(Content note: Discussion of weight loss, dieting and calorie-counting)
The decision that prompted this post wasn’t actually meant to be seasonal, because, for some reason, Pancake Day and Lent always creep up on me. But, I thought today would be a fitting day to talk about something I’m giving up – not just for Lent, but for good.
Lots of people use Lent to make healthy choices, and my decision is no different, although on the surface, it might seem a little contradictory. Two days ago, I decided that I needed to give up trying to lose weight.
Like many people, I’ve been trying to lose weight for nearly all of my life. It’s been a long and ultimately thankless struggle (thanks to PCOS, my body hangs on to every last calorie like a dragon guarding its hoard). I’ve dieted, and taken those diets to unhealthy extremes at times; I’ve exercised; I’ve tracked calories and food and movement so thoroughly that historians of the future could reconstruct my daily life with unerring accuracy. Despite all this, I’ve rarely lost any weight at all.
A few days ago, I saw this image and read the accompanying tweet:
I can’t begin to overstate the impact that this awesome woman’s pictures and decision had on me. I had been feeling like a failure for failing to lose weight, when weight should never have been the goal in the first place. The time I’d spent on tracking calories and portions could have been spent writing, or reading, or talking to friends. The emotional energy I’d spent on feeling down about numbers on a scale and lumps and bumps on my body could have gone towards something positive, something that would have made me happy.
So, I’m giving up. I’m giving up the app I use to track everything I eat; I’m giving up the tape measure and the scales. I’m giving up treating myself like a bag of flour and using my weight to determine my worth.
I can already hear the concern trolls and body-shamers revving up, so, first of all, go and have a long hard look in the mirror, and second of all, realise that this is a positive decision, not a negative one. I’m giving up treating myself badly and focusing my health, happiness and self-image around a set of numbers.
In giving this up, I’m actually prioritising my health – both mental and physical. As the fantastic Melissa McEwan of Shakesville said, no-one is motivated to take care of a body they hate – so I’m giving myself the space and freedom to learn to love my body. I’m still going to exercise, but I’ve shifted my goals; I’m no longer going to the gym in order to drop a few pounds, but to learn how to do press-ups and get to the point where I can run a 5K, two things I’ve wanted to be able to do for a while now. I’m reframing my perception of my body to focus on what it can do for me, not what I need to do to make it an appropriate ornament. I’m still going to eat my fruits and veggies, because I like them and I enjoy the healthy feeling I get from a balanced diet – I’m just not going to beat myself up if I also fancy a croissant.
I do want to stress that I’m not saying that this new way I’m trying is the right way for everyone. We all need to work out our own requirements for healthiness (again, mental and physical) and happiness. These just happen to be mine.