Since I was in tenth grade, I have been on the merry-go-round of health goals and dieting. There weren’t many years that I did not spend New Year’s Eve thinking, “In six months, I’ll look like…” Atkins, South Beach, counting calories — my mom, sister and I tried them all as we realized we wouldn’t mature with the blessed metabolism of our brothers. I learned a lot about nutrition and basic food health from this time, but I always had a mindset of “If I can just lose __lbs., then I won’t have to worry about nutrition anymore.” This false hope has followed me into adulthood, through four pregnancies, and here I am at 31, facing reality for the first time that health should be a lifestyle, not a three-month diet.
In today’s era of inclusivity and transparency, there is motivation to free women from feeling ugly, shameful, or disgusted about their bodies. For far too long, perhaps since the 1900s when magazines and media began their influence, women have felt the burden to change their looks/weight/everything to meet standards. (I doubt the last century is the only time this has happened; we see Greek mythology rife with jealous goddesses and “beauty-before-all” preferring gods.) I applaud the efforts made towards creating a more realistic method of advertising, as well as the awareness that is raised for the myriad of eating and emotional disorders that negative body image can cause.
Yet, even amidst all of this empowerment and acceptance, an unhealthy woman will still feel…unhealthy.
Notice that I didn’t say a size 10 woman will always feel unhealthy or a size two woman will always be healthy, but if you are not healthy, you cannot reason or trick yourself into being so. Yes, there is an emotional reaction to fitting into new clothes or not fitting into old clothes, but do your joints still ache in you new size? Are you sleeping better now that you are eating full meals instead of small amounts of protein, even if your thighs still jiggle? For most of my life, I’ve thought, “If I fit into a size __, I’ll feel better,” or “If I lose 10lbs. I’ll have more energy,” or “Get to __lbs. and then I can just eat whatever I want again,” but I am realizing that I need to embrace the reality that I should be taking care of my health every single day, rather than obsessively counting the ounces lost or gained each morning. I need to change my mindset from having to eat healthy foods to getting to eat healthy foods, as well as getting to exercise, not having to exercise.
Instead of looking forward to indulging in greasy, empty calories on a road trip, I should look forward to the times I get to buy and make a meal at home. When given an open hour in the day to sweat at the gym, I should see it as an investment, not a torture. Every chance I get to spend extra time and finances on my health and well-being should seem like a gift. Being raised in a culture of “everything that hurts is bad and everything that is fun is good” has wrecked my outlook of health, and I am determined to seek out the false promises and replace them with reality.
I am guilty and unashamed to say that I am a people watcher at the gym. I like to see what kind of crossfit or Ninja Warrior exercises people come up with or watch a girl squat an insane amount of weight. I notice who is there that I have seen before and how their physique is progressing. Occasionally, a minor league baseball team will come in for the morning and it is fun to try to pick out positional players based on body type.
But by far, the most impressive people I have watched are two young veterans who come in consistently and workout together. They are diligent and driven, working together to set up weights for various exercises, and have competition level muscle tone. I probably weigh more than either of them since they are both missing their legs. Missing legs and doing more pull ups that I have done in my entire life, missing legs and working together to set up weights, missing legs and keeping their bodies strong.
There are a lot of things that can keep a person from prioritizing a healthy lifestyle, but comfort and apathy might be highest on the list. It may seem easier to add some more prescriptions onto one’s schedule, move up to another size, or drink extra caffeine to make it through the day, but I am challenging you and I am challenging myself to not sacrifice your health for what is easy. As hard as it is for me to drag my four kids to the gym, I know it has to be easier than learning to walk on prosthetics, driving in a modified car and trying to exercise without half of a body. Be thankful for the body you have (cellulite, curves, wrinkles, stretch marks and all!) and take care of it.