It’s one of the top five new year’s resolutions: to lose weight. When women give birth, they are inundated with messages on “bouncing back” and “losing the baby weight.” It’s an issue that impacts all ages, races, and sexes. While good health is important, we focus way too often on the number on the scale and other identifiers of what we deem as thin in our western society: think “thigh gap” or “six-pack.” However, a number on a scale is a relentless pursuit of perfection that is influenced by so many outside factors like hormones, water retention, barometric pressure, travel, age, body frame size, genetics, and metabolism, just to name a few. Not only that, socioeconomic factors can lead people to poor eating habits due to lack of resources, be it time, money or both.
Weight is not an ideal indicator of good health. There are people we might view as “skinny” who have high cholesterol, sugar or blood pressure. Yet we live in a world full of messaging that says skinny is beautiful, and fat is not.
If we really focused on healthy and fit versus skinny, we’d think about the following:
- Accepting yourself exactly as you are in this moment – this, first and foremost, will bring you greater happiness in the long run and if you struggle with this, find someone to talk to who can help you get there
- Drinking enough water each day
- Focusing more on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and limited animal protein and less on processed foods and refined sugar (80/20 rule – eat healthy 80% of the time and give yourself some room for splurging) – if you struggle with time or money, you may have to get more creative with your options here, but there are ways to do it
- Limit your alcohol intake – people make poor decisions when they drink too much, including food and lifestyle choices and if you don’t drink, don’t start again
- Don’t smoke or do recreational drugs – see above on alcohol intake
- Getting some type of physical activity – even brisk walking for 30 minutes – several times a week and if 30 minutes is daunting, start where you can
- Relaxation exercises on a consistent basis – meditation is ideal, given that it is scientifically proven to counteract stress in the physiology, but visualization, breath work, yoga, or even listening to music, making art or gardening helps
- Connecting with others in some meaningful way on a regular basis – this can be family, friends, pets or some type of community involvement
- Find ways to laugh – if it’s not with friends or family, watch a funny show or a stand-up comic every so often
What we do know, from science and research, is that diets don’t work. They backfire, more often than not, in the long run. What does work is being steady and consistent with the approach I outlined. Sometimes we might lose our balance, and that’s okay. We just hop back on the beam and go for it again.
We’re all different – and honoring our differences through inclusion is where we can really start to make a difference. If you see someone next to you on the running path or at the gym, and you begin to judge or compare, remember that we all have different starting places and that progress for you may look different from progress for someone else. Your 8-minute mile might be someone else’s 13-minute mile.
Instead of measuring your success by the number that shows up on the scale, measure it by things such as cholesterol, sugar, and blood pressure, or how many flights of stairs you can walk without having to catch your breath. Better yet, by the joy that’s in your heart.
Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become…habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny! What we think, we become.” – Margaret Thatcher
When I think of character, I think of a big old tree like the one pictured; sturdy and strong amidst the changing environment. I also think of reliability, stability, and consistency. Sometimes people come to see me because they aren’t sure who they are exactly, or they’ve gone off course from who they thought they were and want to get back on track. Perhaps they’ve relied too heavily on an unhealthy habit or activity to get themselves through the days.
I believe the act of character building comes from one knowing themselves and staying true to themselves. But, sadly, I think many in the world today don’t know themselves and don’t delve deeply enough into understanding their motives or instincts, and that we don’t always have to act from that place. It’s no easy task.
Most of us will not live a monk’s life. But if you’ve ever had any type of deep or prolonged training in meditation or mindfulness, you may have been asked to refrain from worldly drives and desires for a period of time. Now, I’m not recommending this to everyone. But I will say that it teaches one about where desire comes from (and returns to) and that fantasy and desire are not one in the same, and that the right kind of desires can lead us to our goals, and generally most fantasies aren’t meant to be acted upon. Usually we find out the fantasy wasn’t so great after all. Fantasies can be useful, but they can also keep us distracted from things within ourselves that we don’t want to face.
I see a great deal of happiness and good in the world today because I try to look for that, in myself and in the people around me. Even with the barista at the coffee shop, I try to look them in the eye and go with the flow of the small talk. I also see pain and sadness around me, and I most often see it as a result of people chasing after what they think should be versus living with what is. One of the best sets of questions I’ve seen to help in this process is from The Work of Byron Katie on challenging one’s thinking and beginning to be in love with what is:
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
- How do you react, what happens when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
- Then…find the turnarounds or opposites of your thought and explore that.
My absolute favorite of the questions is, who would you be without the thought? I sometimes find that can help people snap out of moments of obsessiveness. Additionally, it goes back to what I said about fantasies and certain thoughts being our way to escape reality or escape becoming the best version of ourselves, which can be a painful process at times.
While life may be difficult at times, a life built on a solid understanding of oneself and acting from that place, consistently, builds a life worth living; a destiny.