In our society, we’re given two different messages about body image. There’s the “obesity will kill you, so be healthy” and then there’s “people come in all shapes and sizes, so accept your beauty whether you’re a size 0 or a size 20.”
Sure, it’s good to be healthy. Yes, it’s good to accept yourself as you are and have a healthy body image. And I totally think there are people who are very beautiful at size 20. But for some reason, our society has issues having these two concepts coexist with one another. And as a result, people make crazy justifications for their behavior that are not only hurtful toward themselves, but for others who love them or look up to them.
And instead of being healthy both physically and emotionally, we’re left in a vicious cycle of body image issues.
As someone who has had to work on both the body image thing and being overweight all her life, I know how hard it can be. I remember trying to eat healthy and work out as much as I could after high school only to then join a group of girls who claimed we were, “celebrating the right to be fat and happy.”
There doesn’t need to be such a divide. You can enjoy life AND be healthy. You can be happy where you are at weight-wise and STILL work on being healthier.
But it can be confusing finding that middle ground. And that’s why, I bring you my person what is and is not okay list— from both sides of the coin. These are some things I use to help guide my own health journey.
It’s OKAY to lose weight to be healthy
It’s NOT OKAY to lose weight for vanity only
I remember reading teen magazines when I was 12 or 13 and thinking that if I worked out hard enough, I could be skinny like the model on the page. And if I wasn’t skinny enough, I wasn’t working hard enough. As an adult, I now know that my body composition will never lend itself to the “boyish” figure I thought was desirable. In fact, I am very proud of my curves.
However, I’ll be the first to admit I need to lose weight. But I’m not losing weight to look a certain way. I’m losing weight because I want to be healthy. Technically when you look at my BMI (though it’s not the end-all, be-all of health assessing), I’m slightly in the obese zone. And with diabetes running in my family, I have made a commitment to myself to do all that I can to make sure I live the healthiest, happiest life I can.
Some may think, “But looking good is my motivation!” And that can be fine as long as its not your only motivation. Here’s the thing: vanity will always be subjective– even through your eyes. There are people at perfectly healthy weights who have disorders that cause them to not find themselves “good enough” when looking in the mirror. It’s an easy trap to fall into. And if you fall victim of that, then your “motivation” could hurt you more than help.
But if you use your overall health to motivate you, you can’t go wrong. You’ll see other results first, like being able sleep better at night, having more stamina, getting a clearer complexion, etc. And you know what? The pounds will come off. But if you’re happy with yourself already and enjoying the health benefits that come with it, vanity will be a secondary thing for you. And you know what? That takes a lot of pressure off (which if you ask me, feels a whole lot better than actual pounds melting away).
It’s OKAY to count calories and use whatever method works for you to stay on track, health-wise
It’s NOT OKAY to become so obsessive with “health restrictions,” you can’t live a normal life
I’m the type of person who needs to know what I’m eating. Otherwise, I’ll accidentally eat more than I thought without thinking. Mindless snacking is a huge problem, ESPECIALLY for emotional eaters. So for me, and many others like my buddies on MyFitnessPal, it’s helpful to have a visual of what I’m putting in my body so I can maintain that balance.
But it’s not okay to ever become so obsessed that writing down calories turns into a prison that controls your life. The point of being proactive about this part of nutrition is so you can have control– not so it can control you.
There needs to be a balance. You need to be able to walk into a party and not be that person who goes, “Man, I can’t eat ANYTHING here” and then feel awkward and then feel deprived. But if you log properly, you know that you can make leniences where appropriate or you can see how you can balance it later with something else. I like MyFitnessPal because you can either select your workouts on there or, like me, have your FitBit sync your daily calorie burn. This way, you can see how food and fitness go hand-in-hand. And instead of dwelling on eating that slice of cake, if you’re really worried about it, you can see the equivalent exercise to do that can cancel it out.
It’s OKAY to be happy at the size you are now and recognize you are beautiful
It’s NOT OKAY to use that as an excuse to abuse your body and treat it unhealthily
The curse of not being happy with your size is always looking back on a picture of yourself and wishing you were that skinny still– when really, you know that past you was so unhappy with how “fat” you were at that time too.
There’s a picture of me in junior high at 145 lbs. I remember thinking I was so fat back then because most girls my age were in the 100-115 range. However, I basically was built like a mini woman and I haven’t changed in height or proportions much since. The funny thing is, as an adult looking at BMI and whatever for target weight… 145-150 is the range I should be at.
Sure I was big and mature for my age, but man I wish I could have told junior high me that it was okay to be that size. Instead, all my yo-yoing to be something else caused me to never be able to stabilize at a healthy weight. And whenever I thought I would “accept” myself for who I was at the size I was, it always resulted in me eating chili cheese fries or cake.
And even though I’m getting all personal here, I know it’s not just me– even though some won’t admit it. But accepting that you’re beautiful where you are now is a great thing– but that doesn’t mean you can’t still work on being healthy. I know I look good now. But I know that by working out and making healthy food choices, I can continue becoming the best me I can. I’m not going to avoid the camera or not buy clothes until I reach some arbitrary goal. I’m going to enjoy being happy with me– but that happiness is not an excuse to not focus on my health.
Remember, health should be your motivation for fitness and healthy living anyway. So if weight loss is secondary, this is a great mindset to have.
It’s OKAY to enjoy food– both healthy and not-so-much
It’s NOT OKAY to eat when you’re not hungry or overindulge or mindlessly snack
we all heard it when we were kids. “If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you don’t need a cookie.” But as an adult, that kind of mindset is really helpful.
Food, for me, was always a any time, any place sort of thing growing up. You had it for celebrations. You had it for rewards. You had it at meal times— eventually it was just normal to eat when just being around people. And sure, it’s okay to have a treat every now and then, but for me now, I try to limit myself to only eating when I’m hungry.
Does this mean I can’t eat cake or anything else that is sinfully good? Of course not. But this means if I go to a baby shower that occurs in the middle of the afternoon right after lunch and before dinner, I’m not going to eat everything that’s offered. I’ll maybe have a piece of fruit or a tiny piece of cake. OR if I know that there’s something I’m going to really want to indulge in, I’ll eat a lighter lunch.
There are ways to enjoy your food AND be healthy. It doesn’t need to be separate. And the worst thing you can do is make an excuse for your behavior.
It’s OKAY to decide certain exercises aren’t for you
It’s NOT OKAY to give up on physical activity entirely or give up on something because it’s “too hard”
The best advice about fitness I ever heard was from one of those people on the show Extreme Weight Loss. She said that it’s good to find an exercise you don’t like and just fight through it. Sure, you should find exercises you enjoy (like Zumba) but it can’t all be pure bliss and joy all the time. You need to cultivate the fighter spirit within you to get the results you want and deserve. Plus, pushing through some kind of difficult activity you may not particularly enjoy (I mean, seriously. Who likes burpees?) not only exercises your body– it strengthens your resolve and your confidence.
Instead of just training yourself to be strong, train yourself to know that you CAN instead of can’t.
It’s OKAY to seek help for your issues with food
It’s NOT OKAY to brush it off as an “ordinary thing”
I think we can all agree disordered eating is an issue. But it’s more than just anorexia or bulimia. Emotional eating is a huge problem as well or even the opposite– not eating when you’re emotional. A lot of people try to play it off like it’s normal. Heck, we even feed into it in our social groups with things like, “Aww… you poor thing. You deserve some ice cream” etc.
But it’s not okay. It’s still an issue that needs to be dealt with. It’s okay to not beat yourself up over having an issue. But it’s important to deal with it.
As a emotional eater myself, I know I have to be conscious of my feelings and make a concerted effort not to allow feelings to influence my eating habits, otherwise I turn into a binge eating maniac who can’t get enough chocolate.
But it’s okay to admit you have a problem. Now that I know I have a problem, I can deal with it. I can better process my emotions now that I know what my weakness is and be a stronger person for it. Just because other people condone your poor habits or your disordered eating, that doesn’t make it right. And if you need help, I highly encourage you to seek it out.
The Bottom Line:
It’s hard to find a balance when it comes to health, but it’s important to maintain a happy body image no matter what while also taking care of your physical health and treating your body right. Do some soul searching and find that balance with your own list of things you need to keep in mind. But remember, it’s never okay to view yourself as a victim. After all, you’re the only one who has the power to really make a change in your own life.