I made peace with gaining 30 pounds during the pandemic. Here's why I'd rather be strong than thin

·7 min read
Megan duBois in August 2021. (Photo: Megan duBois)
As a travel writer, I went from training for a half marathon and being on the go to not having any work – binge-watching shows on Netflix for months before travel-related assignments started to pick back up. (Photo: Megan duBois)

No in the New Year is Yahoo Life's series about the power of saying no, establishing boundaries and prioritizing your own physical and mental health.

Women are constantly bombarded with messages that being thin is the only way to be perceived as beautiful. And, while this sentiment is slowly changing thanks to the body-positivity movement and ongoing efforts from body-positive social media presences who want to reframe our ideas of health and wellness, it's hard to know where to draw the line between being healthy and unhealthy.

Recent struggles with pandemic weight gain aren't making this journey any easier: Over the past year and a half, I've struggled personally with pandemic-related weight gain. Between March 2020, when everything closed due to coronavirus, and June 2021 I gained weight: not just a few pounds here and there because I ate more ice cream than I should have, but a weight gain of 30 pounds that left me feeling miserable and not at all confident in my own skin, which are not words I've ever used to describe myself.

As a travel writer, I went from training for a half marathon at Walt Disney World and being on the go to not having any work – binge-watching shows on Netflix for months before travel-related assignments started to pick back up. Even when it was time to open my laptop and write, without the goal of crossing my fifth runDisney half marathon finish line, I wasn't working out like I had been. In fact, I was barely doing anything.

My personal turning point

In November 2020 I tried on jeans from the previous year thinking they would fit. Not knowing how much weight I had actually gained, I realized I couldn't even think about getting them buttoned and zipped. I was so upset that I had lost control of myself and had to buy jeans in a bigger size: That's when I decided to make a change for the better.

During the pandemic, I wasn't working out like I had been. In fact, I was barely doing anything. (Photo: Megan duBois)
During the pandemic, I wasn't working out like I had been. In fact, I was barely doing anything. (Photo: Megan duBois)

Just after Christmas 2020, I ordered a Peloton bike. Since the bike was delivered, I've started to love working out again, especially because it sits in my office where I can't make excuses for skipping a ride or ignore it every day.

While I haven't lost all of the weight I gained during the height of the pandemic, I am working toward losing the rest and feeling better about my body again. I've not lost much weight ince March when the bike was dropped off at my house, but I have lost inches and my old clothes are starting to fit again. In fact, my favorite little black dress fits and I've been wearing it anywhere I can after not being able to wear it for over a year.

Losing inches, but not pounds

How can someone lose inches and not see the numbers on the scale move? To find out why you can be working out but not losing weight, I chatted with Tracey Rodriguez, owner of IRON Girlz Female Transformation Center and certified personal trainer, to talk about why thin isn't always healthy, what weight training does to your body and how mental health can play a role in what we weigh.

According to Rodriguez, being thin and having a low body mass index (BMI) aren't always indicators that someone is healthy. Rodriguez says some body fat is essential for staying healthy – about 15 percent for men and 25 percent for women.

I've learned that I am so much more than the number on the scale and on the little tag in my jeans."Megan duBois

"Apparent thinness does not always equal health," Rodriguez tells Yahoo Life. "Even a skinny person with a low BMI can be unhealthy if fat has built up around their organs: it can lead to heart disease and diabetes and affect how blood vessels work."

A person's mental health can also have an impact on weight gain or weight loss. Rodriguez says anxiety, stress and depression can cause people to overeat and lead to a more sedentary lifestyle, both of which lead to weight gain.

When trying to lose weight the biggest reason someone may lose inches but not see the numbers dropping on their scale is a bit of a math problem. Rodriguez says it all has to do with deleting fat and adding more lean muscle mass, something that happens most during strength training.

"Five pounds of fat is the same on the scale as five pounds of muscle; however the lean muscle mass is more dense," says Rodriguez. "This means it is much smaller than the fat, but still weighs the same. [That's why] inches will show way before the scale when strength training in most cases."

Tracey Rodriguez, a gym owner and personal trainer, says being thin and having a low body mass index (BMI) aren't always indicators that someone is healthy. (Photo: Megan duBois)
Tracey Rodriguez, a gym owner and personal trainer, says being thin and having a low body mass index (BMI) aren't always indicators that someone is healthy. (Photo: Megan duBois)

The Peoria, Ariz. gym owner adds that feeling strong and confident is better than working to reach a specific number on the scale. "One of the most important things for us to do as we get older is to maintain our strength and this usually has nothing to do with a number on the scale," she explains. "The scale only reflects one thing – your entire mass weight and not your lean muscle mass or water weight: to just focus on that is one reason so many people feel like they fail even when they are actually getting results."

A new mindset

Now that I've seen my clothes fitting better, I know I'm on the right track to get down to my previous weight. But being my "skinny" self won't mean I'm any less than I am right now at a bigger size. The fact is, no matter what size I am, I know I'm beautiful. And, I feel powerful after my workouts, especially after hill climbs on my Peloton.

I don't deprive myself of things I want either: If I want a cookie or a glass of wine is calling my name, I have those things, but I also don't fall into the trap of, "I need to work out so I can eat this."

Life is all about moderation after all.

If you're thinking about jumping into a diet or weight loss plan in the new year, Rodriguez says to take baby steps. "If you try to change everything all at one time it will be very hard to stick to," she cautions. "However, if each week you just change one thing and keep adding to those good habits you will be on the right path."

Going through changes to my body followed by an uphill climb to lose what I gained has taught me that I'd rather be strong than be thin. I'd rather be fulfilled than constantly thinking about how to appease others with my appearance. Most importantly, I'd rather be able to say I did something hard and can see it paying off, versus not doing anything about it.

Over the past year and a half since the world shut down I've learned that I am so much more than the number on the scale and on the little tag in my jeans. I'm hopeful those lessons in self-love will continue throughout 2022. (Photo: Megan duBois)
Over the past year and a half since the world shut down I've learned that I am so much more than the number on the scale and on the little tag in my jeans. (Photo: Megan duBois)

And the Disney races I missed so much at the start of the pandemic? Now that runDisney has officially returned to in-person racing, I'll be running five races this year of various lengths from a 5K to a 10-miler. These races will be incredibly special, not only because they are my first in-person race since 2020, but because in April I'll be crossing the finish line for the fiftieth time.

Over the past year and a half since the world shut down I've learned that I am so much more than the number on the scale and on the little tag in my jeans. I'm hopeful those lessons in self-love will continue throughout 2022.

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