Yesterday I decided to try on my shorts and begin packing for a trip I am taking out to California this week with my mom and my sister. Let’s just say it was a wake-up call. The combination of my decision to throw away my scale last fall and the extra indulgences over the holidays (and my birthday AND Valentine’s Day) were most likely part of the reason why my super cute summer duds were, well, … super tight. I was surprised and discouraged because I’ve been eating really healthy (most of the time) and running or working out five or six days a week as I prepare for the Big Sur marathon. I tried to say to myself, “Oh well.” But what I actually did was blurt out a few expletives and then put on my workout clothes and get on my elliptical machine. A little wacky, I know.
So my shorts wouldn’t button, whatever. It really isn’t that big of a deal, right? There are definitely much larger and more important matters in the world. But, the thing is, I’ve ridden the weight roller coaster up and down a lot over my adult life and I’m ready to get off this ride.
MY BATHROOM SCALE ROLLER COASTER RIDE
I was always pretty slim and active growing up. But I remember even as a teenager weighing myself frequently and being concerned with making the number on the scale lower, even though I’m pretty sure I had nothing to be concerned about. I remember doing workout “tapes” in my room. I recall intentionally eating very little at times and feeling light-headed at school because I was hungry. In college, I put on the Freshmen Fifteen, and the Sophomore Fifteen, and the Junior Fifteen and the Senior Fifteen and took it off every summer in between. In fact there’s one summer I remember taking diet pills and surviving virtually only on cigarettes and coffee. Wacky. Or just plain stupid, really.
After college, when I began working full-time in Chicago, my weight definitely ballooned. I was eating more and moving a lot less. The stress and long work days didn’t help. When I moved to Ohio in 2002 and didn’t go out drinking with friends my weight went back down. Then I became pretty thin in preparation for my wedding in 2004. I gained weight again when I couldn’t get pregnant and had to take fertility drugs. Then I gained and lost weight again with each of my three pregnancies. After having John I told myself I was getting in the best shape of my life and I did. I lost all 30 or 35 pounds of baby weight plus the extra 15 or 20 pounds I put on after our wedding. I worked so hard to reach my goals and I swore I would never go back.
In fact, I felt so good and was so motivated that I just kept going and probably got too thin for me to realistically maintain. In the summer of 2013 I was the thinnest I have been in my adult life. At about 112 pounds and a size 0, I was very focused. As I’ve said before, there is a fine line between dedication and obsession. In retrospect, I think then I was spending too much time and energy focusing on a number on a scale instead of on just being healthy and feeling good.
When I began running further distances that summer I actually started to gain a little weight. That might be surprising to some. When training for my first half marathon I quickly discovered I needed more fuel and energy than what I had been eating up until then. Sure, I was burning thousands of calories sometimes on a long run, but I was, therefore, constantly hungry all the time. Sometimes I would overcompensate and end up eating too much. Usually all healthy food, but calories are still calories. I see now that my body was trying to tell me something.
I mentioned earlier that I boycotted my scale late last year because I decided I was SICK of the weight battle. I was tired of putting so much effort into eating well and exercising frequently most of the time and then indulging over the weekend and seeing the scale go right back up and feeling defeated. I was sick of depriving myself and feeling hungry trying to maintain a number on a scale, probably an unrealistic one. We did end up buying another scale, but now I weigh myself only now and then. I weigh about 10 pounds more now than I did at my thinnest. Most days I am confident that this is a healthier, more realistic weight for me. Other days (like when I’m packing my shorts for a trip in the dead of winter) I just want to fit in my favorite cute summer clothes.
Ok, so I’ve shared a lot. Why? Because I think we are at an important crossroads in this country with regard to this topic. I think there are some real issues that need to be solved. And perhaps, I hope, that my experiences and outlook might help someone else gain perspective.
OBESE VS. OBSESSED
I am struck by the contrast that exists in our country at this present time between the growing obesity epidemic and the health obsessed. On one end of the spectrum people (and children) in the US are heavier than ever before. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third (34.9% or 78.6 million) of U.S. adults are obese. Obesity-related conditions including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, are on the rise and are some of the leading causes of preventable death. This is shocking. On the other end of the spectrum there are the weight and health obsessed; counting calories, analyzing every ingredient on every box of food we purchase, fasting, detoxing, eliminating entire food groups, striving to workout as hard and as often as we can find time to fit in and weighing in every day. I won’t attempt to begin the discussion here on why this gap exists. That’s a separate post (or a whole book really). What I do know is that the struggle between weight gain and weight loss is a big problem for a lot of us.
Entertainment and social media as well as pop culture are certainly not helping this issue. Magazine covers are constantly splattered with images of celebs spotted in their bathing suits looking heavier than usual with a huge headline shouting things like, “Kim Lets Herself Go.” While the next cover features images of too thin models with their ribs showing, being accused of fighting eating disorders. “Addicted to Dieting” or “Starving to be Sexy” they say. And I get so sick of the ones I see that are like, “I Lost All My Baby Weight Before I Left the Hospital.” Come on! “Be thin, but not TOO thin” they seem to tell us. The message they are really sending is BE PERFECT. While something needs to change to get people in this country healthier, “Be Perfect” is definitely the wrong message to be sending to our young people.
The food industry is complicating things by confusing people as they intentionally label highly processed foods to appear healthy. And the overload of information about how to lose weight with so many different diet and exercise plans certainly isn’t helping anyone. One day people are hearing they should eat no carbs and the next they’re hearing they should give up meat. I fear that many Americans think that working out means being subjected to torture the way the contestants on The Biggest Loser are yelled and screamed at if they can’t do enough push ups. It’s no wonder so many of us are so confused about how and what to eat and how to maintain a healthy weight.
WHY DO I OBSESS?
So when my shorts wouldn’t button and I immediately hopped on the elliptical and began planning out the cleanse I would do this week, maybe that was a little wacky. I hate that I did that. I have to believe I’m not the only one that sometimes loses perspective. Based on how many times I’ve seen the headline, “Drop 10 Pounds Fast”, I’m guessing there are others who are always fighting the weight battle.
Today I’m asking myself why I put SO much effort into being healthy and maintaining my weight so that I can recognize my shortfalls and take a more balanced approach. Here’s what I came up with. Maybe you can relate.
It’s my personality. I’m an overachiever, a perfectionist, strong-willed and a little competitive. I like order, control and routine. I have a hard time doing things half-ass. If I put my mind to something I go “balls out” or I don’t do it at all. I obsess out of fear of losing control and therefore my weight spiraling out of control.
To be my best. I want to look good and feel good. I want to eat healthy and train properly to be the best athlete, the best mother, the best person I can be.
Everyone else is obsessing. If I’m being honest with myself, maybe I obsess because I think I am supposed to. Perhaps it feels like everyone else is obsessing too. It’s the old “keeping up with the Joneses” adage.
Environmental and Cultural Implications. I buy the healthiest, least processed food I can to make a statement to the food industry that we will not tolerate being fed “artificial food-like substances” sprayed with chemicals detrimental to our health. The only way we will create change in this country is to change the foods we buy.
I hate the alternative. So what’s the alternative? Give up? Not care? Not the right choice.
Because I care. Walking through the grocery store today picking only my favorite, healthiest foods and avoiding the garbage, I realized that I obsess because I care. I care about my health and the health of my family. I want to live a long, healthy, happy life and be around my children, my husband, my family and friends as long as possible. I want to live life to the fullest on this great planet.
Here’s where I’ve landed after a lot of contemplation. Despite my animosity for my bathroom scale, it is, in fact, VERY important to maintain a healthy weight and be fit so that we can live a long, fulfilling life. Eat well most of the time. Exercise often to be strong, fierce, happy, confident and free. But don’t get caught up in narcissism and egotism. Use a bit of that powerful energy toward doing good in the world. Obsessing over a number on the scale (especially an unrealistic one) or the size of your jeans is NOT healthy. None of us are perfect. We are all human. Life is short. Indulge a little now and then. BALANCE is a very important word. I whisper it to myself when I lose perspective.
It is imperative that we teach our children and their generation to eat healthy, real foods and to be active. That is one of the most important ways we can change the obesity epidemic for the better and reverse the prediction of their lower life expectancy. But I also don’t want to teach my children to obsess over it. I don’t want them to see me checking my weight on the scale each morning, entering every bite I eat into my calorie counter, overanalyzing every ingredient list or cursing because my shorts don’t fit. Because I don’t want them to live their life that way. Yes, I want to teach them how to choose products that are organic, non-GMO, pastured, whole foods, but I also want them to be thankful for ALL the food we are lucky enough to put on our table and remind them that not every family is so lucky to always have a full refrigerator. I want to teach them about self-confidence and balance. And I want to raise my daughters to know that they are beautiful and perfect just the way they are.
Your body is but a vessel for your spirit to experience life here on Earth to the fullest. Ultimately, I think we should honor our bodies and stay healthy so that we may do the things that fulfill our spirit and that honor God.