Trying to be healthy is so annoying. It’s a life-consuming, energy-sucking, tear-inducing process that we’re supposed to keep up forever, or so I’m told. I’ve always held a grudge against perfectly toned, perky, agile girls who declare their love for fitness and healthy eating like they’re SO MUCH BETTER THAN ME. Ok, maybe that’s not the point of their health evangelism, but sometimes I have no choice but to accept it as a personal attack on my life habits.
What are your life habits? you ask. Well, they tend to fluctuate based on the year, season, and phase of the moon. But one thing I can tell you is that I have always had a complicated relationship with food. In this relationship, I eat all the food. Every last bite. At a very young age, I became obsessed with eating everything on my plate. It wasn’t so much a badge of honor as much as a natural instinct. My understanding was something like: The food is here. The food is for me. I will eat all the food.
I know that inner monologue makes it seem like I was a primitive caveman child, but I can’t help it. It just happened. While other kids picked at their Lunchables, I would eat my entire rectangle-shaped pizza, corn, pears, and probably some sort of gross-ish dessert until there was no evidence of a meal left on my school lunch tray. I’ve always been suspicious of people who leave cereal in the bottom of the bowl. How do you just leave cereal in the bowl?! THAT IS A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY AND ALSO CEREAL. That obsession catapulted me into a habit of eating until my stomach hurts. Why eat one cookie when there are 12 here, and I could eat them all? That sort of thing.
I think part of my reluctance to fully embrace health and fitness also stems from the fact that I am not naturally athletic, and I didn’t grow up playing sports except for one season of tee-ball when I was 6 or 7. I think my presence on the team mostly just embarrassed my brother, who was also on the team and pretty serious about sports. I’m told I was also a source of entertainment for the parents as they watched me sit in the outfield, picking dandelions. I liked wearing the hat and t-shirt with my cool zebra-striped spandex shorts, though. I looked good, and I was weeding the field. Why the team didn’t admire my fashion and gardening prowess is beyond me.
I played basketball on a community intramural team in sixth grade and again my freshman year, but I was never good. On my first team, I scored once in the first quarter of the first game and never again for the rest of the season. The coach called me our team’s “star rebounder,” which wasn’t really true, but managed to mask the fact that I was just taking up space on the court.
Everything turned around a few years later when my second team became the undefeated league champs. I remember being happy about that accomplishment, but I mostly remember that we had a delicious pizza party after the game. I guess our winning season wasn’t enough to propel me into a life of athletics.
As I got older, I began to compare my body to other girls’. I don’t remember the self-loathing kicking in until mid-high school, but once it did, I couldn’t ignore it. I noticed girls who didn’t have bumps and lumps under their clothes that they were trying to camouflage. Whose hips were narrow and slender, in a straight line down from their waists. Whose arms didn’t smash against their sides, flattening out from a lack of muscle. Whose breasts and butts and necks were flawless and desirable. Whose midsections didn’t squish into a row of rolls when they sat down. It was like every girl suddenly became a threat to me, and I didn’t know why. I wanted to look like them. I still do. And unfortunately, that selfish, superficial fear has always driven my attempts to “get in shape.”
If you haven’t read Mindy Kaling’s book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? you should stop reading this blog immediately and go get it. (Seriously, what is wrong with you?) She has a chapter called Chubby for Life in which she declares her love for diet and exercise programs, calling them her favorite hobby. “After a while on one regimen, I get bored and want to try a new one. It’s actually fun for me to read all the material and testimonials of the tan, shammy doctors who stand by the diets medically,” she writes.
Besides being the two funniest people I can think of, Mindy and I also have this in common: we’re a couple of curvy ladies who have tried a lot of different ways to lose weight. Although I can’t say my quest for the best diet is a hobby as much as a Hail Mary. I’ve talked myself into so many eating plans and exercise regimens in an attempt to lose weight and be those girls with those bodies I know deep down in my heart I’ll never have. That’s what “health” has meant to me over the years. Here is a list of some of my diet / exercise endeavors
- After college, I read a book about curing headaches with your diet. It was less about losing weight and more about fixing my stupid head, but it’s food-related, so it counts. I couldn’t eat cheese or peanut butter, which ruined my life.
- That same year, my best friend Brittany and I decided to run a half marathon. In my mind, it looked like swift, gazelle-style running, but in reality I’m pretty sure it looked like an elderly lady fleeing a fiery building. I trained for 4 months and still took almost 3 hours to finish the race. BUT I FINISHED SO LEAVE ME ALONE.
- Then after tolerating some yoga videos featuring a super weird instructor lady in a beach cabana, I decided to take yoga classes at the community center. I don’t remember how many I went to, but it was probably approximately 4ish.
- In grad school I decided I was going to lose 25 pounds in one summer. I counted every single calorie and was hungry like 80% of the time. I joined every class at the university gym, most of which I couldn’t keep up with. I was always the slowest and couldn’t do those wall handstand things, but whatever. I think I lost 23 pounds.
- A year later, I tried the Amino Diet. It’s where you take these natural appetite suppressant / vitamin-packed liquid drops and then eat only 1,000 calories a day. I got a juicer for my birthday and made fresh juice every day. I bought things like “chard” and “kale” and started making my own salad dressing like a real hippie.
- That’s also when I started doing the 30 Day Shred videos and would yell obscenities at Jillian Michaels while panting like my lungs were going to fall out because she’s such a slave driver. SAY IT TO MY FACE, JILLIAN. YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW ME.
- Then I tried CrossFit. If you’ve never tried CrossFit, I’ll explain it to you this way: it’s a constant state of embarrassment that will shred your self esteem until you drown in a pool of your own tears. I don’t know how I got talked into it, but I spent 3 months trying to do olympic weight lifting and pull ups like an idiot. I was constantly covered in bruises and cried in like 4 out of 5 classes. I did flip some tires, but it wasn’t worth the psychological damage.
- Last winter I was snowed in at my parents’ house and impulse-bought the Brazil Butt Lift DVD set from an infomercial. It was a cabin fever-induced purchase, but I had high hopes for my new butt. To this day, I have watched zero of these DVDs, and my butt is still where it’s always been.
- In January, I did the Atkins Diet with my mom and sister. ’90s throwback diet! People still do it! You can only eat meat, cheese, and vegetables, so I felt like a walking stew most of the time.
- I’m currently doing a system called the 21 Day Fix. It’s all about food groups & portions, a special nutrition shake, and a daily exercise regimen. It’s going well so far – dare I say it’s my favorite program yet?! I’m 14 days in, so I’ll report back later when I can (hopefully) plank for a minute straight without almost barfing.
At age 30, I’m finally starting to come to terms with the fact that I don’t look like those perfect girls in my swimsuit. Or jeans. Or sweats. I’ll never be skinny. My hips are wide, and my jaw line kind of gives me a natural double chin. I’ll probably never be a size 2 or 4 or even 6. (I would jump for joy if a single digit made an appearance whatsoever.) That’s not to say that the self-consciousness and self-loathing don’t still torment me from the back of my mind. I’m still single because I’m not physically desirable echoes in there constantly. I know it’s a lie and that I am wonderfully made by a God who loves me. But it doesn’t mean that I won’t have to overcome lies on a daily basis to rest in that truth.
This summer, I get to hike mountains in Colorado with my Young Life girls for a week. It’s both exciting and terrifying because I’ve never done anything like it before. I want to be strong for my girls. I don’t want to hold them back. I want to support them spiritually and emotionally without worrying about my own physical strength while we’re on the trails during that week.
I’m also maid of honor in my sister’s wedding this summer. The rest of her bridesmaids are thinner than me and so beautiful. (How dare they?!) I know nobody really cares about the bridesmaids on wedding day, but I want to be at my best for my sister. I want to be confident and happy and celebrate her instead of complaining about the way I look in photos for years to come.
It’s possible that someday health and fitness will become a life habit that I look forward to every day. That homemade cauliflower-crust pizzas will erase my daydreams about Papa John’s. That I’ll wake up and exercise because I just love it so much. But for now, I’m taking it 21 days at a time, and I’m actually ok with that.