How we can all feel good about ourselves, whatever our size.
I saw an article a few weeks ago with this incredible before-and-after set of photos of an overweight, post-baby woman who then became totally “bikini-worthy.”
So I had to click the link, of course, to have a look. No question about it—the ‘after’ photo of this woman was a stunning shot. She looked fit, toned, healthy and gorgeous. I read on, eager to discover what her secret was, what profound magical method it was that she had used to shed however-many-number of pounds.
There it was, a long and detailed tract of the super lean, restrictive diet she had put herself on for a year. No carbs, no dairy, no fruit, no nothing. The sample diet she had shared in the article seemed to consist of little more than hummus, celery and endless amounts of steamed fish. Healthy—yes. Exciting, delicious, fun lifestyle—no.
I decided in that moment that I would choose to continue being a little bit fat. Yes, I could do with losing at least about 10 pounds so that the Bébé dress I bought earlier this year would fit that much more snugly. But if it’s at the expense of not eating fruit, freshly baked breads, Greek yoghurt and honey for a year, well then, I choose emphatically to continue being 10 pounds more than I should be.
Science is a wonderful thing. It’s revealed so many revolutionary ways of understanding the way our bodies work and the effects of new foods, super foods, bad foods and good foods on our health. It’s sad though that ‘health’ has so often come to be equated only and necessarily with thinness.
The glut of diet programs, weight-loss fads, fat-burning supplements and specialized bikini-body workouts are now as much a part of our daily consumer choices as the aisles of (‘forbidden’) food in supermarkets. There seems to be no excuse not to be ‘healthy’ (read: thin) given the huge number of aids, YouTube videos and literature on the subject.
Articles like the one I read aren’t necessarily always an encouraging inspiring thing. They don’t just tell the story of an overweight person who chose discipline and a healthier lifestyle. There is often also a more sinister sub-narrative that raises its eyebrows at the reader and challenges her—“If this person can lose xx pounds, why can’t you?”—even if the reader may not actually be unhealthy or overweight.
The titles of these articles alone are almost always weight-centered, like “I lost 120 pounds, ask me how!” or “How one man lost 200 pounds in a year.” Rarely are these articles presented through the perspective of someone choosing a healthier lifestyle, discarding bad nutritional habits or incorporating fitness into their daily routine.
There it is: the continuous, unceasing reminders that we should all be striving towards thinness. From cabbage soup fasts, to low-everything diets, to 20-minute fat-blasting workouts, the desirable end result is usually almost and entirely about becoming become a thinner version of ourselves.
I am not ignoring the fact that for a percentage of people who may really be facing the health risks of being dangerously overweight, losing weight is necessarily a part of becoming healthier. I don’t discount that and understand how important it is in these cases to count calories and lost-inches.
Problems arise when that very same method is being adopted by people who aren’t facing any health risks — who may, in fact, be completely healthy, fit peopl —but who still feel that they would be healthier if only they were five, 10, 20 pounds lighter.
So I’d like to suggest flipping things round a bit, looking at things through another lens.
Logically and biologically, it would follow that by following a healthy way of living, eating and exercising, everything else will find its proper balance. We would lose weight if we needed to lose weight, we’d gain muscle if we needed to gain muscle, we’d balance out all the other things that come from not being healthy—stress, cholesterol, diabetes, poor complexion, hair loss etc.
And what does it mean to live healthily? In the face of all the new diet and exercise schemes, I think that actually, we all already know what it means to life a healthy, balanced, feel-totally-awesome lifestyle, without having to follow any fad or buy any specialized products.
Intuitively, deep down inside, we do know the most basic things of living well. We know when we’ve had enough to eat, what kinds of foods are good for us, what makes us feel good and what makes us go into a slump, how much exercise we need to do, when to stop when we’re exhausted, when to rest.
We know this not just intellectually, but physically—our bodies are always telling us what we need to do, we just need to listen.
Our bodies will tell us when it feels like a massive binge on Chinese take-out. It will also tell us when it’s had enough so we don’t insist on finishing every last fortune cookie. Our bodies will take us dancing, running, swimming, trampolining and playing; but they will also make us rest and sleep.
I read something beautiful awhile ago, about how we shouldn’t change our bodies because so we can love it.
Ultimately this is about focusing on health: the physical health of our bodies and the emotional health of how we see and relate to our bodies. We love our bodies—this temporary shell on loan to us for this lifetime—so we treat it well, nourish it, feed it, move it, hug it, stretch it, let it dance, discipline it, give it a treat sometimes and most of all enjoy it.
Enjoying our bodies is to indulge in the beautiful sensual things of good food, good sex, the rush of an energetic run in the mornings. But also, I think, enjoyment is about ensuring our bodies are at their prime health so that they truly get the most out of all these things and appreciate, at our body’s fullest capacity, the good food, good sex and energetic run.
This is true whatever size we’re at, whether we’re trying to lose weight or gain weight, whether we’re severely overweight or dangerously underweight.
This is true because it’s a matter of health and of helping our bodies be at their optimum functioning levels, not merely a matter of what we look like.
Yes, ideally, I would still like the scales to tell me that I am 10 pounds lighter and to see my dress size drop to a single digit. But then, I have to ask myself what it really is that I’d like to get out of being that much thinner. I don’t have any illnesses, I life a happy, active life, and I’ve been medically cleared for good, prime health.
So what is it? To be more attractive? To feel more energetic? To turn more heads? To tighten that gap between me and the Victoria’s Secret models?
I realize now that if I only just went back to focusing on being health, everything else would find its rightful place. When I’m feeling healthy, my skin glows, my hair is shiny and I’m a face full of radiance. When I’m feeling fit after a big run and deep session of yoga, I’m also confident, joyful and there’s an extra bounce in my step.
Automatically, without being a single ounce lighter, I realize now that being healthy alone is enough to be more attractive, feel more energetic, turn more heads and gain almost as many admirers as the Victoria’s Secret angels.
With a focus on health, instead of weight, I find too that I enjoy life a whole lot more. I eat without guilt and play with abandon. I move and shift and indulge the very real needs of my body instead of spending good hours of my day fussing over diet plans, exercise schedules and meal replacement shakes.
It isn’t only when I achieve a vision of thinness that I am deemed healthy and attractive.
I am attractive because I am living healthily.
And if that means I shall always be a little bit fat, with a few extra pounds to shed, then that’s exactly what I shall be.