Weighing the Balance Between Obsession and Health
I’d always wanted to “lose a little weight”: drop a size, get rid of my cankles, say I was at 64kg (141 pounds) instead of 66kg (145 pounds). Whatever that meant. But I couldn’t. I gymmed, ran, counted calories. But the weight never really moved much.
Then I found myself on a stressful, extended work trip, where meal sizes were restricted and I had nothing else to do but exercise every day. Over a six month period I progressively dropped two dress sizes, got rid of my cankles and could say I weighed 58kg (128 pounds). Whatever that meant. I had no ass, boobs or cellulite, and had achieved what I had thought was impossible. No matter that I looked border-line anorexic; if nothing else this was interesting.
Back home, I threw myself enthusiastically into my new-found CrossFit scene and ate quite Paleo; my weight remained stable. I was small. People commented, though: Mum said I was “too thin” while male mates noted my lack of curves. I still thought it was interesting and was pleased with my “achievements.”
Then I tried a 30-day Paleo challenge. What little grains and sugar I had in my diet were cut. The big test was getting rid of alcohol, but 100% Paleo gave me something else to obsess over rather than a recent break up. I dropped more weight and had to add meat to my breakfast to avoid getting even skinnier. I was proud of how I was able to manipulate my body, surprised that something that had always seemed impossible suddenly wasn’t.
And then it was Christmas, holiday time. I decided to quit my job and travel, and found myself totally out of my exercise and diet routines. I partied, went out for dinner with friends, stayed at friends’ houses and had easy access to all kinds of food. I was active but CrossFit sessions were infrequent.
I imagined the weight creeping on even before it had. I was consuming “prohibited” foods and felt guilty. I felt I’d lost control. I lost that pride I had so recently found.
A five month tour around Europe didn’t help. Tapas and beer in Spain; sweet, syrupy pastries in Morocco; sausages wrapped in pancakes, crisp bread and tubed caviar (seriously!) in Norway; cheese in Holland; sausages and mash in Germany; beer in Poland; sweet bread, meat and cream in the Czech Republic. If I hadn’t consumed it, I would have missed out on a massive cultural experience, but every day I thought about what I was eating and how much weight I was putting on.
The food was different, delicious and I couldn’t miss out on it. But my mind was driving me crazy; I was losing control. To stay sane I had to make a decision: since my travel was temporary and had an end date, I could be as healthy as possible on the road… but this wasn’t my time to be super trim or super fit. I would be home soon and surely back in an eating (not diet) and exercise routine which would have me back “in shape” in no time. I had to enjoy this while it lasted.
And then I got thinking about people I’d met on my journey and the attitudes they had towards their bodies:
- A girl in Spain whose goal was to lose enough weight to have “that little gap at the top of (her) thighs.”
- Another who complained about being bloated after every meal and restricted calories as a result. She was already so thin she severely lacked strength in her arms but wanted to keep going.
- A Polish girl who had (probably) been affected by the Spanish mentality and restricted her calories where possible, wanting to lose weight but without working out.
- Both a girl and a guy in Italy who patted their tummies and said they needed to lose a bump, despite both being quite slim.
All of these people were wonderful and beautiful, but all spent a lot of energy just wanting to be “skinny.”
And then I read blogs. Blogs written by people, like me, who thought they were fat, constantly trying and failing to lose weight, and hating themselves for their failures. And finally it clicked… We are all freakin’ crazy!
None of the people mentioned above were actually overweight, yet they all obsessed over their size, worried what others thought of them and probably would never be entirely satisfied no matter how much they actually lost (humans seem to have this bad habit of always wanting more and more). The thing is that all of these people were focussing on superficialities. And for what? You’re not going to get a prize when you lose those extra 500g because those 500g probably aren’t the difference between being healthy and unhealthy, and a decent person won’t love you more just for being skinny.
I looked at these people and realized that I didn’t want to be like that and needed to find a balance. I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t truly enjoying my travels. Obsessing over every 100g of my weight was detracting from the wonderful things I was living. I thought, If I die tomorrow, I’d kick myself for being so concerned that my pants were a smidgen tighter, rather than fully enjoying a wonderful moment or a marvelous view. This was all temporary, anyway.
What is important, rather than your actual size, is your health. If you need to lose weight for your actual health, make solid changes and do it, but reach a healthy balance. All of those people above need to shift their focus to their health and all need to actually do exercise to achieve this – to improve bone and muscle strength, to improve cardiovascular fitness, to ensure they reach the age of 70 as a healthy, mobile human being.
And so I found myself in Italy, finally with a new approach, on the last leg of my trip.
Day 1: soft white bread wrapped around tuna and olives for breakfast – a typical Venetian food. Homemade pizza for dinner.
Day 2: homemade pasta with homemade pesto for lunch. More homemade pizza for dinner.
Day 5: pasta with tomatoes for dinner and the same on day 7.
By normal standards, my diet was horrendous – it was every shade of yellow and had little nutritional value. But for once I wasn’t worried about gaining weight with every bite. Rather, I enjoyed the cultural experience for what it was. I felt better. Happier. Lighter – as a result of my mood or body I don’t know. I’d been eating but I’d also been to CrossFit, run through a forest, cycled part of Lake Como and walked up, down and around Florence for 8 hours. I was active and still healthy. I could still power up a hill, squat my body weight and prove a solid contender at beach tennis.
And now I’ve left Italy. That experience is over and I may never have it again. But man did I enjoy it.
Back home, I will stick to my new balance. I like the Paleo lifestyle of eating fresh foods with high nutritional value. But I’m healthy and active enough to not have to be pedantic or obsessive – enjoying the odd pizza, ice cream or toast with peanut butter and honey (oh-so-good) won’t kill me.
Imagine that you are like a straight line that is always moving forward in life. Things will happen around you, but you will always be you. This is the best advice that my mother ever gave me. Your weight might go up, but it will also go down again, and so long as you’re healthy, this is ok. No matter what, you are — and always will be — wonderful you.
There is no one-size-fits-all template for health. Consider your own needs and goals, find your balance and then love yourself — for all of your curves, each bit of cellulite, every weird mole, your strong legs, and the getting-stronger arms that you have. Because you really don’t know how for long you’ll be walking around this world, so you may as well have as much fun as you can while you’re here.
As published on the Tabata Times.