As a teenager, I was acutely aware of my size. I would diet and exercise with little results to my weight. When I finally found a diet that resulted in drastic weight loss, I was praised for taking control of my health and “looking good.” It didn’t matter that the diet was unhealthy or that I never addressed my personal issues. The folks that praised me for getting healthier, never actually asked me about my health. My health was only equated with my thinness. I had become more confident in myself but it wasn’t rooted in self-love; it was rooted in acceptance. It was as though my weight loss determined my beauty and self-worth. This connection of thinness to one’s beauty and health leaves space to completely dismiss real results in health and self-esteem.
In some cases, it can perpetuate an unhealthy relationship with food and positive body image. For example, after I lost weight in high school and college, I continued to struggle with the demands of keeping the weight off and maintaining my self-worth. I obsessed about my food intake. Not in a healthy, mindful way, but in a “will this make me fat” kind of way. When my weight increased even slightly, my self-worth decreased significantly. I constantly looked for new ways of maintaining and losing weight. Some even harmful, but, again, health and well-being were irrelevant.
Let me be clear. I have no intention on promoting a lifestyle of self-indulgence or unhealthy habits that can lead to obesity or other serious health conditions. I promote a healthy lifestyle but I want to stress the idea that a healthy body can come in different forms. If someone’s weight hinders their mobility or attributes to other health conditions, weight loss may be needed to improve their overall well-being. But, we should not encourage weight loss by any means necessary. Nor, should we stay steadfast to the idea that a certain amount of weight loss indicates success or value, especially if health and well-being are truly, the goal.
I, also, do not want to diminish the positive experiences of losing weight or getting fit as a personal goal. Losing weight or getting fit for personal fulfillment is not the problem. One may desire a certain physique because it improves their performance. Others may set weight goals as they begin their health journey because it’s a quantifiable goal. If you set a weight goal and achieve it through healthy actions, you deserve praise for your discipline and hard work. But, if you seek weight loss for acceptance or self-worth, as I had, you may find yourself in a constant struggle. Never understanding the root of the problem or understanding your innate value. It is important to remember that thinness, health, and self-worth are three separate entities that do not link together to define each other. Thinness is optional. Good health improves quality of life. And, self-worth is undeniable.
As I deconstructed my own ideas around thinness, health, and self-worth, I implemented three practices to maintain focus on my health and overall well-being.
- I remain mindful, but not obsessive, about my eating habits. My diet is a mainly, whole-food plant-based. This is a healthy diet that has been shown to improve health without harmful long-term effects. Plant-based foods provide nutrients that animal foods cannot and do not contribute to many illnesses that animal foods do. In my opinion, these foods best serve my body. But, if I choose to eat vegan junk food, I do not shame myself for it because I know I am choosing it. And, because I do not live in constant denial, I do not feel the need to indulge on a day-to-day basis.
- I exercise 4-5 times a week. I do not have a passion for any specific physical activity [yet] but I do respect my body. I am grateful for my body and all that it allows me to do. I am grateful that my body allows me to continue to experience the physical world with my children. I incorporate some physical activity regularly to maintain a healthy and strong body. It may not be strenuous but I choose to show my body appreciation in a physical form.
- I practice self-love and positive affirmations daily. It might sound foolish but I must remind myself on a daily basis of my self-worth and that it is not determined by thinness or the beliefs of others. Unfortunately, we live in a society infested with judgment and arbitrary ideas of beauty. If I do not profess my self-worth on a daily basis, it is easy for me to retreat to self-doubt and lose sight of my value.
Obviously, my practices are not anything new. If you were to go to any health professional, they will tell you to eat right and exercise to maintain a healthy body. The difference is my intent. My health goals are now aligned with my happiness and self-care. Taking care of my body is not a punishment. By maintaining my health, my body allows me the opportunity to live my best life. Through self-care, I am able to understand my immense and undeniable self-worth.