…and other words of wisdom from someone who has made all of the mistakes- so you don’t have to! You’re welcome everyone.
I want to get healthy, but what the heck does that even mean? For me, wanting to get healthy used to easily morph into wanting to get thinner before my brain had time to catch up and slap some sense into the rest of me (now picture a brain slapping someone in the face. Pretty funny stuff). But I DO want to take care of myself and be the best me possible. Unfortunately, there is such a fine line between accepting yourself and giving up, and I know I am not the only one who slips from side to side, sabotaging both my effort to have a healthy mind and my effort to have a healthy body along the way.
If you want to "get healthy", the first thing you need is motivation. Today I woke to find that I can barely even touch my toes any more. Despite my total lack of fitness (unless you count my heroic efforts to always park at the top of my parking garage as real exercise-which I DO!) I was caught utterly by surprise. This attempt to prove my flexibility to myself was prompted by my parents recently reminding me that I was once the limbo champion of the world (undisputed I say!) AND I could also do the splits. That’s right folks. It was awesome.
I have never been an overly active or athletic person (the understatement of the year!), but I have managed to go on exercise sprees where I find something I enjoy, do it for a while until I get lazy, do nothing for a long time, get inspired to try again, and then quit again. Unfortunately, in the past these sprees were often inspired by some pretty distorted feelings towards my body. As in: I am fat,and that is why I am unhappy. If I was in better shape I would be more lovable. If only I lost weight, it would solve all of my problems! I’m sure I am not the only one guilty of telling myself these type of absurd lies, but let me assure you, they are lies. Being thinner might make you happier in one area of your life, but it does not solve all of your problems. Nor does it make you a better person in any way other than that losing weight may or may not make you healthier.
So, when I grew up to be the self assured, fuck you weight loss I’m great as is kind of girl I am today, (this change happened right about the time I met my loving husband who loves my curves) I didn’t really feel very inspired to exercise as a form of self-improvement. Sure, I have had my bouts of motivation followed by actual activities, followed by quitting in the last six years. But without the idea that exercise would somehow make me a better person, I didn’t feel terribly inspired to keep up with it.
I think too often we think of exercise as something that should be done as a weight control method, so if we are happy with our weight and our appearance (which I am) we tend to feel all to comfortable forgoing exercise all together. At least that is what I have done.
On the flip side of that, even though I don’t even want to lose any weight, I can still sometimes get caught up in the idea that maybe there is some perfect me out there just waiting to get out, and the only way to find her is to change the me I am now as much as possible. This type of thought process is especially prevalent when I feel out of control in other aspects of my life. Our bodies are often the one thing we feel in control of, and that false sense of control can lead to some really stupid behavior in the name of “health”.
Which brings us to the cookie theory. My internal monologue used to go something like this (take note that “the cookie” can represent any food, or really any "unhealthy" choice in general):
Me: I want to be healthy so I won’t eat the cookie. But if I don’t eat that cookie (that I really really want), am I giving in to stereotypes about who I should and should not be? I deserve that cookie dang it, and I am perfect the way I am. I ate the cookie. Now I feel bad about myself for having no self control. Dang, I just ate nine more cookies. They weren’t even that good. I suck.
I have been so healthy all day! Yay me! Now I want that cookie, but I fear that cookie. This cookie represents an evil down slide. I will have a whole tub of healthy blueberries so that I don’t eat the cookie. Still thinking about that cookie. Now I’ll eat yogurt so I can skip that cookie. I still want that cookie. Dang it! I deserve that dang cookie. Now I am going to eat that cookie!!! Num num num. Where did that box of cookies go? I suck!
Sound familiar? Do you, like some former version of me, have fear of the cookie? After many years of this, I somehow learned to Jedi- trick my mind out of this behavior and realize that the cookie (or whatever it represents for you) is not really the problem here. The problem is classifying food, even unhealthy food, as evil and bad, therefore daring ourselves to give in to temptation.
So how do you create a balance in your life that allows you to value your health without relating it to your weight, or without letting it make you a crazy person who thinks that you are a mere XYZ pounds away from being happy? For me, all it took was completely missing the point for years and years, doing everything wrong, and then finally figuring out these few truths that were staring me in the face all along:
Number one. Repeat after me: food, and eating, are not inherently bad. You kind of need to eat for you to, you know, live and stuff. Just as spending all of your free time exercising your life away is not inherently good. But wouldn’t you feel better if you just went for that walk? I know I always do!
Number two: Stop telling yourself that you suck. You are already awesome as is, and it has very little to do with your body. Sorry, that doesn’t mean you get to stop striving to be your best, but it does mean that there is no magic pill or juice cleanse that will change your whole life and finally turn you into a butterfly. Find some happiness in the journey, because the journey should never end.
Number three. I have found that it is impossible to motivate yourself just by saying that you want to "get healthy". That is too hard to quantify. Instead, set a goal that you can work towards, like say, being able to lift more weight or get deeper into a stretch. My goal? To be able to do the splits again before the end of the year. I may never again get there, but just having the challenge set out in front of me has already motivated me a lot more than telling myself that I am out of shape ever has (duh, right? Why did it take me so long to figure this stuff out, really?).
In each person’s life, in order to find happiness within yourself, you must find the balance between striving towards self-improvement and giving yourself a dammed break once in a while. Not because you deserve it for being “good”, but because finding balance is the only way to ever find peace, and in that piece, some measure of real happiness.
For the most part, I am over the days when binging and then regretting was the norm, or even more importantly, the days when starving myself made me feel like I had accomplished something. I still have my less than stellar moments of self-doubt and frustration with my own imperfections, but I can eat one cooking without eating ten, and if I do eat 10 I can get over it and move on without letting it dictate how I felt about myself while also not letting it become a pattern. Food/ body enlightenment! Horay!
I can’t pretend to have all of the answers. If I did, I wouldn’t even have to think about this stuff, but would just let my body (not my fragile face slapping brain) steer me where to go and just get over it. But I do know that balance, though not easy to master, is a worthwhile life-long goal. Being happy with yourself when you have spent your whole life training yourself not to be can be a lot of work, but it is worth the effort. Learn to be kind to yourself. Treat your body right not because it is inherently good to do so, but because it will make you a healthier person inside and out. And for God’s sake, if you want a cookie, just eat the dang cookie.