.