I used to be obsessed with healthy living.
I used to follow healthy living bloggers religiously, counted calories like it was my job, and beat myself up if I missed a day of exercise.
I was at my skinniest during my freshman year of college. I walked everywhere, went to the gym five days a week for an hour, and ate Subway nearly every day. I was around 120 lbs, a size two in jeans and a size small in dresses.
I joked that if I were to lose any more weight – and of course I wanted to lose 10 more lbs – I’d have to start shopping in the kids section.
Then real life intruded and I started commuting to school. I was taking a full course load, working 30 hours a week, and doing an internship. I didn’t have time to exercise, I spent more time sitting around, and I just shoved junk food in my mouth whenever I had a free moment to breathe.
The weight began to slowly creep on.
5 lbs… 10 lbs… 15 lbs… 20 lbs…
Every time I looked in the mirror, I hated that girl more and more. I hated her for who she couldn’t be. I hated her for not having more self-control or motivation or respect for herself.
I whispered lies to that girl in the mirror. Lies that told her she wasn’t good enough. That she’d never find someone who would love her. That she wasn’t worthy of that.
As I look back on that time of my life, that time when I hated who I was because my mirror didn’t reflect the societal ideal, my heart breaks for my younger self. I want to go back to her, wrap her up in my arms, and whisper that it’s all going to be okay. I want to tell her that what she looks like has no bearing on who she is as a person, and that anyone who would judge a person based on the size of their pants wasn’t worthy for her.
It would be nice to get back to that 19-year-old skinny girl (though, of course, I never saw myself as skinny back then, as women are wont to do), but do I want to commit to 1,200 calorie days and five hour-long workouts every week? Or daily Subway? No, not really.
There’s very little enjoyment in that kind of life. When your days are spent carefully measuring out every morsel of food you eat and tracking everything you consume… it leaves little room for spontaneity. It makes social functions difficult because all you can do is worry about what you can eat that will keep you at my ideal calorie limit for the day. And let’s not even get into all the different ways to beat yourself up when you don’t eat in the way you were supposed to. Like ordering chicken wings with dinner instead of a side salad. I want to enjoy the chicken wings because good goddamn, chicken wings are delicious! And life is not lived on side salads alone.
I want to be able to eat those chicken wings, enjoy every single taste, and then move on with my life. I don’t want to spend the rest of the night fretting about how to input them into MyFitnessPal or beating myself up for not following my meal plan or, even worse, combating the chicken wings calories by eating less the next day. (<– Which used to be my M.O., and a habit I certainly do not condone.)
I just want more from my life. Food is meant for fuel, but it is also meant to be enjoyed. That is, essentially, what it is biologically designed to do. When I’m counting calories or measuring out specific servings, food becomes less about enjoyment and more about punishment. It turns eating into a moral dilemma, and makes me feel as if I’m being a good, disciplined person when I eat healthy foods and a bad, unmotivated person when I opt for the more fattening or carb-heavy foods.
Food is not inherently good or bad. It is just food. Following my meal plan doesn’t make me a good person anymore than having a 2,000-calorie day makes me a bad one. It just makes me a person who eats. Some days, my meals will be healthy and some days, the chicken wings will be ordered with my dinner. And I refuse to feel bad about making that call. It’s just not worth it to me.
It means I’ll probably never be that size-two skinny girl I was at 19. But that girl also couldn’t see past the 10 lbs she still wanted to lose, the stomach that wasn’t quite as flat as she wished it to be, the legs that still hadn’t acquired thigh gap. She was thin, but she didn’t accept her body as it was.
That’s what this all comes down to: body acceptance. Once we can learn to accept our bodies, love them for what they look like and do for us, that’s where the magic happens. That’s when we begin to look at healthy living as something we do, not something we strive for.
Think about it this way: when we diet, we’re acting out of a place of fear. Fear of gaining weight and therefore appearing less worthy in the eyes of society, fear of not making the morally conscious choice when we eat. But when we take diets out of the equation and just eat in a way that intuitively feels good – meaning, some nights you want the chicken wings and other nights you want the side salad and not beating yourself up for ordering the wings or praising yourself for ordering the salad – we can truly start living in freedom. Freedom from worrying about how we’re eating and what we’re eating… freedom to just eat what feels good in the moment and owning our decisions.
I used to be obsessed with healthy living because I used to be obsessed with thinness. Aren’t we all, living in a thin-privileged, fat-phobic world? To be thin is to be beautiful, to be thin is to be on the right path. But I don’t want to be the girl who obsesses over calories, over good foods and bad foods, over the number on the scale. That’s not healthy living to me.
Healthy living to me is loving my body as it is today and treating it well by making sure it gets exercise and good foods and plenty of water. It means eating food as it is biologically designed – for pleasure and for enjoyment. It means not worrying so much about being thin and perfectly toned, but instead appreciating and celebrating my body for what it does for me right now.