I used to live and die by the number on the scale, forever praying the number would be lower than the last time.
I used to count calories and lose my mind trying to eat less to lose weight.
I used to judge my discipline and willpower by the number on the size tag in my jeans.
I used to observe the rules of the BMI charts and guidelines for ideal body weight and fight my body to death to make it fit in.
I used to live in a state of obsession, fear, guilt, and dismay.
I lived many years as an unhealthy, unhappy soul because of these things. I didn’t know back then that there was a better way to live and to get healthy. If only I had known then what I know now….
But I know that there is a message still out there that has made women place their trust in a number – body weight, calories, or whatever – that creates a frustrating, and even sometimes an unhealthy, cycle for us. Like it had been for me.
I want to rebuke every woman who shares those thoughts like I had:
STOP IT. STOP IT NOW.
I fought against my body trying to make it smaller, lighter, skinnier for 20 years. And it was a FIGHT. And it was not pleasant. Why? Because the message we females seem to get from a very early age is “EAT LESS to LOSE WEIGHT – at any cost because size matters.”
Did I need to eat less? Well, yes – I was always hungry trying to eat less, so I would end up eating more out of pure hunger and frustration. No body ever told me to eat MORE of *anything* – it was just simply eat less. The magazines say it, weight loss programs advocate it – just eat less. It was hard, but I would try. Could I do it forever? Heck no!! Did I feel BETTER doing this?? No way!! All it did was make me want chocolate and ice cream and cookies – so I would give in to the unavoidable *temptation* until I felt so guilty and fat again that I would make the *commitment* to get back on track and pull out that willpower – again.
I fought hard with my body because I thought that was the way to make it “work”.
I wanted it to be a size 2, and because I am 5’2″, every indication was that my “healthy” weight was between 107 – 124 lbs (and I figured if that was the “healthy range”, that probably being on the lower end was achieving the “better” end on the health spectrum. So even though my body consistently settled in at a very happy 140 lbs on most days, I made it my life’s mission to achieve that supposed “healthy” weight. The weight where I figured my problems would end.
If only I had known what I would do to my precious body over so many years of diet combat.
And if you think that maybe I was a vulnerable young woman with issues of body image / disordered eating pattern and that I should have sought professional help – well, I wish someone could have offered me advice to create a better picture of health for myself. But instead, I got this:
I was already about 13 years into this battle with my body when I had my first baby. I was well aware that I needed to lose weight, even though I was back to my pre-baby weight within 4-6 weeks post-natal. However, at my 6 week check up, my doctor assessed my weight and promptly pulled out the pretty BMI chart. I already knew what it would indicate, and my doctor was going to make sure I was aware that my weight of about 145 lbs was “bordering” on overweight / obese for my height, and so I should exercise and watch what I ate in order to lose the extra weight.
I am not convinced that this is something that a brand new mother needs to hear. I was sleep deprived and it was the middle of winter (where it averaged 20 degrees below zero most days), and I had a 6 week old baby in my constant care. Yes, I’m sure some exercise would have been good – but let’s be REALISTIC.
What I heard in my reality was: You are fat. You are lazy. You are not good enough. You have much improvement to make in order to be “normal”.
And so that’s what I did. This acknowledgement from my doctor confirmed my insecurities. I made sure that I worked a lot harder at “taking care of myself” and made it my mission to force my body to become “normal”. Because *this* is what was supposed to make me “healthier” and “better”.
Fast forward about 2 – 3 years later and after about 2 major yo-yo periods in my weight. My body weight was high again and I had been running long distances for about six months and I was eating 3 tiny carb-less bird-like meals per day, if that. I was not losing weight and I was exhausted with now 2 small children in tow. I was doing it – exercising daily and had greatly reduced what I was eating. Only this time, my body wasn’t budging.
So I went to see my doctor.
I thought maybe he could run some blood work to see if there was something wrong. But after I explained that I was having trouble losing weight, his only comment was to ask what I was doing for exercise – I told him that I was running for 45 mins to an hour 5 days a week. He told me I needed to exercise for at least an hour if not more every day. And no, he didn’t ask me how much I was eating or what I was eating – he told me to refer to the Canada Food Guide chart and make sure I was within those allowances. That was it. Good luck and good-bye.
I looked at the Food Guide. I wasn’t eating nearly that much, and so of course – when you need to lose weight, you should (let’s say it together…) EAT LESS. So that’s what I did.
That’s what I did and ended up yo yo-ing a few more times through out the course of the next couple years. Reducing my food significantly was just brutal – it didn’t feel like I should have to survive on so little, but what other options did I have? I was hungry and miserable. I was suffering through depression and irregular menstrual periods. I would skip meals just so that I could have a hope that the scale would tell me I was actually down my designated 2 lbs for the week. I would go for an extra run hoping to burn off anything extra to help make me smaller….
I fought and fought and I dug my heels in and committed to working hard!!!!
No matter how hard I worked, though, my body was not looking like I really wanted it to for all the effort I was putting in. I had lost lots of weight and was feeling like I had it all together – I was at the top of my game running half marathons and was eating “healthier” than ever. I just didn’t realize all the damage I had done.
I was finally “within range” at 118 lbs, a size 0-2, and was in the top 20% of my age group half marathon finishers – but my body felt flabby and I was exhausted. My limbs were very skinny, but I still had a round bulging belly. What I now know is that I was not a picture of health – I was a picture of how to run your body and metabolism into the ground. I was skinny and I was working hard at it – but the result was not what I had expected.
So I stopped and re-considered what I had always thought to be the “truth”.
What I now know and teach others, is that “healthy” is not the result of pushing your body to do extreme things in order to manipulate it. Manipulation, no matter what context it is used, is NOT healthy.
To live in a state of extremes is not healthy, and to assume that your body should fit into an arbitrary package is not healthy.
I’m not saying that I don’t think any of these things matter, but what I do know is that they don’t matter as much as we have been led to believe.
In fact, I do firmly believe that removing our minds from this game we play – where we convince ourselves that we aren’t good enough or we aren’t working hard enough – is actually the most effective catalyst for creating the REAL HEALTH we are searching for.
I do not weigh myself anymore. I am fully self-aware of how my body feels and reacts and my healthy weight is found in that information.
I now eat lots more food and a variety of foods that I choose because they make me FEEL GOOD. My body requires different amounts of food and calories day to day – I respond responsibly to my body’s needs for nourishment and sometimes indulge simply for the pleasure of food. I don’t micro-manage my diet anymore. I allow it to flourish for my benefit.
I now know that a smaller pants size doesn’t always equal better health. And when I am doing things that contribute to my health, then it does not matter one bit if I am this size or that size. It is what it is. Healthy is what I see reflected in my size – not a judgement that I ate too many donuts or cheeseburgers. I would rather be strong and healthy by eating nourishing amounts of food and not falling into depression, than breaking down my body in order to fit into a size 2 by not eating enough and being miserable.
I have debated over whether to post photos here to really quantify the difference PHYSICALLY between these two states of mind and body – because my purpose is A) not to make anyone feel uncomfortable B) not to “over-expose” myself in any way (I am a wife and a mother) — but I also have been up on a stage in a bikini being judged and I am here to help people make positive changes, so I am certainly not ashamed and I want to really get my point across – so I will go for it….
This is my physical evidence of the difference between controlling my food intake and trying to exercise my way to a smaller size and weight. This is my evidence that pushing myself to fit into a certain weight or size did not necessarily give me a better result than eating more and exercising smarter.
So, all in all I wasted a lot of my life chasing after a number. When what I should have been chasing was my life. A life of health and positive choices, instead of relying on a number to declare my value and the level of my health. There is no health in simply losing weight. Health and weight are two different things. Health and the amount you eat (on either end of the spectrum) are two different things. Eating less for the sake of not eating more does not equal health. Health is where its at. If you make choices that create your health, then your body will respond.
I concern myself with my choices now – choices that enrich and grow my body, not break it down and starve it.
I am sharing my physical evidence to show you that it’s okay to stop the madness.
I hear from women all the time that say they need to lose ___ pounds and get down to ____lbs body weight. Sometimes I have no idea where they get this number. And many times it doesn’t even make sense! Why is it a goal to be 115 lbs when you are 5’6″?? And moreover, what *exactly* is it going to take to get down to that weight, especially if you have never been that weight or its always a fight to get there and stay there??
There is so much more to consider than *the number that you weigh*…
Your perfect weight is not limited to 1200 calories a day and cutting out food groups.
Let’s all just stop it. Stop fighting our bodies. Stop equating our beauty and health with an arbitrary number. Stop creating goals for ourselves that require us to sacrifice and suffer, and start living a life that emulates energy, vitality, and empowerment.
And you don’t have to just take my word for it – you can read Jonathan Bailor’s article here that also explains some good reasons why we should stop measuring the old-fashioned way.