There’s a peaceful victory in losing weight. If you have chased it as I have, you know that feeling.
A feeling of gentle triumph dictated by the digits on the scale and confirmed by the loose-hanging pants. Man, it feels good. If you inhale the memory of that feeling it is palpable, raw, present.
You don’t really notice it day by day. Especially when you, like I have, chase it with such determination and focus that everything else becomes blurry and the only things left are your growling stomach and protruding hip bones.
It’s a slow, dragging process for which we sacrifice plenty, but it’s so worth that victorious weight loss.
When you step on that scale or measure those inches! The compliments you receive, the interested looks from attractive people, the new shapes your thighs make in those yoga pants, the delightful numbers on the scale—nothing compares. Right?
It has taken me years, and I am still learning, to find out that this is not the goal.
The melting pounds are not the trophy and the flirtatious looks from hot strangers are not the reward. That’s not what it’s all about.
We are fooled into this over and over and over again. The media, those bi*ches. Magazines that tell stories of self-acceptance and lies of how to get that perfect body on opposite pages. Moms and aunts who themselves have been trapped by this false truth and “look out for us” by reminding us in a forcefully kind way how many calories a slice of bread yields. Lies, big, fat lies about tiny, bony bodies.
The reason it is so easy to believe is because we really do feel better, right? Being thinner is better! We have witnessed it.
Then, eventually, well, hunger wins. We lose the battle. We allow our emotional appetite to feed on our last reserves of willpower and soon we are stuck so deep in the comfort of silencing food that we find all kinds of fascinating reasons why we deserve this tub of vanilla ice cream, have no time to go for that run or delay stepping on the scale.
The pounds tumble back and with it guilt and defeat sweep in, engulfing us and ripping from us the feeling of skinny victory. (Which, of course, is confirmation that being skinny is the triumph, because when we were thinner we definitely didn’t feel like this. Right?)
Somehow, we have managed to get it all twisted. We are doing it all wrong, upside down, inside out.
This is not what it’s about and yet it is all we know and push for. How can we expect to fix a rotten table if the wood worms wriggle around on the inside? Sure, varnish helps. A splash of colour and a strong sanding-machine. But eventually those little pests will find their way to the surface, leaving ugly marks on their way out.
We cannot fix ourselves from the outside in, and yet we have been convinced that this is the way to do it. Eat this kale! Drink this shake! Run that mile and maybe also pop that pill.
So what is it about?
After countless diets and failed attempts to upgrade my body, I had given up. More times than I can count. I suffered in a stubborn determination to prove myself right: I’m meant to hate myself.
I don’t know what brought that internal shift about. It was an invisible step, floating above my deep desperation, edging me closer and closer toward myself. This invisible step somehow allowed me to be present without judgement. It was as if my mind and body had come to a truce, both fully alert, holding their breath, waiting. Tension pulsing as both trembled with anticipation. Silence. A vacuum, waiting to expand and maybe implode.
Nothing happened. Or so I thought.
I, at first, avoided mirrors as much as I could. But then the mirrors became inconsequential, their reflection was tame and trivial. With the help of my favourite bands blaring on my ancient MP3 player, my mind was excited to take my body for a walk. And for the first time since I can remember, they waddled along, holding hands, without my mind feverishly counting each step and comparing it to a calorie burnt. My body did what it could, allowing the tender freedom to edge it on until the walks that started at 15 minutes turned into an hour. From one day a week to three.
My body and my mind explored each other, listened to each other and, although slow and stuttering at first, eventually their voices flowed in harmony. We consumed foods that we wanted to consume—and they were exactly what my body had ordered. It wasn’t about the portion sizes or the balance of vegetables versus protein or banishing chocolate cake and potato chips. It wasn’t about the “shoulds” and “should not haves.” It was simply my body making an announcement and my mind following suite. That is health. Listening to what your muscles, organs, bones and tissue are hungry for and allowing them to be satisfied.
My body asked my mind for emotional support when it pushed beyond its limits into kurmasana (a yoga pose which allows one to very closely inspect the eclectic smells drenched into the yoga mat) at our bi-weekly yoga sessions and it demanded enough sleep every night and it got it. My body also berated my mind for those red, blustering headaches exuding fumes of Shiraz and puffs of cigarette smoke from the night before or the stiffness that only announces itself when one has spent a whole day in bed, watching the entire season of True Detective for the third time. But they were friends, my body and mind. We talked, the three of us. And slowly we even whispered our confessions of love to each other.
It starts with courage, I think. The courage to face oneself. To listen to oneself. To be kind to oneself.
And then all it takes is one moment. One invisible step.
Opening up that line of communication and giving that judgmental voice a break. Send it on a vacation. Tell it that it is loved, too but it can take a rest. It’s been working hard.
And when you are ready, when your body and your mind greet each other without grudges or expectation, just go with it. Let it simmer, let it float. Give it time. You might wait, patiently, for something to happen. While you wait, with days and weeks drifting by, you might be slipping into your yoga pants one day and notice yourself not worrying about the cottage-cheese texture of your thighs rolling along underneath the lycra. You’ll realise that you still haven’t cracked open that slab of chocolate in the cupboard.
You’ll notice that there is a gentle buzz, an energy of excitement and giddiness, harmonious voices, whispers of love. And so while you have been waiting, the earth has been shifting, but to you all it was, was one invisible step.
Eventually, you will feel different but you won’t know how you got there exactly. You’ll eat the kale, because you discovered you actually like it and you felt like chewing on that instead of the handful of gummi bears. And even if you have the gummi bears, you won’t berate yourself.
Then you’ll notice that you are on your way to becoming leaner, to morphing yourself into that body you had punished yourself for in the past.
You’ll eat healthier, because you want to. You’ll exercise, because you crave it. You’ll notice the pounds melting and your pants somehow growing bigger as your body’s circumference shrinks.
And then you’ll notice that all that actually doesn’t matter anymore.
And that’s what it’s about.
Author: Maike Soutschka
Editor: Katarina Tavčar; Emily Bartran