Warning: This could be triggering for those suffering with disordered eating.
As I am sitting here at work during a lull in activity, I started thinking about something I feel we all struggle with—whether it be all the time or just in spurts every few months or even years. And that’s what it means to be healthy. What does it mean? Some days I haven’t a clue what being “healthy” even is. And that’s because there is no single meaning. What it means to me might not be the way you define it for yourself. Furthermore, what it means to me today might not be what it means in 10 years. And that’s okay. The point and the goal is that you find your own way of living a healthy life. And adapting when that way needs to change. You might be wondering why I am even thinking about this. So let me provide some background.
February 2016 was a turning point in my life. Jacob and I decided that we, because of a seemingly innocent little weight loss challenge at his place of work, were going to lose weight. Up until that point we were fairly sedentary (read: completely sedentary). We were eating whatever and whenever we wanted and didn’t really care about what we were putting into our bodies. We felt terrible, rundown, and generally unhealthy ALL THE TIME. However, it was so normal for us that we didn’t even see it as a problem. Until we started this little competition…
Jacob started the challenge off better than I did because of his iron clad will power. When he sets a goal nothing can stop him. Call it stubbornness, call it pride, call it whatever you want but the boy gets it done. I wasn’t as speedy in my lifestyle overhaul. I was reluctant to exercise and eating smaller portions seemed terrible….at first. But, my scientific background took over almost subconsciously and I started researching.
I researched tracking calories and read up on how to lose weight as much as I could. I discovered the idea of eating whatever you want as long as it doesn’t exceed your daily allotment of calories. This was called CICO, or calories in versus calories out. The very basic principle was that as long as you ate less than what your body required then you would lose weight. Simple as that. No fads, no excessive exercise. Just simply tracking calories and eating less than my body expended. So the analytical part of me saw it as a numbers game. It became a simple math equation and the rest is history. For the first time in my whole life I saw dieting as something that was attainable. No cutting out whole food groups or crazy weight loss pills or shakes. Just numbers. It seemed healthy.
Jacob and I used the concept of CICO to still eat what we wanted (in moderation and often swapping out higher calorie options for lower calorie substitutions, but still we ate burgers and pizza and sweets) and we walked every day. Nothing strenuous for quite a long time. Quickly the weight fell off and a year later he was down over 70 pounds and me over 40. We were no longer overweight and were able to run a 5K multiple times a week. We felt great. We felt healthy.
Flash forward to recently. I’m still down all that weight and so is Jacob. We eat what we want when we want it now, but in lesser quantities than before. We also try to stay active and eat balanced, healthy meals most of the time. Our lives are drastically different than a year ago but they feel sustainable. Let’s face it, if you love sweets and you followed a diet that made you completely cut them out, once you lost all the weight you’d have a hard time maintaining that weight loss if you reintroduced those sweets. That’s why diets often fail. Sustainable lifestyle changes are what I feel are healthy.
So, my body is healthier than it was a year and half ago because it isn’t carrying around so much extra weight. My joints feel better, my heart isn’t as stressed, and my stamina is great. I feel strong and lean (most days). But this story isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. Unfortunately, there can be a darker side to weight loss that not many people address. It’s a part of my weight loss journey that I feel would be a disservice if I omitted. Most people see Jacob and me as success stories. The perfect examples of how to lose weight and keep it off. But no one knows the problems that came along with it. My body might be healthier but my mind isn’t.
The first problem I encountered along my journey was that I replaced one obsession with another. I replaced my food addiction with a calorie counting addiction. I logged everything. When I finally broke my logging streak it was over 415 days of logging. I couldn’t go a day without doing it. And it made it hard for me to relax and enjoy nights out with friends. I felt like I couldn’t live a normal life. One bad night of eating wasn’t a big deal and I would indulge but I HAD to log it. Logging it made me feel better. Seeing the calories was almost a way for me to shame myself into eating better the next day. I could tell my thinking wasn’t healthy but this kept up for a long time.
Once I stopped losing weight and decided to maintain it, I had a hard time adjusting (I still am adjusting, actually). I thought even eating a cookie would make me gain all the weight back. It was absurd but getting “fat” again was my literal nightmare. Jacob wasn’t having these problems. He would go out for pizza and beers and not feel the least bit of shame. He knew he had worked hard and the occasional day wouldn’t derail that. You can neither lose excessive amounts of weight overnight nor gain it. Deep down I knew that but on the surface I couldn’t get my brain to agree.
Things got worse the longer we maintained. My body goals changed. No longer did I need to get smaller. Now I wanted to lean up and put on some muscle. Yet every time I tried, the small weight gain from water, extra food, and muscle scared me. So I stopped. Reducing my body fat and replacing it with muscle was healthy, but the “weight gain” was too much to handle after months of seeing the scale go down. The mirror was showing me that my body was looking better but since the scale was up all I could see was all the ways in which I still disliked my body. It was mentally taxing. I wanted the scale to keep going down or I wasn’t happy. So I quit working out and worked on just eating less. Nothing drastic but always below my maintenance. Anything above made me nervous and I’d feel so guilty that it would make me sick. Sometimes actually sick.
This brings us to today. I’ve stopped working out save walking my dogs but instead of eating below maintenance I’m eating more and more. I gave up pretty much completely. I used to tell people it’s not motivation that gets you to your goal, it’s discipline. And I see that in myself 100% right now. When my motivation left my discipline didn’t pick up the slack. Leaving me sedentary and unable to care. Binging and restricting in vicious cycles. The guilt I feel is strong but not strong enough to change what I’ve been doing. I can see that I have put on a few pounds and my mental state is becoming exceedingly fragile (similar to how it was before I lost weight to begin with). I know that soon there will be a breaking point that will get me back on track and I think writing this down might be the push I need. I know what makes logical sense but sometimes we can’t see what’s right in front of us.
People should know that losing weight isn’t the only aspect to a healthier life. If you lose the weight in a dangerous way you can potentially make yourself less healthy. If you replace one obsession or addiction with another you aren’t helping yourself, either. It’s a journey. It’s a lifestyle change. It’s waking up every day making the conscious effort to be better and to do better. Being healthy, to me, is not just about physical health but mental well-being, as well. Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone when you’re struggling. Don’t be afraid to take time off from your goals if it seems like you’re too tired to continue. At the end of the day you have your whole life to keep improving. A few days or even a few months isn’t going to change that. If you fall down get back up. It sounds cliché but it’s true. We all need to practice self-love in all its forms.
If you’ve made it this far, I appreciate it. I know I am not alone when it comes to this and I want others to know they’re also not alone. We are but human. Though we be but little, we are fierce.
Whatever it means to be healthy, I know I am still searching for the definition. And you might be, too. But that’s quite alright. Love yourself and love the journey. Even the bad parts. Because what’s life without the good and the bad, right?
Until next time.