Note: Alright, bear with me. It’s about to get 50 shades of serious up in here.
When I was 17 years old, everything was high.
I went to the doctor — a check-up I figured to be as regular as any — only to discover my young, teenage body was in no good, very bad shape. My blood pressure was high, my cholesterol was high, and my weight was way too high. I was slowly but surely developing pre-metabolic syndrome, a precursor to Type 2 Diabetes, and if I didn’t do something fast, my health would suffer permanently.
I couldn’t say I was shocked — I never was truly any good at giving my body the care it deserves. I barely exercised and avoided sports like the plague. I couldn’t run a lap around the track. I ate my way through my weeks, tossing empty, once jam-packed fro-yo containers here and aluminum candy wrappers there. My clothes, along with my self-confidence, were only becoming smaller, and I refused to acknowledge what was happening. None of this was my fault…it couldn’t be, right? Wrong.
My doctor gave me two options: lose weight, or spend the rest of my life pricking myself with a needle. I chose the former.
Here’s the thing about expectations: they can set you up for disappointment.
I made the choice to lose weight expecting to count every calorie and every pound. I made the choice anticipating a long, hard road on which I was destined to despise every downtrodden step. I expected to hate it.
And I acted like I hated it, too. Don’t get me wrong, I was trying, but each ounce of effort was laced in reluctance and dread. On my good weeks, not even an entire double chocolate cake to myself could break my stride. You’re only as strong as you are weak, though, and on my bad weeks, just a slight gust of freshly-baked cookies would throw me off course.
But here’s the thing about expectations: they can also pleasantly surprise you.
Fast-forward almost four years, and I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been. I can finally run a mile (maybe even three or four) without gasping for air. I crave fruits and vegetables far more than frozen yogurt and Hershey kisses, and I can proudly boast I’m no longer even close to developing Diabetes.
But I didn’t get here without learning a thing or two.
I started this journey expecting way too little. My plan was to get in, lose the weight and then get the heck out. But I’ve come to the point where I’ve realized the most crucial aspect of any health-related odyssey: I don’t have to do anything.
Years and years of word association have taught all of us that “should” and “healthy” are two words that belong together — it’s never that we DESERVE to be healthy, but we SHOULD be healthy. And to some extent, I understand. It’s great to love your body and treat your body with love. But, the problem with this mindset and its highly implicative nature is that it sets up a healthy lifestyle as a burden, something we all “should” care about or we’re somehow lesser.
We shouldn’t be healthy because we have to. We should be healthy because we WANT to. There is a huge, undeniable difference between the two, and it’s a difference I struggled with for a while.
My nearly-diabetic self felt as if I had to be healthy. I had a weight-loss focus without a healthy-body focus; in other words, I didn’t really care how the weight came off so long as it did. I just wanted to be x-number of pounds lighter so I could start eating cookies again.
I’ve learned an incredible amount since then. When my body began to change, I noticed not only did I look better, I felt better, too. I was filled with a burning energy for everything around me. I laughed and smiled more. I would walk away from meals light and satisfied instead of bloated and weighed down, because I was fueling my body with love instead of junk.
I eat whatever I want now. If I want a cookie, of course I’m going to eat a cookie! I deserve a cookie! But what I want has changed: because I acknowledged my body and my mind’s right to be happy, what I want are foods that make me feel happiest. Sometimes that means an entire pizza to myself, and sometimes that means a gargantuan salad. The bottom line: eat what brings you and only you contentment.
I don’t weigh myself now. I don’t care what an arbitrary number on a scale says about me, because I know myself best. I track my health and my fitness based on how my body feels in my own mind. It’s such a simple concept, yet it took me years to figure out — my body may be a “temple” but it is my own temple, and I get to decide how to worship it.
I love myself now. I didn’t before. It’s taken me some time, so be patient with yourself. Always remember you don’t have to be a certain weight, body mass, number or fitness level. You don’t have to be anything. You are not a number: you are intelligent and driven, you are kind and warm-hearted, you are unique and beautiful.
You are what you want to be. Always. And loving yourself is a god-given right. I know some of us aren’t there right now — believe me, I wasn’t there for awhile either. But after a few tough years, lots of sweat and (i’ll admit it) lots of tears, I’ve arrived.
And I’ve never been happier.