When I discovered that I’d put on the matrimonial version of the “freshmen fifteen” as a newlywed, I set my mind to loosing some weight for the first time since college, when I’d spent the entirety of my first winter break over-eating the home-cooked meals I’d missed so much and copious amounts of pie. Loosing weight was easy then. All I had to do was return to walking to classes (my college has a very hilly campus) and the rigors of being on the volleyball team.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an obsessive mind. So once I turn my attention towards a problem or topic—be it planning my wedding, writing an email, or deciding what to order at a restaurant—it isn’t easy for me to disengage. I scrutinize decisions even after they’ve been made and can no longer be changed. For me, sometimes trying to stop thinking about something is akin to escaping quicksand.
Being a bit obsessive is a double-edged sword. It means that I’m precise and can appear thoughtful. It means that I remember most things, and I’m highly responsible. It means that few tasks fall through the cracks. To quote my husband, “I wake up with a sense of responsibility.”
However, now and again, that sense of responsibility robs me of sleep. Having an obsessive mentality means that I can’t always shut my mind off, even when I want to—even when I want to very badly. It means that sometimes my brain can hold my thoughts hostage and take them on frightening, depressing, or angering journeys. It means that sometimes I’m an unwilling passenger recklessly hurtling down Memory Lane or Regret Street or Fear Boulevard—desperately seeking to regain control of the vehicle.
So when I set my brain to loosing weight, it becomes hard for me to not overthink everything I do and eat. I start weighing and measuring my food with chemistry-lab-level precision. I record each calorie I burn and consume. I step on a scale every Monday morning, and if the number has increased, I replay and assess all my meals and athletic activities from the previous week. There is a line between discipline and obsession, and I don’t always stay on the right side of it.
Earlier this year I had a bit of a light bulb moment. And perhaps my realization will seem obvious to you, but sometimes I have to dwell on the obvious (or simple) for it to really permeate my being—affecting both my mind and my actions.
I began this year sick—some horrendous combination of a cold, the flu, and a sinus infection that occurred concurrently or in rapid succession. I never lost my appetite, so I was eating enough. But I did exercise a lot less during my sickness. And somehow, despite being much more inactive than usual, I lost a measurable amount of weight each week. I couldn’t explain it. I thought: Perhaps coughing and nose blowing burn a tremendous amount of calories.
As I got healthier and was able to exercise more, I noticed that some of the weight I’d lost while sick began to return. Initially I was disappointed and a bit frustrated. How could I be eating less freely, moving more, and gaining weight(!)? Then I realized how wrong it was for me to be sad about putting on a few pounds (or, more accurately, fractions of them). And here’s when I had to dwell a bit on my light bulb moment, because while I knew it to be true, I was guilty of not acting like it—my disappointment being the irrefutable evidence:
First of all, fluctuations of a pound or less are not worthy of disappointment or cause to ring the alarm bells. It’s information for me to make note of, and can lead to an adjustment, but it shouldn’t engender wistfulness.
Secondly, getting sick is not a healthy way to loose weight. It is not a diet strategy—not even retroactively. Any weight I attain while I’m sick is by definition not a healthy weight for me—and for one reason only: because I was sick.
It has less to do with the weight itself and more to do with how I got there. It also has to do with focusing less on a specific number. First of all, few people reach their goal weight and think: “Great! Now I’m done and can just maintain.” Actually, I don’t know what most people think. I just know that as soon as I start getting close to the imaginary number I’ve set my sights on, I start to wonder if I can go even lower. And by “imaginary number” I mean that it’s based on nothing other than the random preferences of my mind—be it the shape the digits make or the way the words sound. It’s not like anyone qualified ever told me which number should be my goal.
All that to say, I’m trying to focus less on my weight even as I remain responsible in terms of exercising enough and eating well. I need to relearn what I knew in the past. For example, when I was preparing for my wedding, my only goal was to look like myself. I didn’t go on a diet or join a gym or sign up for bridal boot camp. I didn’t want to eat less or exercise more than what I could naturally stay motivated to maintain before and after my wedding day.
Throughout my college years I learned to focus on making healthy decisions rather than turning too critical an eye towards the mirror or scale—to focus less on how my body looked (or what it weighed) and be more appreciative of what it could do.
But as I get older and the pounds add easier and subtract harder, I’ve relapsed a bit into my post-puberty-weight-gain mentality of fighting against my body.
Certainly, as I age there will be bodily changes I may mourn (like when I found my first gray hairs or how much more easily I get sore). But because of what I may loose, I need to appreciate whatever I have now.
I don’t want my body’s age or changes to stop me from embracing it every step of the way. No matter what I look like or can no longer do, I want to keep finding things to appreciate and celebrate. I can have goals, but they should not become idols I sacrifice too many of my thoughts or too much of my energy to.
I want to stop grading my meals and just eat a healthy portion more often than not. And on those days that I don’t do the best job, I don’t want to punish myself mentally—engaging in psychological self-flagellation. Eating isn’t a class I’m being graded on. Food isn’t a reward or a weapon. It can be enjoyable or unpleasant, but first and foremost it is simply sustenance.
[A photo of a person sitting in a cafe. Their face and body are in silhouette. They are wearing a hat. Behind them is a window. Source: Chris Goldberg]