One of the things that I have always struggled with over the course of my life is my weight.  I am prone to be, shall we say, thick.  Nothing about my body suggests the waif-like thinness that is so popular and striven for.  I'm not quite 5'4" tall, and I'm SOLID.  Even during the brief period of my life when I got down to the coveted size 2 my freshman year of college (courtesy of a major depression), I was still very solid.  Then I met my husband, got happy, and progressively gained 5 pounds a year for the next several years.  

I learned yo-yo dieting from my mom--a mix of useful health knowledge with a lot of completely nonsensical behaviors (like, if I fell off the wagon and had dessert on Friday, oh well I've blown the week and should keep blowing it until I can start over on Monday because who starts things on the weekend?).  I've never been good at starving myself (I don't consider that a bad thing), so since i was a teen, I have made great effort to try to balance out my 6'4", 240 pound linebacker appetite with exercise.  I picked up weight lifting at age 14, martial arts at 18, yoga at 19, various and sundry other cardio and fitness activities between then and now which I've kept up with varying degrees of success.  I started running this year at the ripe old age of 32.  

Sometime when I was in grad school, well after my marriage started, I began reading a lot of stuff about health and fitness.  The goal was, of course, to find that elusive perfect way for me to lose weight.  But an unexpected side effect is that it began a mental shift for me, one wherein I continually paired health with fitness, not weight loss with fitness.  And somewhere in there, I made a conscious effort to start thinking in terms of health rather than weight loss or being "skinny".  Because I'm never going to be truly skinny by those standards.  It's just now how I'm built.  Plus, numbers on the scale don't mean a whole heck of a lot.  According to those standardized height/weight charts, I should weigh approximately 120 pounds.  Given I have 106 pounds of lean body mass, I'm thinking that largely does not apply to me (weight lifting for the majority of the last 18 years, remember).  People consistently peg my actual weight at 15-20 pounds less than it actually is.  I think, too, part of it was watching the decline of my grandparents' health, seeing my friends go through pregnancy at every point on the fit and healthy spectrum, and generally making a very conscious decision that I want to be fit and healthy.  

This is not the normal view in American society.  It is counter to so much of the socialization women experience in relation to body image.  People rarely talk about health (at least until it starts to decline) for women.  It's always about how we look, whether that's our size or some other thing we're unhappy about.  It's an absolutely toxic crazy train, and I'm thrilled to be off of it.  If I have a daughter, I hope I'm able to instill positive self image and healthy habits.

Do I still diet?  No.  It finally registered that I simply need to have a healthy lifestyle.  One in which I splurge sensibly and eat healthy the rest of the time.  Do I still count calories?  Yep.  Because doing so, measuring what I eat and keeping track of it (on Sparkpeople), keeps me honest.  People are psychologically prone to totally underestimate how much they consume, and in a world of Super Size Portions, that is a very bad thing.  But I don't obsess.  I don't go crazy.  I don't limit myself so much that a single meal out with friends leaves me in tears because that one meal was my entire calorie budget for the day (been there, done that, don't wanna go back).  I still need to drop a few pounds (so say my favorite Levis), and I still weigh.  But not daily.  Not with obsession or focus.  I weigh twice a month, and I've finally hit on a calorie budget and fitness regimen (one that I actually ENJOY) that means I drop a conservative pound every two weeks--even with dietary indulgences and days I don't actually count my calories.  Which is actually what has me thinking about this today because I had quite a few of those dietary indulgences the last couple weeks and my back kept me largely off my exercise program this week, and I'm still down a pound.

I feel good about myself.  I have a positive self-image at 32 that I could never have related to as a chunky teen in high school.  I'm physically fit, healthy across all medical standards (BP, cholesterol, blood sugar), I've made peace with my thunder thighs, and I'm able to focus more on the positive aspects of my body (uber tiny waist) than the negative (though I confess, I'm on a warpath against my tricep jiggle).  That healthy, happy attitude plays in to how other people see you.  Same as confidence makes people more attractive.  

So if you're a woman (or a man!) who struggles with body image, with weight loss, I encourage you to take a little time to think about whether your focus is on the wrong thing.  Instead of measuring your success (or failure) by whether you fit society's totally unrealistic ideal body image, look at what you can do to improve your health.  Pick ONE THING to change (like I picked exercise)The socialized messages that go along with HEALTH are a lot more positive than those that go along with SKINNY.  And as we've established, we can all use a little more positive in our lives.

09/29/2012 7:22pm

I think the reason a lot of people have a hard time losing weight (barring medical conditions like a hormonal imbalance) is because it's looked at as a temporary. "I'll do A, B, C to lose X amount of weight and then I can stop."

It's unfortunate that the mentality is wanting results FAST! and NOW! because you really have to change your lifestyle. That takes time. The great thing is if you can go the distance, you get to a point where you see how much better it feels to be healthy and going back to old habits doesn't have the same appeal. I think that mental shift is when the more visible results begin.

09/29/2012 8:13pm

Great post. Totally agree that instead of concentrating on losing weight, should concentrate on health. I'm 50ish now so as long as I can maintain and not gain, then I'm happy. Discovered the treadmill has increased my stamina quite a bit which is a happy plus. Diet..never. Eat right. Yes. It killed me several years ago when my 9 year old niece refused to eat dinner because she had gained a pound and was trying to keep up a certain body image. Thank you fashion magazines. She's since seen the light. So you go girl. Preach the positiveness of being healthy. I'm right there with you.


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