At the beginning of the year I wasn’t weighing myself because I was trying not to care about my weight. I hated the unrealistic expectations of thinness placed on women by every aspect of life. But I did know I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin.
As the new year of 2013 grew closer, I decided that instead of setting a resolution to “lose x amount of pounds,” I would start trying to be more active and choose healthier lunches than my normal go-to of fast food. Like I’ve said before, my one and only solid, tangible New Year’s resolution (meaning aside from generally “letting go more,” “loving myself more,” etc.) was to move, whether running or walking, one mile a day, and I’d try the best I could to run the full mile.
Around April was when I weighed myself for the first time, after a few months of doing a little more and a little more than just that one mile a day. I was choosing to walk more instead of driving when I could, had started the C25K program, and was going hiking pretty regularly. But I was still frustrated with not being able to fit into clothes at stores I normally shopped at. In April I finally got too curious and bought a scale. I weighed 188 pounds.
I’d like to say I decided not to let the number itself bother me, because I knew I’d improved my lifestyle habits. But as soon as I knew what the number was, I started counting calories. I slowly started to lose a pound, maybe half a pound a week, maybe two pounds a week. Very healthy rate, but I was checking the scale daily. I’m glad I began counting calories for the most part, because it alerted me to how unnecessarily I was overeating, and led me to ask myself why I was eating til I was sick, not just full. But I certainly didn’t need to be checking the scale daily.
And I was still frustrated about the shopping issue. But I was so righteously angry about the “othering” of plus size women at these stores, I was able to externalize my frustration and I decided to focus my frustration on things like the institution of the concept of “plus-size,” like women with a waistline over 32 inches were seen as “othered,” and had to shop elsewhere, and also, news stories like what came out of Abercrombie and Fitch’s CEO’s mouth.
So whereas part of me was struggling with trying to be confident in the face of the number on the scale, another part of me was successfully able to not internalize a judgment against myself about an arbitrary number – one that didn’t explain my fitness level or muscle composition. I followed my best friend Karen’s fat-positive advocacy with growing admiration, and spent my entire fall semester researching fat and plus-size discrimination and advocating in research papers for fat acceptance.
But knowing I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin was not something I could ignore. It’s what led me to buy the scale and check my weight in the first place, to see if I’d gained weight and that’s why I wasn’t fitting into things and why I was feeling uncomfortable in my body. So I set tangible fitness goals for myself. I decided to try my best not to focus on lowering my number on the scale and focus more on seeing what all ~185 pounds of my body could do.
But I can’t lie and say I didn’t keep checking that scale. And I can’t lie and say I didn’t feel a little thrill when I went under 180, then under 175, then under 170. And I can’t say I don’t feel a little bit of panic when I go above where I generally am at now, at 165. I can’t lie and say I don’t feel a little thrill when I’m at 164 on one check in, or that I don’t worry about overeating during the holidays or finals week or slowing down my calorie burning during the winter when I see 168 on the scale one evening.
After I saw these pictures of me from the Living Social spelling bee in March (I took 1st place, by the way, no big deal :-P), I gained some major perspective.
I haven’t been on a strict diet. I did realize I was easily netting over 3,000 calories a day on a regular basis and learned steadily how to comfortably decrease that to a net of about 1,500 now that I was exercising regularly, too, and burning off the 2,000 I was learning to consume. But I wasn’t forcing kale down my throat every day or forbidding myself from eating French fries when I felt a craving. Sometimes I distracted a craving with a banana to stop feeling hungry with a healthier alternative, sometimes I didn’t and went for the fries.
I’m proud of the exercise I do, not because it burns so many calories, but because I enjoy it and it makes me feel good. Could I work harder in the gym and lose more weight, build more muscle? Yes, absolutely. Is it a priority? No. I like to do other things with my time, too, and I don’t want to hate working out. I like feeling like I put in a good work out, not dread going back the next day because I have a mindset that I could constantly do better.
The perspective these pictures gave me is to always remind myself that I am enough. In that moment I was putting myself out there, regardless of the insecurity I was feeling about my body size. I was being outgoing and doing something I was proud of, even if it was beating some drunk fellow twenty-somethings in a spelling bee. And in pictures from today, I look happy and confident. I feel more happy and more confident.
I am of course not immune to body image issues, as much as I try to remind myself that beauty is subjective, that comparison is the thief of joy, and that I’ve been programmed since I was small to arbitrarily believe I should be smaller than my body wants to be.
The point of this post is less to say “this is how I lost weight, and you can too!” and more to say – when I set out in the beginning of the year to be more active, not to lose weight, I set myself up with an activity I grew to fall in love with. When I started worrying more about my weight, I didn’t have to suddenly institute a diet and exercise regimen with the goal of losing weight. I was already generally more positive and easygoing because when this picture was taken, I had been running for some 4 months by then. My body was responding because I was in a habit I enjoyed and naturally wanted to keep going back to. I wasn’t resisting, and neither was my body, the power of physical fitness.
And being aware of the lies the media tells about women’s body sizes, being interested in and supportive of the fat-positive and Health at Every Size movements, has allowed me to, in my weakest moments of insecurity, successfully remind myself of perspective, that I am enough. No matter what the number on the scale, in the last year, I have majorly improved my heart health, added healthy muscle in my legs and arms, lowered my blood sugar (I actually just had it taken AFTER Thanksgiving dinner and it was already down to 116) just from being so active.
I know I want to work on eating healthier in 2014. But instead of cutting out the things I “shouldn’t have,” my approach will be similar to how I approached getting more active. Rather than restricting, I want to add more. That is, add more healthy foods and learn to like them. Right now I’m learning to like yogurt and hemp seeds as a post-workout snack. I plan to work on learning how to creatively cook certain foods that I already like – like spinach – and make time in the mornings for healthier breakfasts – like plain oatmeal and fruit instead of sugary pastries from 7-11.
But at the core of this, more and more, is the desire to lead a long and healthy life, because there is so much life to be lived. I want as much time as possible to run a million marathons, read a million books, travel to a million cities. I want to prevent Alzheimer’s and diabetes from lowering my quality of life for as long as I’m blessed with it.
It’s December now and I’ve stopped weighing myself daily. I have goals for 2014 that still don’t include “get down to x number of pounds.” 90% of the time I don’t regret eating that cookie or that slice of pie. And 90% of the time I listen to my body and can tell when it just isn’t up to a 10 mile run or if I’m just being cranky and need a little push.
Maybe I’ll be 165 pounds for the rest of my life. Maybe I’ll go back up to 185. But if I’m eating better and I don’t fall out of love with running and working out, I think I’ll be okay with it.