I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want
You may have just read my endless ramblings about goal-setting and tricking your mind into letting your body do its work. For the sake of accountability, I want to state for the record what my personal goals are and describe my overall approach to fitness, which I’m still figuring out.
Growing up, I was an active kid. Perhaps these memories are colored with nostalgia, but my childhood embodied the quintessential endless suburban summer existence: sandlot baseball, recreational soccer, building forts, and riding bikes. Like most kids, I didn’t really care about health or exercise in and of itself. My favorite dinners were those taking place on what my family called “Fend for Yourself Night” because it meant I could have Pop Tarts. Whether it was because or in spite of the fact that I was a naturally slim teenager, I was so, so, so lucky to have missed out on the phase of adolescence where I wanted to look like Britney Spears (yep, my age is showing). Instead, that self-consciousness struck later, partway through college, as dining hall options (both a blessing and a curse) and virtually no exercise apart from trekking to classes resulted in some fairly significant poundage. I did a semester in Scotland, where I ate constantly to stave off the perpetual cold and darkness, and earned an additional 20 pounds for my effort.
Scotland was definitely a turning point, but not really a positive one. I began to associate my feelings of self-worth with the perceived attractiveness of the person I saw in the mirror. I tried to work out, I really did. I became one of those girls you see pumping away at the elliptical because she’s been conditioned to equate cardio with burning calories. I did lose the Scotland weight but not much else and my routine stagnated as school and life picked up.
Fast forward a few years: graduate school got me a couple of degrees, a lot of debt, and no job prospects. I had taken out loans when interest rates were at their peaks and graduated into an economy where employers told me to my face that they couldn’t give less of a shit about my graduate degrees. Needless to say, it was sort of a low point. Strangely, the stress of unemployment had a reverse effect on my appetite than the stress of school, and I essentially stopped eating. For months. This was a pretty big deal, guys, but no one really said anything. I presume that was because I had gotten pretty good at hiding it; it’s surprisingly easy to tell friends that you already ate at home and tell your roommates you ate with friends. And for the first time in years, I was no longer overweight.
I should probably add a disclaimer in here about how I don’t recommend this method for weight loss. I really, really don’t. Even now, I don’t enjoy it when people compliment the transformation, because the change occurred during and because of a really low period in my life and I’m not proud of it. Anyone can starve themselves to death as long as their head is screwed up enough.
All in all, I lost about 40 pounds before people started saying, “Hey, um, maybe you should eat something?”
But by that point, a weird thing had happened: I enjoyed the feeling of control that not eating gave me. It was like a daily competition to see how much I could deny myself, and I caught myself thinking things like, “Do I really want to eat this? I’ve already made it this long…”
Eventually, I realized that this could not go on indefinitely. I don’t remember what it was that flipped the switch. It wasn’t my doctor telling me I’d likely have to start worrying about organ failure. It wasn’t my then-boyfriend telling me that I was “losing [my] ass” which was apparently the only reason to keep my weight up. I honestly don’t remember. But I do remember thinking that it wasn’t enough, and that I was still useless and fat. I had tied all of my self-worth into my reflection and I was convinced that hitting a target weight would equal happiness.
For the past two years or so, I’ve been living with the threat of gaining all that weight back hanging over me. I’m already up about 15 pounds from that lowest point, something that I’m acutely aware of. Has it translated into more dieting or torturous cardio? No. Instead, I am focusing on getting my mind off of my reflection and off the scale.
Age will march on regardless of whether I still laugh at fart jokes. I don’t want to keep looking in the mirror and thinking “skinny=good, fat=bad”. (By the way, those thoughts pertain only to me.) I don’t want to obsess over every pound gained or lost. I don’t want to beat myself up over every cupcake consumed. That is no way to live.
I want to get away from the Calories, pounds, and progress pics of fitness. I want to not be embarrassed by my body when I go out onto the beach in my swimsuit–not because I have a “bikini body” but because I just don’t care. I want to eat a cookie when I feel like it. I want to hike and surf with my boyfriend without becoming instantly winded. I want to open jars and rearrange furniture without having to ask a strong person to help. I want to earn my 30-minute shower.
I didn’t really intend for that to become an autobiography, but there it is. That’s what I want, what I really, really want. To answer the question of my first post, that is why I am doing this to myself.