I’m fascinated by how widely body image norms vary around the world, and through time. Recently, my kettlebell coach and I were discussing how some African cultures go to great lengths to intentionally “fatten up” young women, in an effort to improve their marriage prospects. And there was a time in history when looking heavy was in vogue among European royals—it was an indication of prosperity.
Different times, different continents, different messages. Yet they still affect each of us on a very personal level. I have always had a very solid BMI, but I can remember my grandma shipping me a vat of natural peanut butter and a case of pork and beans because she thought I looked thin a few years ago—she likes to see me a little rounder. It’s a complete 180 from the weight-obsessed landscape we’re all presented with when we pick up a magazine or turn on the TV. But while they may be conflicting, these messages also surface a wonderful possibility. Each of us has the power to be the boss of how much mental real estate we devote to our weight. We don’t have to surrender how we feel about our bodies to any media storyline, fashion trend, or ad campaign.
Releasing the stress and psychological terrorism of being constantly focused on the number on the scale does not mean you have to let yourself go. (I actually lost 10 pounds when I stopped fixating on that number!) You can still place a high value on healthy living without being weight-focused. Here’s how to stop obsessing and keep your healthy habits on track.
1. Be happy now One major reason we get so fixated on our weight is the temptation to almost hold our breath in anticipation of how ENTIRELY AWESOME life will magically become when we lose 5, 10, 20, or 50 pounds. Unfortunately, this is a delusion.
Think of the people in your life already wearing the skinny jeans you fantasize about squeezing into one day. Are they blissfully happy, skipping through life without a single worry? Probably not. There are plenty of miserable people out there who have what we think will make us happy, and any time we hold out for happiness, waiting for some future wish to come true, we are selling ourselves short.
Try this instead: Visualize reaching your goal—close your eyes and allow yourself to feel the happiness you expect to feel when you get there. You’re genuinely happy, and possibly even smiling, right? Guess what, you just created that happiness in your own heart and mind, and you have the power to keep doing it everyday. So do it. Practice being happy on a regular basis, feeling exactly as happy as you think you’ll be when you get to your end goal. Pretty soon, you’ll break the mental link between being happy in the future and the number on the scale, and you’ll just simply be happy.
2. Treat your body like it’s the only one you’ll get—because it is! We only get one body to live in, and it’s a good one. If your brain is still functioning, your heart is still ticking, and your lungs still work, you have a lot to thank your body for. If your arms and legs work, too, you should give yourself bonus gratitude points.
It’s a dramatic act of self-violence and resistance to reality to constantly be sucking your stomach in, grabbing your muffin top, or fantasizing how perfect life would be sans stretch marks. Wouldn’t it be better to choose to love exactly what you’ve got? And then, to love it so much that you treat it with kindness, respect, and immaculate care? Taking care of this one precious body means giving it the healthiest fuel possible and staying fit, but also refusing to berate it when it gets hungry or succumbs to a kryptonite food moment.
Approaching your efforts to improve your eating and exercise habits from a place of love and self-approval is much more sustainable than coming from a place of self-loathing or critique. Also, self-acceptance triggers a relaxation response—a feeling that you’ll want to continue creating, rather than the stress and anxiety triggered by constant self-criticism.
3. Focus on your actions, not the scale Put your attention on things you can control by focusing on the quality and quantity of your food and fitness activities. Find whole foods that are nutritious, and that you also enjoy eating, and track your food daily. You’ll gain critical awareness of macros and calories, which many of us have lost after years of eating processed on autopilot.
Then, find ways to make exercise fun, and turn your workout into a “play-out!” It’s so much easier to get out the door to participate in activities that you actually enjoy. Experiment with exercises that help you move and strengthen your body, and think of it as part of the adventure of life and the process of raising the bar on your self-care game—not as part of a desperate effort to move the needle on the scale
In the process, you’ll realize it’s a lot easier to create healthy, enjoyable habits when you focus on what you can actually control rather than simply sitting back and obsessing about your weight.
Is it time to reevaluate your relationship with the scale? Share your thoughts in the comments below!