Don’t get me wrong: Being active is important. But there’s no evidence that we have to work out hard every single day for 3 hours. In fact, the more and harder we work out, the higher our risk of injury. Or our risk of overtraining. I have done that without realizing it (“I am no Olympic athlete therefore I cannot overtrain,” is what I thought not acknowledging that it’s all relative…). I know that I sleep better and feel better when I work out some. But I still have the notion that I just cannot be lazy for a day. Plus, somehow writing and reading is not doing something (tell that to any author!). It is amazing what surfaces when I watch my thoughts: Unless I’ve worked out so hard that I almost faint at the end, I haven’t been active. How absurd! And how unhealthy!
So, you guessed it, I am struggling with my body image. Weighing in at 135 pounds, I feel fat. Even though this is a healthy weight, I feel that I should weigh 120 pounds to be healthy. It doesn’t matter that I actually feel physically better with the few more pounds. It doesn’t matter that some of the weight-gain is probably due to my hypothyroidism, which makes it more difficult for me to maintain a lower weight.
What is behind this? Why am I (and millions of other people) feeling fat when we really aren’t? There are – at least – two factors playing in here: The incessant equation of heaviness and laziness and of weight and health. The only reason people are overweight or obese is because they are lazy. At least that seems to be the message we’re feed (ha!) all the time. So, if I gain weight, it must be because I am too lazy to work out, too lazy to cook right, or to incompetent to manage my time well. As so often, this ignores the context: If you work 40+ hours per week and then commute an hour each way, well, guess what, you have either time to work out or to cook healthy or to get enough sleep. It amazes me that with all this talk about the obesity epidemic, no one seems to even hint at the connection between long work hours & commutes and our increasing waistlines. It couldn’t possibly be the situation that makes us fat! No, it has to be our laziness…
And then, of course, we are bombarded with the message that if we have some fat on our bodies, especially around the belly, we’ll die! Oh, my! As if we’d live forever if we didn’t have belly-fat… Yes, of course, there is a correlation between weight, activity level, and longevity. But it’s not nearly as clear-cut as we think it is. Plus, as Jennifer Michael Hecht points out so well, if we live longer but are miserable, why would we want to live longer? Which brings me to another question I have been pondering as I observe how I mentally rip into my fat-spots: How healthy can it be to feel guilty every time I eat something because it’s not the “right” thing (even eating an avocado comes with internal judgment because it’s higher in fat than other veggies)? How healthy can it be to feel bad about my body rather than accepting it? And could it be that I eat more because of these feelings? Do I really want to spend my life worrying about my weight or can I just enjoy it? Or do I really want to spend my life working out 2 hours a day? Well, if I had more time, I would probably walk much more.
So, I am struggling to find a middle ground. I like being active but I also like to spend my day reading and writing. I would like to be able to do that without feeling guilty. I want to learn to accept my body weight (actually, a friend of mine commented that I look better with a bit more weight and, when I feel balanced, I agree with her). I also want to use my own experience, though, to look deeper into the larger context, at the interconnections and the messages we’re getting. From a health perspective, it is good enough to walk briskly 30 minutes most days (or some similar activity). So, why do we think we have to do more than that? And, if this is so important, why don’t employers give us a work-out hour that we can spend being active in whatever way we choose (no, I don’t mean the lunch hour; an additional hour but one we’re being paid for!). Oh, that’s right: It’s an individual problem! If you gain weight you’re just lazy etc.
I am beginning to see two themes here: Lack of acceptance (and the guilt-feeling that comes with that) and the impact of our life-styles. Both have individual components and context/societal components: I can work on accepting my body but society could also quit sending me unrealistic messages. I can choose to reduce my work-hours but society could demand that employers quit demanding increasing hours.