With Hunger Games: Catching Fire coming soon to theaters, lead actress Jennifer Lawrence is in the limelight. I love her personality and I think she’s a great role model to the millions of adolescent girls who will be watching the movie. Why? She said of her training for the film, “I’m never going to starve myself for a part. I don’t want little girls to be like, ‘Oh, I want to look like Katniss, so I’m going to skip dinner’… I was trying to get my body to look fit and strong — not thin and underfed.” (Watch the Good Morning America story.)
I’ve struggled with my weight since my teen years, and I’ve tried all sorts of fad diets and exercise gadgets. One wrong piece of food in my mouth, or missing an exercise session, and I felt like I’d fallen off the wagon! (Those were miserable years, in retrospect.) But even at my thinnest, I was never the stick figure I saw glamorized in fashion editorials. It bothered the teenage me to the point I even considered anorexia — but then, the food at my house was too good and I enjoyed the pleasures of eating too much to want to stop. And I hated throwing up so I never even considered bulimia.
As I matured, I realized everyone’s built differently and the main goal was to be healthy and fit, not skinny. And as I got more involved in sport, I understood that how one’s body looks is secondary to how one’s body performs.
To be honest, I was skinnier in early 2009 before I started running, but that was because I was meticulously counting carbs. But could I have run a marathon then? Could I have done a triathlon then? The difference between appearance and performance can be illustrated by the difference between bodybuilders and Olympic weightlifters. A bodybuilder sculpts the visible muscles with his training, then diets and dehydrates himself so that these muscles can be seen more clearly beneath his skin as he poses. An Olympic weightlifter strengthens his muscles with his training, then attempts to lift as heavy a weight as he can during competition. The bodybuilder may be more ripped, but the weightlifter is actually stronger regardless of how pudgy he looks.
As my training load has increased, I’ve shed pounds and never felt better. But too much weight loss can be bad for performance, too. I got to my thinnest this year right before Century Tuna 5150 — I was at 115 pounds, which is normal weight for my height and build. But I knew that going into Ironman 70.3 I’d need to carry just a bit more weight; otherwise I would feel powerless and hollow. I gained three pounds just by gently increasing the amount of (healthy) food I ate, and felt great on race day. I talked with Coach Ani de Leon-Brown (one of the fittest Filipina athletes I know), and she agreed that there was a certain weight range at which she could perform her best especially for endurance events.
These days the only reason I stress about weight gain is because I know I’ll have to lug all that extra junk in my trunk up a hill on a bike or all the way through a run, and I know how much that will hurt my times. What’s important to me is being fit, strong, and fast, and that’s changed my entire relationship with weight, food, and exercise. If I trained and ate right, my body weight would stabilize to where it would be healthy for me at that point, and I would be well-trained and well-nourished enough to have the best performance possible. It’s all about finding balance.