Being slim is often sold as the holy grail of happiness. Naoimh Wilkins explains how weight loss, like most things in life, isn’t always a black and white issue.
Hands up if, like me, you found yourself motivated to lose weight after a break-up. Hardly original, I know, but that’s the boat I found myself in at the end of a relationship that left me heartbroken. And while my fitness regime started before things ended, the rejection played a part in encouraging me to stick with it. Who doesn’t want the satisfaction of looking good in front of their ex? It’s a no brainer.
So I kept showing up to bootcamp, committed to walking the hour to work, no matter what the weather, and ate sensibly.
Here’s the clanger. After reaching my goal weight, I didn’t feel overjoyed nor find myself to be a card-carrying member of the body confident crew. In fact, losing weight only served to make me more critical. Even after shedding a substantial number of pounds (the total was two and a half stone), my belly was still soft and my arms didn’t remotely resemble Jennifer Aniston’s. Despite holding up my side of the bargain and losing weight, my life didn’t suddenly look like my Pinterest account. Now that I looked the part, when was my happily ever after going to show up?
Was my downfall the fact that I’d expected euphoria, so anything less left me feeling short-changed? Maybe. But isn’t that the jagged little pill we’re all fed? The shape of success is sold to us in one form, and that is slim. It’s hard not to fall down the rabbit hole, believing that a thinner version of yourself will automatically be a happier one, because the only aspirational body shape we’re peddled is a svelte one, and there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for appreciating other figures and sizes.
Weight loss is often presented as the key to female happiness
Lucy, a 30-year-old fashion buyer living in London, had a similar experience after losing weight: “I went on a crash diet last year, exercising for an hour and a half every day, halving my portions, and not drinking wine. It was extreme, but getting compliments from my friends and family on how I looked was great. At my slimmest, I found myself comparing my appearance to other people’s; I was constantly scrutinising my body and feeling like it didn’t measure up.”
Exercise doesn’t have to be about torturing your physical self into submission. The newest fitness craze is all about getting fit and having fun. Fitness instructor and dance-mad Dubliner AJ O’Neill holds guerrilla exercise classes across London in unusual locations (facebook.com/ MovePopupGym @AJ_ONeill). The good news is that plans are already in the pipeline to bring his unique style back home. For Lucy, finding these classes has resulted in a positive change in her attitude towards keeping fit: “Secret Sweatmob is so much fun, I keep going back. I now exercise because it makes me feel good, rather than specifically to lose weight. My new goal is to be healthy and energetic, rather than thin.”
The general consensus is that there needs to be a cultural shift away from body-focused goals, with more emphasis on the health benefits created by eating well and exercising regularly. And if you don’t want your weight to yo-yo, then changing your relationship with food goes hand-in-hand with regular exercise. The key to finding balance is to start listening to your body, because the constant seesaw of either succumbing to or resisting temptation is exhausting, never mind the chastising that comes with falling off the wagon.
The Eat and Think girls getting their healthy grocery shopping on
London-based Galwegian Veronica Dick agrees. The qualified nutritionist recently launched Eat and Think (eatandthink.co.uk) with two friends who work in the same field. “We’re not into fad diets – a lot of these sexy quick fixes can be damaging,” she says. “Our focus is on sustainable, long-term changes in diet and lifestyle. Of course, it’s possible you’ll lose weight, but at the end of the day, the goal is better health.” And all three women practise what they preach, so they have set up an “Eat Like Us” cheat sheet on the website for those in need of handholding. “We had friends texting, asking, ‘What are you cooking for dinner?’ so we figured if they were interested, then other people would be too. The meal plans are achievable and realistic; we do the 9-to-5 like everyone else and have social lives,” says Veronica.
So, have I got this slimming malarkey sussed? Definitely not. Right now, I’m tipping the scales in the wrong direction. What I need to remember is that whatever the number, it isn’t reflective of my value as a person. Those are murky waters to navigate when you feel your weight determines your worth. Like my up-and-down dress size, though, maybe self-acceptance will always be a struggle; my aim now is to concentrate on an overall healthier attitude to food and weight.
Fashion blogger Leandra Medine recently wrote on her blog, The Man Repeller, about how it was only, ironically, once she’d stopped worrying about calories and focused instead on actual health that the numbers on the scales became a non-issue. I’ve my fingers firmly crossed that shifting my own mindset in this way will help me experience the same thing.