Friday, April 15, 2011

Bikini Season

I’ve often said (in the past 20 or so years) that I have no desire to ever wear a bikini again, not in public and not in private. I have to admit there’s an undertone of sour grapes in that statement, because I suspect that if I had a nice, trim waist and a flat abdomen, I’d look for excuses to wear a bikini, the way I now look for excuses to wear short skirts and show off my legs. I’d want to celebrate that nice-looking part of me – nothing wrong with that, is there? But it ain’t gonna happen unless I win the lottery (after buying a ticket for the first time, of course) and have some extensive plastic surgery on my mid-section. Most of the time I’m able to hide the jelly-roll (or Danish pastry, as I’ve called it in the past) by dressing carefully – nothing too clingy, nothing that smacks of maternity-wear, and nothing too short that would call attention to the trouble zone. Yet I struggle with the sight of my middle every day, when I step out of the shower, when I’m getting dressed, when I see my reflection in the big mirror at the fitness studio, when I’m in in a retail store fitting room. The pudge is always there. Why, I ask you? Why? I’ve been exercising 5-7 days a week since the day after my band surgery, doing aerobic/cardio training, strength training, flexibility and stretching exercises, everything I can think of to keep my body as trim as possible. For a year now I’ve been working extra hard on improving my posture, which has a greater effect on the appearance of your middle than you might expect, and on strengthening my abdominal muscles. I’m doing better with posture and I know my abs are stronger because my lower back has stopped complaining and I’m able to do exercises (like the plank) that you just can’t do for more than a few seconds without strong abs. But the pudge is still there. After obsessing about this for a few months, I began to wonder if the fat was in my head, not in my abs. I decided to prove to myself that I am genetically fated to have a flabby middle by comparing my pre-op and current torso measurements. This exercise would show (I told myself) that my middle (waist and abdomen) had lost a smaller percentage of inches than my bust or hips. Unless my math was wrong (which is not impossible), my measurements prove that my theory is not true after all: Bust – down 12% Waist – down 17% Abdomen – down 17% Hips – down 21% So, what’s really going on? Am I suffering from a mild form of body dysmorphia, or is the pudge truly there to stay? Well, after some research about belly fat (which did not include clicking on one of those omnipresent internet ads that proclaim, “Trim belly fat with this one weird old trick.”), I’ve decided that the pudge is real, not imagined. Some of the factors that influence the appearance of your belly include diastasis recti (abdominal muscles that become separated during pregnancy); excessive subcutaneous fat in the midsection (that’s the fat just below the skin), which is the evolutionary fate of child-bearing humans; excessive visceral fat (the more medically dangerous fat that clings to your internal organs, thereby pushing your abdominal muscles outward); and body proportions. I’m short-waisted and wide-hipped, so the short distance between my rib cage and pelvic bones, and the width of my hips, make me look thicker in the middle than a woman with the same waist measurement but a longer torso and/or narrower hips. In the diagram of 2 torsos, below, both torsos have the same “waist” measurement, but the one on the left looks “slim” while the one on the right looks “chunky” because it has a shorter torso. Other factors contributing to the appearance of a belly include age (skin loses elasticity we age, so at age 57, it’s no surprise that I’m sagging here and there); and finally, weak abdominal muscles and overstretched connective tissue (apparently not one of my problems now). So, what’s a jelly-belly to do? If I went on losing weight, eventually my visceral and subcutaneous fat cells would shrink, and so would my measurements. But I’m already on the verge of looking scrawny everywhere else, and losing more weight wouldn’t help that. I could invest in some shapewear, but my one encounter with a Spanx knock-off was discouraging. It took me 20 minutes just to get into the danged thing, and I was so miserably uncomfortable that after wearing it for an hour while at work, I ducked into the ladies’ room and peeled it off. I’m all about comfort, which is one of the reasons you’ll never see me wearing spiked high heel shoes (safety is the other reason). I could save my pennies up for a liposuction session, which I might be able to afford by the time I’m 79 or 80 years old. My plan now is to keep on doing what I’m doing. Exercise all my abdominal muscles, not just the showy ones in front but also the waist-cinching oblique muscles. Pay attention to my posture every waking moment, using the ABC method to pull in my Abs, tuck in my Butt, and push out my Chest with my shoulders back and down. Go on dressing carefully so that my appearance to others, and my own reflection in the mirror, don’t loudly advertise my jelly-belly.

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