Recently, my kettlebell coach told me about some research he’d done on body image norms among various African cultures. I was fascinated to hear how some groups take great pains to intentionally “fatten up” young women to boost their marriage prospects. But it almost instantly reminded me of the old European royals and the fact that looking heavy was once an indicator of wealth, health and prosperity.
These examples sound bizarre to us, but they also surface a sort of wonderful possibility. We each possess 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 or fashion trend or ad campaign.
Releasing the stress and psychological terrorism of being constantly focused and fixated on how much we weigh does not have to mean we let ourselves go. I actually lost 10 pounds after I stopped fixating on the scale. You, too, can place a high value on living a healthy lifestyle without being weight-obsessed. Here’s how:
1. Fast forward to happy.
One major reason we get so fixated on our weight is the temptation to almost hold our breaths with anticipation of HOW ENTIRELY WONDROUS AND AWESOME life will become, magically, when we lose the weight or can wear low-rise jeans or whatever.
This is a delusion. Think of the people in your life who already are the size or weight you want to be, or can wear what you fantasize about wearing. Are they blissfully happy, skipping through life without a single worry? Nope.
Try this instead. Visualize yourself having reached your weight goal — close your eyes and feel exactly the happiness you expect you’ll feel when you get there. OK. Now you know that you can create 100% of that happiness in your own heart and mind. So fast forward to it. Now. Practice, on a regular basis, just feeling exactly as happy as you think you’ll be when you get there. Pretty soon, you’ll have broken the mental link between the emotional state of happy with a number on the scale.
2. Do what you would do.
Now that you know how to fast forward to every detail of how you think you'll feel when you lose the weight, I want to encourage you to do what you would do. If you’ve been waiting to lose weight before you stand-up paddleboard, wear a bathing suit in public, speak in public, get a great haircut or wear bright colors, stop waiting. Do it now. Right now. No, seriously. Now.
I always thought I’d learn to dance once I lost another 10 or 20 pounds. But last year, I just decided to learn to dance anyway. I took a Zumba class. Then a West African Funk class. Then a hip-hop class. The floodgates were opened. I’m not waiting for a call from Alvin Ailey anytime soon, dance forced me to be present, move my body parts in all sorts of new ways and make friends with all sorts of new people.
Oh yeah — and as a happy accidental side effect, dance has helped me heal my long-time gym rat muscular imbalances and lose a few pounds.
3. Focus on what you’re doing right this moment.
And this moment. And this moment. When you're excited, engaged, happy and focused on what you’re doing in any given moment, you can’t be thinking about what the number on the scale is or how long it’ll take you to get it to another number. It turns out that you also can’t focus at the same time on what you are doing right now and what someone else is thinking about you, what your thighs look like right now, or whether your shirt is riding up.
Side effect: when you’re completely, 100% focused on what you’re doing most of the time, you will tend to be better at whatever you are doing, and will definitely enjoy yourself more. The side effect of that is this: happy, excited, engaged people who are enjoying themselves are attractive. No matter what size, shape, color they are, and no matter what they’re wearing. Joy is universally beautiful.
4. Treat your body as if it’s the only one you get. (Side note: it is.)
In this lifetime, we only get one single body. One. 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, give it bonus gratitude points.
It is 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. Why not decide that you love exactly what you’ve got, physically speaking? But also decide that you love it so much you’re going to take as immaculate care of this one body you get. Oh yeah, and decide that taking immaculate care of your precious body includes becoming an expert at the care and feeding of it. And it also includes refusing to berate it when it gets hungry or succumbs to a kryptonite food moment.