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.