I recently talked to a man that I respect about an issue I think a lot of people are dealing with- being overweight. This guy has struggled with his weight his whole life and finally, in his 50's, has lost a bunch of it. Loosing weight has been a game changer for his health, a complete turn around. As we talked about it, he detailed the shame that is attached to weight gain and eating.
I've felt this shame and I haven't ever been told I am overweight for my height and size. My guess is that you have too. Feeling shame around your body isn't just something overweight folks feel.
Our culture created a home for shame when it comes to our bodies. If we can be ashamed of how we look and how we feel about eating then we will do whatever it takes to make that shame go away. Perhaps, we try expensive fad diets or buy gym passes. Maybe, we go shopping until we fill a little better about ourselves. Then there are expensive cosmetic surgeries and operations. However it plays out, usually shame wrapped around your body image ends up causing you to spend some money to solve the problem.
I can't say that I think our culture is so corrupt that we created this phenomenon to make more money but sometimes I wonder about it.
I don't have to explain that our models and movie stars do not represent normal human beings and truly should not even be the ideal for what a normal human should look like. With the money they have they can look however they want. I will always be proud of an interview that Madonna gave about her body. The interviewer asked what a normal person could do to have her look and she said they couldn't. She owned the fact that she has a nutritionist, personal assistant, personal trainer and a doctor who makes her look the way she does and no normal person could pay for what she has or spend the amount of time she invests in her body. Thanks for being honest!
Besides those rare glimpses into the facade that is our standard for "looking good" there is this other thing...our brains.
In my experience, maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy body comes down to how you think and the behaviors you choose. Remember, changing behaviors is one of the hardest things in the world but it can be done and done well if you commit to practicing the behavior you desire. It is never too late to be transformed.
When I was talking with my friend he verbalized two revelations that he had that week surrounding his weight and I think they are worth sharing with you.
1) It is OK to be hungry.
2) Choose a weight that is just at the max weight you are willing to be and don't ever go over it.
I was so dumbfounded by the simplicity of each statement mainly because he verbalised a couple ideas that I have unconsciously been practicing for a long time.
First, what our three-meals-a-day culture says is not so much abundance based as it is fear based. "Clean your plate! There are starving children in the world!" Anything that makes you feel that you should keep eating when you are full is probably wrapped up in guilt. Guilt is not a good motivator, it will always get you into trouble.
Then you have the statements that are so casually made in our first world experience; "I'm hungry!" or "I'm starving!" when the truth is that none of us have any freaking clue what either of those statements really mean.
When I was 23 I hosted the Presbytery's 30 Hour Famine which was created for middle and high school youth. At the time, I as an utter purest and I thought if we were asking the youth to fast for 30 hours then there is no way that I am taking advantage of the "leader room" that had snacks and pizza in it even if I was in charge. We had over 200 kids on campus, keeping them busy learning about world hungry and water issues for that 30 hours. The youth could choose and were given the responsibility to maintain their fast. The options were a total fast where you ate or drank nothing, a water fast where you could only drink water, a juice fast where you would only drink grape juice, or a bread and water fast where you would only eat a little bread when you needed it and drink water, or a bread and juice fast. I let my kids choose but I encouraged them to challenge themselves. I chose a water fast.
30 hours directing an event of this size and eating nothing was an incredible test of my physical strength. What was most surprising to me is that God provided just what I needed in the moment when I needed it the entire time so that I could make it the whole 30 hours. Right when I thought I had to given in and eat some bread something would encourage me to keep going and I did. For someone who had been told I have a sensitivity to not eating for a few hours this was a real eye opener. At hour 29 I was feeling so weak and nauseous that I actually had to leave a activity to go dry heave in the bathroom. I remember sitting there thinking about how bad I felt and then all the faces of the real starving children we were supporting came to mind. I felt like shit but I still had no idea what that meant.
We broke our fast with communion and I can tell you that was the best Christ's body and blood that I've ever put in my mouth. The famine was an incredible experience for me. It was the first time I realized that I could go without several meals in a row and still live. The crazy part was that I could still live very well.
In my own weight journey, I have always remembered this. When I have gained a few too many pounds and didn't get to eat dinner for some reason it is a lot easier to look at the clock flashing 9:30pm and decide that I will just wait until breakfast. It isn't worth sleeping on a full stomach. I know that I can make it through the night, no problem.
A couple years later, I wanted to test my body because the thought occurred to me that I might not need three meals a day especially if I wasn't working out. If I am sitting at my desk most of the time then why do I need to obsess over eating three meals a day when I am not hungry and not burning it off? It turns out that I probably am good with two meals a day with that life style. I'd usually go for a hearty breakfast and end with a veggie meal for dinner. That left me feeling satisfied and full each day.
I think what my friend was getting at in his weight walk is genius. It is OK to be hungry. In fact, I would venture that we very rarely are hungry. My doctor once told me that 70% of the time when our stomach growls or we feel "hungry" we actually are thirsty and need to drink water. I think it is important to chug a bunch of H20 before deciding you need a snack. Hungry is a word we use a little too much now-a-days.
As for number two, it works. I know for those of you that are struggling with serious weight problems this number system that I have is going to sound irrelevant but I have a theory that it can apply to anyone.
Over the years of gaining weight and loosing weight, serious exercise and serious diets, I have come to know my body well. I have learned that when I exercise everyday for at least an hour and watch my food intake closely then I can maintain a weight of about 117lbs. However, that requires much more work and attention than I am willing to give as a 28 year old professional. I have learned that if I run every couple of days, don't eat seconds and stick to non-processed foods then I can maintain a weight of about 122lbs which is my favorite weight to be. If I don't run and I just watch what I eat then I can maintain about 125. If I don't give a crap about what I eat, when I eat or how I eat and don't exercise at all then I will hop to 130 in a blink of an eye. Usually, I will maintain at 130 for several months of eating poorly before my body begins to bulge to 133 and then 135. At 5'2 135 is the absolute most I can weight and still look good which is a tad bit of a stretch.
Watching my body like this and monitoring it's ups and downs, I've unconsciously (now consciously) realized that I keep 130 pounds as my guide for life. It is most definitely on the high end of my weight scale but I can maintain there for a while. Anytime I realize that I have gone over 130 pounds I usually kick start a diet of eating lots of grain and veggies while cutting out anything processed, cooling it on eating out, and usually I fast from alcohol for a few weeks. It is surprising how quickly your weight will drop off when you do that. 130 has become my hall monitor. Often, when I hit 130 I jump into a really healthy routine that usually bumps me back down to 125 or 122 if I am committed for a few months. It only takes a few weeks, maybe a month.
Talking to my friend about weight made me realize that finally, after years of feeling shame around my body that this little system has started to lift that weight off me. Giving myself small goals like staying under 130 or being OK with hunger from time to time, has helped me maintain a healthy body weight even in seasons of high stress.
Those two points were brand new ideas to him and I believe they are going to change his life. It made me wonder how many people could be in the same boat. These little revelations might also be life changers for you too. I am not saying that I have it all figured out. I certainly do not have a red carpet body. I have my fair share of jiggles and cellulite but I can say that by getting to know my body, giving myself some grace, and following those two rules, I have not ever jumped out of an unhealthy weight range even at my most heavy moments.
I know it to be true that guilt and shame are not healthy motivators and their fruits do not breed beauty and peace. Beauty and peace come within and they start with a little grace and practice. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we looked in the mirror and saw beauty and felt peace? I think it starts in our heads not our bellies.