Last week I wrote about the 5 Things I Always Do When I Want to Lose Weight. It is about how I handle it when I come home from vacation and feel uncomfortable in my clothes.
In general people loved it and it performed really well. But a couple of people took issue with it, claiming that it came off as too “obsessive.”
They said that I shouldn’t be spending vacation time in the gym and shouldn’t care so much about getting healthy when I return home. The implication being that these actions were somehow emotionally unhealthy.
At first I was really confused. For nearly 6 years here at Summer Tomato I’ve been writing about the dangers of dieting, paying special attention to the psychology of food, health and body image. I even wrote a book about it.
Do these guys seriously think I have an unhealthy obsession with weight loss after all that? That I don’t know the value of taking breaks and enjoying vacation? That I feel guilty about indulging in delicious food? That I don’t realize that intentional self-restriction is a terrible idea?
I am very aware of how tricky it is to write about weight loss without sounding like a dieting advocate. I went out of my way in this particular post to emphasize that my motivation was to feel comfortable in my body. I explicitly stated that I was not dissatisfied by my appearance, and that I didn’t believe other people looking at me would even notice.
I had to re-read my article and the comments several times before I could find the disconnect.
Even though I believed I had clearly explained my motives, I didn’t explain my feelings. Clearly these readers interpreted my actions the way most people would. Associating exercise with pain and guilt, and Real Food with deprivation.
The assumption made was that I was somehow punishing myself for having a good time.
Let me try again.
I’m a writer. I spend most of my time sitting at my computer writing articles and thinking up new ways I can help people find joy in food and health.
I love my job, but I hate sitting. I ordered a standing desk and can’t wait until it arrives.
One of the absolute best parts of my day is when I get to walk to the gym and train with my friend Adam. We workout as often as we can because we love it so much. We always try for 5 days a week (we call these 5ers), but feel lucky if we can squeeze a workout into our schedules 3-4 days a week.
When I get home from the gym I feel like a new person.
My other two favorite activities during my work days are when I get to take my dog Toaster to play at the park and when I get to eat dinner with my husband.
I wish we could bring Toast with us on more vacations, but when he can’t come I do my best to maximize the other things that make me happy. I eat, I explore, and if there’s a decent gym I exercise. I do not check email.
To me, this is the ultimate luxury. This is what makes life awesome.
But sometimes it’s too much. As much as I love food, I also love feeling fit. And I’ve gotten really good at maintaining that balance.
A lot of indulgent food makes me feel puffy and bloated. The digestive pains that I suffered from for most of my life before becoming a foodist start to return. My clothes cut into my skin in an uncomfortable way.
It feels bad physically. I don’t feel bad about my body (shame), my body is making me feel bad (discomfort). This is a crucial distinction.
When I get home and refocus on health, it isn’t because I feel guilty for having had a good time. It’s because I believe I deserve to feel great.
It isn’t because I hate myself for what I’ve done, it’s because I love myself and value caring for the body I live in.
Feeling great is what I love, crave and expect. Feeling crappy is unacceptable. Why would I intentionally stay in an uncomfortable and unproductive place when I know how to fix it by doing things I enjoy?
There is nothing wrong with prioritizing the state of your body when it is keeping you from feeling your best. But to do it in a healthy way means understanding your deepest motivations.
You must be able to distinguish between self-loathing and self-love.
I treat myself in a way that I believe everyone deserves to be treated, with care and respect. I believe I have a lot to offer, and a lot to learn.
I’m no different from anyone else, so I give myself the same advice I’d give to my best friend or to a child learning something new or to you.
If something I do doesn’t turn out the way I hope (this happens all the time) I don’t get angry with myself or feel ashamed. I simply ask what I could have done differently to get a different outcome, and try my best to do that the next time around.
Punishing someone for trying and not succeeding is disrespectful and counterproductive, so I don’t do that to myself.
I view missteps as an opportunity to learn, not a reflection of my value as a person. I give myself the benefit of the doubt that I’m doing my best, and try to give myself all the tools I need to succeed next time.
I don’t believe in failure. I believe I can always do better if I figure out what is holding me back.
I never think that I’m not good enough. That the problem is me. That I need more discipline. That I deserve to be punished.
I always start from a place of self-love, so much so that I get confused when people interpret my actions otherwise.
I hope this time I have been perfectly clear.
Do you know your deepest motivations?