I’ve lost a third of my body weight in the last 10 years.
Given how many people struggle with being overweight, it’s easy to read that sentence and think, “good for you!” And it is good for me…mostly. I was technically overweight when I first started out, and now I’m not.
But there’s more to it than that.
Before I start, I want to say that I think weight loss journeys are amazing. I think people who come back to a place of health when they’ve been unhealthy for so long are some of the most admirable people you could ever meet. I think safe, stable weight loss for anyone who is truly overweight is one of the best things a person could do for themselves, and I don’t in any way condemn that.
But my weight loss journey is a bit more loaded. Because now that I’m two pounds away from being considered “underweight” by BMI standards, I have to tell you something…
The means by which you gain or lose weight are more important than the weight loss or gain itself.
Logistically, emotionally, physically. The journey is more important than the destination.
Here’s where it all began.
The circumstances through which I gained so much weight when I was a teenager were completely outside my control. In fact, my whole life at that point in time was out of my control. In the span of several months, I went from underweight to overweight while simultaneously feeling like everything was falling apart around me. The little that remained of my self-confidence as a teenager was lost entirely in my new rolls of fat and wider hips that no longer fit into any pants that had the word “Juniors” written on the tag.
Once everything calmed down, tackling the goal of losing weight was my first chance at regaining control over a life that felt far too unsafe for me.
At first it was through exercise. I joined a cycling team and lost my first several pounds. But my father encouraged me to continue eating unhealthy foods – candies and cookies every day – because I could just burn it off the next day during my workout.
Fearing this was poor logic, and that I would never fully lose the weight I’d gained, I cut out many of my nightly desserts when I finally moved out into my own apartment after college. I could no longer exercise because of some injuries, but at least I was controlling my diet.
Slowly I was losing the pounds. A few here, a few there. A poor relationship brought some back on. The ending of that relationship left me cutting calories to feel better about myself. And so a few more pounds dropped off. I started weighing foods. I had spreadsheets. You get the picture.
And then I learned about my food allergies.
I basically got medical permission to cut out entire food groups from my diet. Dairy. Gluten. Egg. Soy. All the “bad” stuff. Bingo. I had my plan. Never mind that I was still injured and couldn’t exercise. Now I could lose weight just by reducing my food intake.
I have to say, weight loss was not my conscious intention when I chose to take so many foods out of my diet. I cut them out to regain my energy and with the hope that my injuries would heal themselves after I removed the allergens from my system.
But removing several food groups at once is challenging. In my perfectionism to take everything out, I didn’t prepare alternatives in their place. I inadvertently reduced my calorie intake, only realizing this after I found myself hungry each night, knowing that there was nothing in my fridge that I could safely eat.
No matter, though, right? I was still losing weight. Slowly but surely. I would finally have the body I wanted since before I took my tumble down Chunky Lane as a teenager.
My BMI was now in the healthy range. I stopped weighing myself so often because I could feel the changes. I’d stand in places like the supermarket line while randomly tucking my elbows into my sides because I could feel my curves for the first time in years. I probably looked like I was practicing my routine for the penguin acting job in Frozen the Musical (There are penguins in that movie, right? No?).
Soon I’d have the perfect body. It was only a matter of time. I just had to keep doing what I was doing. I was lucky, I figured. Stress made me eat less, not more, so I didn’t have to worry about regaining weight when times were tough. If anything, difficulties in my life translated quite nicely into fewer pounds.
My injuries were calming down. I started working with a functional trainer to get my strength back. Hell, maybe I’d even gain some weight in muscle! That would be amazing. But at the very same time, the stress in my life was mounting. It was harder to eat because my appetite was gone. And pretty soon I started to worry…
Were those my ribs when I stood up straight in front of the mirror? What if I bend over? Is that what my vertebrae look like? But I still have fat on my hips. I still have squish to my belly. I don’t even have one of those vertical-looking belly buttons you see on fit people. Mine was still slightly horizontal, a product of what I thought was a lack of dedication to core exercises.
Where was my perfect body? Did I skip over it somehow? How was I now bony but still squishy in what I felt were undesirable places?
I started weighing myself each day. I kept losing pounds but I didn’t feel sexier. I didn’t feel more beautiful. I started calculating my BMI and realized it was a few tenths of a decimal away from the unhealthy range. Never mind BMI is a terrible standard for measuring health. I was finally skinny (had the crappy math equation of the BMI to prove it) and I still didn’t like my body.
And this is where I am right now, today. Two whole pounds away from an underweight BMI. Cold all the time. Unable to be hugged by my partner without my ribs feeling like they are going to break against each other. This is not how I want to be. This is not how I want to live.
Left: Me in 2008 (185 lbs), Right: Me in 2018 (125 lbs)
I thought this was where my body image journey would finally end.
It didn’t end, though. There is no perfect. It took me going past a non-existent ideal to realize that there is no perfect body. Ever. Not one.
If you can see a rib here, you’re going to see a fat bump there. Muscle will tighten things up, but stretch marks and cellulite don’t ever disappear.
I’ve begun to observe the women around me. I’ve started to judge their features. Not in a cruel way, but with curiosity…that woman at first glance looks skinny, but her hips are wide and her butt is large, features I know are attractive to many people who like women. And that woman over there seems to have a high BMI, but she looks bright and happy, healthy and glowing. What I wouldn’t give to have a bright, glowing quality to my being right now.
Everyone is a different shape. No one looks like a model. Everyone has their quirks. Everyone has their squish.
And what do models even look like, anyway? Have I ever even seen a picture of a model where I wanted her body?
No. I haven’t. Some of them have breasts that would feel too big on me. What a drag to have to wear a bra all the time! And some of them have proportions that look strikingly elegant, but at the same time fragile, like they’d break in half if they were unlucky enough to trip in their stilettos. And who’s to say each of these women isn’t beautiful for those very features that I wouldn’t want for myself? And who’s to say my own features aren’t beautiful?
No. There is no perfect body. This whole time I have been chasing an ideal that doesn’t exist. Chasing health is one thing. Chasing a body type is much different.
I choose health right now.
I choose to love my body as it is.
Hard as that might be, I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge.
I hope you’ll join me.