I’m going to go ahead and tell you something that a lot of women don’t want to hear: losing weight will not fix your life.
Maybe the same is true for men. I don’t know. I can only comment on my experience, which is not exactly earth-shattering: girl decides she’s unhappy with her life, decides to lose weight, eats healthier, goes to the gym and loses weight. I’m sure that a lot of people can relate because they’ve done the exact same thing, while a lot of others have tried and failed. After all, you don’t wake up one morning and decide you’re going to lose weight because you’re completely satisfied with your appearance and the number on the scale. Allow me to illustrate my point by quoting any of the 5 million fitspo posts on tumblr.
“In order to change, we must be sick & tired of being sick & tired”. #fitspo #YOLO #getfitordietrying
I get it. I really do. I swear. I still remember a trip home for my sister’s high school graduation. My parents’ lives were a mess, and while I had always been conscious of this fact, having to experience it first-hand as an adult was terrifying. I was convinced that being fat was the source of all their problems. I don’t mean it was embarrassing that neither of them could fit into their seats at the theatre. It was. But problems like that seem rather inconsequential when you’ve got things like debt and depression weighing you down. And I, being 21 years old, was absolutely convinced that if my parents could just empower themselves to lose weight, they could also find the strength to begin tackling the other 99 problems in their lives.
Worst of all, after that vacation I carried away the idea that if I didn’t attempt to lose weight I would end up generally miserable and unable to cope with a midlife crisis just like them. When I got back to my apartment, I was forced to admit to myself that I was already dissatisfied with my life and therefore well on my way to becoming my parents. Isn’t that exactly what everyone dreads?
Luckily, I took this whole life-assessment as a personal challenge. I needed to prove to my parents that they were wrong: they were strong enough to deal with being overweight and everything else, and I could lead by example! Or I at least needed to prove to myself that I was strong enough to deal with all these things, so that I wouldn’t end up in the exact same situation.
So it was with all of this in mind that I went out and signed up for Zumba, which is obviously our most powerful weapon in combating obesity.
In a lot of ways I got lucky. I enjoyed Zumba, I adored the instructor and it was a positive first step towards improving my diet. Why is that lucky? Because as a society we are convincee that weight management is simply the lesser of two evils. All of those fitspo blogs essentially boil down to the message that “Even if exercise sucks, it’s still better than being fat.” You have to work so hard to eat healthy, and it cheesecake still tastes better, but you don’t want to gain 5lbs, do you? If that’s the choice that experts allude to when it comes to being fat, I understand why so many people have chosen obesity.
But again, I was lucky and Zumba started me down the path to where I am today. I’ve been able to achieve some of my goals and I continue to work towards others. I’m already miles ahead of a lot of women. By finding lifting, I no longer view my workout time as one of my many obligations. I’m not the coworker who laments, “I should run tonight. I don’t want to. But I really should, and I haven’t been to the gym all week.” And while I still want to lose weight, I didn’t set myself up for failure by saying “I want to weigh 115lbs because that’s what I weighed in high school.” Ladies, I’m sorry but if you’re always working towards looking like your 18-year old self again, you’re doomed to fail simply because you are no longer 18 and you never will be.
Do you really want to be 18, again? I don’t. When I was 18, I believed that being fat was the cause of everyone’s personal problems. Now I’m 23 and 100 lbs lighter, but I still struggle with my self-esteem and body image. I still have no idea how to make friends or get a date because I’m terrified of rejection. I get blackhole depressed when I’m PMSing, and then I cry while washing the dishes. I have student debt and no permanent job. My cellphone bill is overdue. And I still wish I was thinner, goddamit. Yes, I can walk up all eleven flights of stairs when the elevator in our apartment dies and I don’t feel like dying. I’m no longer prehypertensive. And for fuck’s sake, I’m on the verge of squatting twice my bodyweight. But all of those things only changed my body, they didn’t change who I am as a person.
There is no denying that exercising and eating healthy can improve health outcomes. I still wish my parents would work towards losing some weight, because I have no doubt that they can do it. But we’re sold a lot of mixed messages when it comes to health, and we can’t keep prescribing diet and exercise as both an obligation and a cure-all for finding happiness. As someone who looks in the mirror and still sees herself 100lbs ago, there is no amount of exercise that can fix your self-image. As someone who eats clean, there is no diet that will cure the mess that is modern life. So this seemingly wide held belief that somehow our fitness journeys are the key to loving ourselves and finding happiness is a lie. Running makes us better runners, but we can’t run away from our problems.