On August 31st, I will officially complete my goal of becoming my perfect weight, shape, and fitness level. It’s a goal 20 years in the making.
I’ve always been ‘big-boned’ and ‘someone who liked meat and potatoes’. I have an early memory of someone my dad was buying bales of hay from commenting on me being ‘a little heavy’. I was probably six. I never felt like I could challenge my sister and father in our long swims in the summer — I regulated myself to being ‘the slow one’.
I’ve always been tall and strong, and sometimes a little more fit too. Efforts were made briefly in my early twenties. And about fifteen years ago my sister Sarah and I lost our mom and moved back to our childhood home, large changes that also began a new interest in hiking, and a renewed interest in cycling, as well as the possibilities of new-fangled tech.
Nintendo’s Wii Fitness game (and step board accy!) played a larger role than one would think. As we played, and got a little fitter (!), I really saw for the first time that I could change my body shape and make a bigger difference. It seems odd now, but originally I really did just kind of think ‘You had the body you had,’ when I was younger and that huge changes weren’t really possible. Even as late as this year, I’ve been surprised that — if you exercise your stomach muscles, they get strong. I can actually do plank exercises for the first time in my life.
Each step in the intervening years since ‘snowboarding’ on the Wii has brought us closer to this accomplishment: Reading Michael Pollen’s Food Rules (‘Eat real food. Mostly plants. Not too much.’), going sugar free and discovering that our desire for a Zaxby’s chicken plate was almost entirely diminished if we couldn’t get a soda or sweet tea to go with it — did we like the food or were we just addicted to the sugar water? Exercise apps have been great this year, and a couple of years ago we started getting into intermittent fasting — with great results.
The five months I was paleo in 2015 were a breakthrough moment. It was not sustainable for me as a lifestyle but it gave me a peak at the land of milk and honey I would finally come to inhabit this year — I could become a skinny person.
Or could I? I still have trouble seeing myself, totally, as a fit and slim person. I’m not tiny, nor would I want to be. I love my curves and still working on strengthening a few areas (the aforementioned stomach), but for my height, I think I’m there. Mentally, it’s hard not to see myself still as the ‘big girl’. Recently, a fit guy at work caught my eye, but I realized that I’m not that different than him now — he’s not so far out of my league (except for his advanced use of styling gel 😉 ).
Complicating my sister Sarah’s and I’s journey has always been the fact that society is so messed up in its depictions of women. Even though we were homeschooled, we still watched enough TV, movies, and read books (and even earlier were read books) that taught us that the ‘pretty’ girl was the hero/lead and of course she was also thin.
Thin is also unfairly connected to willpower and self control. It’s way more complicated than that. I don’t really have more ‘control’ than when I was young; what I have is better strategy, clearer vision, and increased knowledge and goal-setting abilities. I wish I’d known years ago that it would feel so great to be this healthy — but I also wish I’d known how much of a lie ‘Fattie’s too weak to say no to a cookie’ is too. The human body is made to want sugar, salt, fat — rare and valuable things in nature. The secret is to build a life that keeps those from your sight and replaces them with good, tasty food.
But back to the media/society part of this. For as long as I’ve worked on these goals (pretty much every New Year’s goals list had some variation on it), I’ve had to challenge myself about what I was doing and who I was doing it for. Luckily, I got a clear view pretty early on on the craziness of society’s desires for women. No Fat Chicks by Terry Poulton was a great book about the history of size and expectations that I discovered in my teens, as was the Alanis Morissette song, Mary Jane with the immortal line, ‘I hear you’re losing weight again Mary Jean; Do you ever wonder who are you losing it for?’
I always oriented myself toward doing this for me — for my health, my future, my desire to climb mountains and have active adventures, but nipping at the heels of all those ideals were always the society-approved thought that I could become ‘pretty’, a lead in my own story, worthy of a guy, and not just the sweet, fat best friend.
And now I’m here. I’m fit, strong, slim, and can climb mountains. It’s a lot of fun. It’s still easy to slip into bad eating habits but it’s also easier to get back on track. I feel like I’ve done this for myself and for the right reasons.
And yet I still don’t always feel thin or see myself as the perfect hero. After all these years, the body is right where I want it to be, but the mind is still expanding. I love myself and my body — as always — but I’m still learning to recognize myself in the mirror and to trust that this is the beginning of the rest of my healthy life, not just a season of skinny. I am about to hit my goal and I’m also glad to retire it. Like minimizing my possessions last year, less baggage is only the beginning. I don’t want to obsess over weight for the rest of my life — I want to live that life.
Once you can climb the first mountain, you have to decide what mountain to climb next. I’m grateful to be crossing one finish line, but also excited for the next step.
You win so you learn winning is possible. You grow so you learn what’s more important than winning.