Why I reconceptualized weight loss as a side effect, not the goal

If you know me personally, you know I love to-do lists with clear cut goals.

I love the pleasure that comes from completing an accomplishment I’ve set out for myself, and the satisfaction of crossing a task off of a paper to-do list.

In fact, I’ve been known to pad my to-do list with low-hanging fruit, just to get a few cheap hits of accomplishment. You know, adding on such strenuous tasks as:

  • Read through my to-do list
  • Wear socks on both feet
  • Use the bathroom today

Sometimes, if I’ve completed something that was somehow left off of my to-do list, I write it on there after the fact, just so that I can cross it off with a brightly colored highlighter.

I’m a goal setter down to the core and it’s a quality that serves me well in my professional life, but when it comes to how I approach my own body, things become trickier. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in recent weeks considering the following question: How can I set goals for my physical self while remaining body positive?

During January, lots of people are setting goals for their bodies in terms of New Year’s Resolutions, and a lot of times they end up sounding something like “I want to lose 25 pounds” or “I want to drop down to a size 6.”

In fact, this is a very difficult time of year to maintain a body-positive mindset. Ads scream at us from every corner of the mediasphere, reminding us that who we were is bad, but that a better us is possible, with the proper gym membership/laser hair removal treatment/fat reduction service….

“New year, new you!”

“Are you ready for a brand new you?”

“It’s all about being a better you!”

I’m surely not immune to this way of thinking. Somewhere in the back of my brain I know exactly what weight/size I was in high school, exactly what weight/size I reached after the birth of each of my four children, and I know my current weight/size (hint: this trajectory has mostly gone up!)

Like many others, I have that box (or 3) in the basement of too-small clothes that I hang on to just in case.

I’ve sobbed postpartum tears about baby weight that wouldn’t budge and struggled with how to continuously reconfigure what self-confidence means to me in an ever-fluctuating body.

For better or for worse, 2015 stretched my thinking about my body beyond vanity and additional weight, and presented me with several unexpected health hurdles, including multiple bouts with kidney stones and a burst ovarian cyst (I’d recommend neither, for the record.) The silver lining of these painful experiences was that they got me reflecting on the current state of my body, how I feel physically, and how I’d like to feel.

I wanted more energy.

I wanted to feel more vibrant.

I wanted to feel more balanced and well-rounded.

I wanted to feel more often like I was doing things for the right reason, (not out of anxiety or guilt or a lack of time or planning.)

And so in the last month or so, I began the work of slowly reconceptualizing my lifestyle. Doing this was as much a mental task as it was a physical one, with as much thought given to why I do what I do (or don’t do) as to the actual behaviors themselves.

Because I wanted this new lifestyle to incorporate a body positive mindset (keeping a hold of the notion that my body is deserving of all good things, as is), one of the most important tenants of the journey was to conceptualize weight loss as a possible side effect, not a goal in and of itself.

owl quote 2.jpgTo reconceptualize weight loss as a possible side effect rather than a goal allows us to avoid the suffocating morality that emerges when we start measuring the worth of bodies by numbers: the number of calories in a single serving of almonds, the number of calories burned during a run, our (bad) current weight or our (good) future weight. I’m moving forward with the assumption that for me, weight loss will be a byproduct of mindful living. Of slowing down and really listening to the needs and cues of my body.

Motivated by a sense of how I want to feel (not how I want to look or what I want to weigh), I’ve set out some body-positive goals for myself, goals that are focused on wellness and intuition and paying closer attention to the needs of my body than ever before:

  • Make most of my food at home, made from mostly real food.
  • Drink mostly water and tea.
  • Do something just for myself most days (reading time/crafting time/meditating/etc.)
  • Find time for intentional movement most days.

You’ll notice no “goal weight” or measurement here, no dress size I am seeking like a pot of gold at the end of a torturous, fat-shaming rainbow. No list of evil, forbidden foods. Just some lifestyle changes that have already resulted in some positive side effects in less than a month: more energy, better sleep, improved mood, strengthened muscles, and yes, some weight loss.

That’s not to say that this work has been easy; it’s already been physically and psychologically challenging. Not to mention it’s made my kitchen perpetually messy. (Okay, okay, too many of you have been in my house for me to try and claim that my kitchen has ever been anything but perpetually messy, BUT I have managed to take it to a whole new level.)

It may seem like a subtle shift, but de-prioritizing weight loss as the central focus on a path toward wellness has made a huge difference in how I approach the choices I make. I’ve taken out the moral component that’s often so embedded in these lifestyle changes. I’ve mostly shaken the toxic “good version of me/bad version of me” mindset, and am mindful to talk more kindly to myself when it does creep up. Because I’d be lying if I said it never does.

These new lifestyle goals don’t fit neatly on a to-do list, which is okay with me, because even though they can’t be quickly accomplished (and indulgently ‘crossed off’ with a bright pink highlighter), this also means that they’re more difficult to fail. And as far as New Year’s ‘resolutions,’ go, it’s hard to beat those odds.

Ever Watchful,

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P.S. For more interesting feminist and body-positive New Year’s Resolutions, check out this roundup. I personally love the one that says: “I resolve not to strive for unattainable universal popularity.” Woah. This provides some interesting food for thought for this chronic people pleaser! (But more on that in another post….)

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