“You are going to do this until death do you part… You’re going to love yourself right where you are… You don’t say, when you lose 10 lbs, then I’ll love you.”
Over the last year I gained a lot of weight, and it seriously hurt my self-esteem. The pain I felt was about more than not fitting my clothes or the standard idea of beauty. It was about losing my identity as a self-confident, determined and disciplined young woman, which I felt was reflected in my commitment to my own health.
In graduate school, my friends knew me as someone who liked to work out every day. I organized group trips to fitness classes, encouraged friends to take up running, and even helped a couple of people rework their diets to make sure they were being more nutritious. After graduation, I started volunteering at a community health nonprofit. If you look on my author page, you will see that the majority of my articles are about fitness and health.
Health is my passion, and not because I am focused on how I look. I care about health—and by extension, the culture of food and exercise—because I care about all the people who are battling mental and physical illnesses, whose lives could possibly be made a little easier if they had access to education on nutrition and exercise. I care about how people see themselves. I want every person to know that they deserve to be healthy, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they have.
Gaining weight made me seriously question myself. I really felt like I had no excuse for what was happening. I was well-informed about healthy eating, I had been active before, and I had plenty of free time to exercise and fix myself healthy meals. And yet I would start exercise programs and quit after two weeks, or continue to overindulge.
The truth is, my situation was not about knowledge, or even willpower. I wasn’t being healthy because I wasn’t taking care of my own emotions. I was unemployed, in a new place, and on my own most of the time. Really it was no wonder that this manifested in my eating habits. I also made it worse by calling myself fat, and getting angry every time I “failed” to get back to “normal,” which I think prolonged the cycle.
Whether you are a beginner when it comes to health, or, like me, someone that fell out of a good routine, I hope what I have to say will help you.
The first step is to just be kind to yourself. How would you treat a friend who came to you because they were struggling to manage their health? You likely would not call them names or blame them for what they were going through, so don’t do that to yourself. Spend some time writing about what’s going on in your life, and why it is you don’t feel like exercising or eating well. Don’t judge, just listen. You might be surprised by what you have to say.
Secondly, start slowly. This will probably be frustrating for those of you who are not beginners. Resist the urge to compare yourself to how you used to be, and set small goals: always have a healthy breakfast, try to work out one to three times a week doing something you enjoy, and strategize a few other ways to handle your stress and schedule. I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly my fitness returned to me (if you want a specific answer, it took about three months to be able to run/lift weights at the rate I could a year ago), but this only happened once I stopped pressuring myself to be like I was before.
If you don’t start slowly and you try to launch into an intense workout routine straight away, you will only end up hurting yourself. Your body needs time to adjust to new exercises and if you jump straight to the heavy weights, you’ll end up with a rotator cuff injury that puts you out of action. With weight training, it’s best to start with a very low weight, even if you feel that you can lift more, and focus on your form. Once you are performing exercises correctly and consistently, you can then gradually increase the weight. When it comes to cardio exercises like running, why not try short bursts with periods of walking in between? Then, gradually reduce the walking periods and increase the length of the running periods.
I also found it really helpful to start trying new forms of exercise so that I couldn’t make comparisons. And don’t forget to make changes to other areas that will help you be more successful, and fix your sleep schedule.
Third, think about who you are, and what does and doesn’t work for you. You may want to ask a family member, partner or close friend to help you with this. It was my fiancé who pointed out that I have a very all-or-nothing approach to life, and that I struggle to be flexible. This is a problem with exercise, because if I missed a workout, I let it derail the rest of my week. I’m working on fitting it in whenever I can and not worrying if I mess up from time to time. As for my diet, I personally like to keep a food journal so I have an idea of what I’m taking in (but this approach isn’t for everyone—don’t do anything that makes you stressed!). I realized that I had gone from hardly ever drinking to having a beer a couple of times a week with my fiancé, who works in craft brewing, and this was definitely contributing to my weight gain.
Fourth, have some real goals for doing this, and not just weight loss/gain/whatever. I’m a little too obsessed with Jillian Michaels, but I love her because she says, “What is your why?” She really gets that it’s not just about having a hot bod or wearing a bikini. What does “healthy” mean to you? For me, it is about being true to who I am inside, inspiring others, and having a positive outlook. Yes, it’s also about wearing the clothes I love and having clear skin and shiny hair, but if it was just about that, I would never be truly happy.
Finally, accept that your body will not always be the same. No matter how fit and healthy you are, your body will continue to age, and that’s totally natural and not something to judge yourself for. I realized that I kept thinking back to what I looked like as a 22-year-old student who ran every day. Yeah, no surprise I’m no longer that lean. And really? That’s fine by me. I have a healthy body, I have people who love me, and I’m comfortable in my own skin. I am not any less smart, fun or likeable because I can’t fit into all the same clothes I wore in college.
I’m still working on reaching my physical goals, but it’s no longer something that makes me feel guilty or upset. Most of the time I look forward to my workouts and meals. When I do consider skipping a workout or stress-eating some candy, I ask myself, What would make me feel good? Some days it’s the healthy choice, some days it’s a treat, but either way, I am finally being a friend to myself.
Why is being healthy important to you? Tweet us @LitDarling!