Keeping slim and trim for climbing is something that has been a part of many a climber’s lifestyle for the past few decades. As a fairly slim person naturally, this may seem simple. It isn’t. It is hard work and requires habit driven ritual and surrounding yourself with other healthy eaters. It requires a lot of will power to not over eat and not resort to unhealthy food when it is convenient. The other issue is that there seems to be a strict sense that keeping light for our sport means being a little slimmer than most. On top of this, we are trying to get stronger and we are building muscle all the time, especially during certain phases of training. I’d often come home from a road trip with some of my best sends and notice I had put on weight. An increase in muscle mass and probably a fair amount of excess from an increased appetite from more energy expenditure, coupled with delicious campfire brews and dirtbag, carbohydrate intensive meals.
Recently, I began to try to get rid of my own obsession over what I consume. I tried, for the first time ever to eat what I wanted, when I wanted it. It came after I started working more closely with children and began catching every strain of cold and flu there was. I couldn’t afford the time off of training or work. I needed to be less unhealthy. I decided I needed to put on a bit of weight and to do this I would try to eat the food I craved and to eat when I was hungry. This seems logical but really, it is easy to ignore this sometimes. Years of eating carefully meant that was often healthy food like fruit and vegetables but it was also cravings for the occassional (or more than occassional) hamburger and my favourite, Pizza. Since I am living in a country with a different set of culinary options than home, I often looked for familiar things when the local cuisine (however delicious) became a bit too much. Unfortunately, the only familiar foods that are easily accessible in rural Korea were the fast food options and even these were limited.
So I embarked on a journey to be comfortable with my body. I knew that I would put on weight since I was well under weight and began to panic as my clothes became a little tighter. I learnt to avoid talking about how much I was feeling heavier after each meal- non-climbers don’t care for such discussion. I stopped contracting colds and flus. When my throat felt sore, it dissappeared after a few days. I watched people around me getting sick and I felt healthy and strong. I didn’t have constant stomach bugs from sources I couldn’t trace. But I felt horrible. How could I be comfortable when my clothes didn’t fit me? Evidently I was not yet comfortable with my body.
On the way to a training session at a conventional gym I was planning on a core intensive training session. I hopped on the body assessment machine. Cringing at what the results might be. It measured my weight, related it to my height and also measured my body fat percentage and skeletal muscle mass. The results astounded me. Yes my weight was up. I knew that already. For the first time in my life I fitted into a healthy BMI but this was less of a concern since I knew this is not the best measuring tool. At this point I was the heaviest I had been in my life and the machine was telling me that I was not only healthy but, considering I still had a fair amount of muscle, my body fits into the ideal category. There were two little stats lower down on the page telling me how much muscle to gain and how much fat to lose, these were the stats I was interested in. Goals that I could work towards. I blinked at them. They both said 0.
This is of course my personal story but I seriously don’t believe I am alone in this. So many climbers expect their bodies to be perfect- the pursuit of mastery is the ultimate. Sometimes though we spend so much energy worrying that our bodies are perfect for performance that we forget just how healthy we are as athletes and that we could mostly stand to put a little weight on without getting into unhealthy range or even a range that would be detrimental to our ability to hold that crimp.
Stay healthy, don’t overthink your eating too much.