Boy, looking back, I’m a little amazed by the things I’ve done over the years in the name of being healthy (but often in the back of my mind, in the name being thin). A few years ago, I really hit a low point where my health was going down the tank fast. I was starving and overexercising my way to extreme fatigue, wacky mood swings, newly developed allergies, and digestive issues I never had before… it was a wake up call, for sure.
It takes hitting rock bottom (or close to it) for most of us to snap out of whatever pit of lies we’ve been telling ourselves… But did you ever wish you could go back and give yourself a wake-up call before that moment? I can’t help but think how I’d like to write a letter to my former self with specific instructions on how not to treat my body.
So maybe that’s not possible (barring some supernatural incident that turns my mailbox into a tiny rift in the space time continuum like in The Lake House), but if it were possible, this is what I’d say:
Dear Former Self,
You’re fresh out of your teens, and I have a hunch you still think you know everything. And you’ll make some pretty bright decisions in the years ahead (lovin’ the acreage you found in Alabama by the way!), you’re also going to do some dumb stuff. You’re going to do it because it’s “healthy” (and in your mind “healthy” means “skinny-like-on-TV”). It’s not. You’ll figure out the “why” later, but for now I’ll just try to keep these tips short:
Eat. Yes, I know. This three letter word is loaded like a shopping cart on Black Friday. But for Pete’s sake, just put the dang fad diet book down and eat. I know the title sounds catchy, but seriously: any guru that’s telling you that you can exercise like a beast on 1,500 calories a day and suffer no ill effects is selling you a pipe dream. Your body likes energy. It needs it to breathe, to move, to think. You’ll realize this down the road after starving yourself on and off for half your life… but you’ll be way happier if you figure it out now. Trust me.
Sleep. For real. Why do you think mopping the floor at 9 pm is more important than resting?! Honey, you’re nursing a 2-month-old and getting up at 5 am to do the mandatory 50-minute exercise video that will make your legs feel like the cherry-flavored jello you won’t let yourself to eat. You’re totally going to burn out within a month and have trouble even standing without feeling lightheaded. So put the mop down, turn off the alarm clock, and catch some flippin’ zzz’s. You’ll thank me.
Don’t low-carb. Just don’t. Some people say it works, some say it doesn’t. But it doesn’t really matter. For you, low-carb dieting is just another adventure into disordered eating–another way to sort foods under “good” and “bad” labels, another way to punish and reward yourself based on what you ate that day.
“Whoops, had too many carbs. Better go run for an hour to burn them off!”
“Woo hoo, I followed my eating plan–now I can have a piece of chocolate pie sweetened with something that might send me running to the bathroom (but it kind-of-almost-tastes-sort-of like sugar!).”
Yeah. And while you’re at it, skip all the other crazy diet plans. There are no magical foods. Eat a balanced diet of mostly real food instead (and don’t be scared of dessert!).
Throw away the “motivation” pants. You know which pair I’m talking about. Those little size 4 jeans have been too small for two years but you just can’t seem to get rid of ’em. You’ve convinced yourself those jeans will fit again one day, but let’s face it: the only reason they fit in the first place was because you starved, exhausted and shamed your body into them. Let’s just not go there again.
If someday you’re that size again through just living a healthy, balanced lifestyle… then that’s great! Head back to the store and buy some new jeans that fit. (Believe me. They’ll still be selling jeans in 2014. I promise.) And until then, wear clothes you love that fit your body right now! You’re awesome just the way you are. Treat yourself that way.
Don’t buy the Callanetics DVD. I know some of the reviews are good, but come on. The colored leotards are disturbing to the point of distraction. Oh, and you don’t actually like workout DVDs. I know you think you do, but really you’re just throwing your money away. You don’t like them, you won’t use them, and eventually they’ll end up in the purge box with those useless vacuum storage bag things.
Do not, under any circumstance, go on that cleanse. Those pills are nothing but beautifully labeled laxatives. For the love of your intestines, do not take that stuff. You can’t get back that time wasted in agony in the bathroom. You just can’t.
Be patient. I know you want to lose 10 lbs overnight. And when you start having the mood swings and fatigue–you’re gonna want those to disappear ASAP. But don’t chase your tail trying to find that magic diet or supplement that will “fix” you. Don’t stress yourself out expecting results right away (girl, you know you don’t need any more stress!). Trust that real results come from three ingredients: small changes, consistency, and patience.
Listen to your body. Before now, you’ve been listening to gurus who told you not to listen to your body. Hungry? Don’t eat! Tired? Push through that extra workout! Tell the gurus where to stick it. Your body has more brains than that (and so do you). And–take it from someone who’s been practicing the art of listening–your body loves balance, it loves flexibility, it loves sunshine, it loves swimming, it loves sleep. It’s strong, curvy, powerful and capable. Your body doesn’t have to fit a label or a box or a plan. It’s just uniquely you. So listen to it. It has a lot of good stuff to say.
Walk. You totally love walking. Yeah, it’ll take you a few more years to figure that out. But you do. You love it. I know it doesn’t require anything fancy like a workout DVD or a gym membership. And it doesn’t kick your butt like sprinting or kickboxing or any of that stuff. But trust me. Walk. Preferably outside, and spend a lot of time looking up at the clouds and listening to the wind whisper through the leaves. Don’t waste time thinking about the calories you’re burning, silly. This is life. Start living it.
P.S. I know you’re gonna do everything I told you not to, so here’s one more piece of advice: forgive yourself. You’re only human and you’ll make mistakes. In the end, you’re pretty awesome and the people in your life who really love you know that. So don’t forget to love yourself, too.
Elizabeth is the founder of The Nourished Life and has been writing about natural living for 12 years. Her work has been featured at Shape, Bustle, and Mother Earth Living. Her mission is to help you lower your stress levels and find fun ways to become happier and healthier. Read more about Elizabeth here.