For about the last three years, following decades of body-hate, I’ve embraced the body positivity movement, the notion of health at every size, and my body regardless of its size.
In the last three years my weight has increased – I don’t know by how much as I don’t ever weigh myself – but I know I weigh the most I ever have.
I’ve got big hips, tits, a sizeable bum and tum. And that’s ok. For a long time, decades in fact, I constantly berated myself for my appearance. That’s another blog post in itself.
The health at every size notion is quite simple to follow. It’s the understanding that health is not measured by external appearance, but internal. That if you eat well, and treat your body with respect, then no matter your size, you are healthy, with weight loss not included in your goals. There is this terrible misconception that people who are overweight are unhealthy. This is just not true. Poor health can affect all shapes, and diet is not the only cause of being overweight.
So upon hearing from my doctor recently that I have high cholesterol, exceptionally low iron and low vitamin D levels, I became conflicted. I’d spent the better part of three years embracing my body, my curves and the glorious positivity of the plus size world. Now what was I meant to do?
Let me take you back a step. Since the age of 17 (I’m now 29) I’ve experimented with a range of weight loss methods; calorie counting, meal plans, 12-week transformations, naturopathy, and even hypnotherapy. When following one of these “lifestyle plans” I became a woman obsessed. I would get uncomfortable eating out and not knowing how many calories were in a dumpling; I would worry and weigh myself 10 minutes apart because I may have gone slightly over my calorie intake for the day; I would be so cruel to myself if I stepped out of line and ate something I craved, something that was not “lifestyle plan” approved.
Throughout all of these options my weight loss ebbed and flowed. I definitely had success. I lost weight. But I also gained it all back, and then some. I gained other things too. A body complex. Also guilt. And shame.
I didn’t just follow diet plans to lose weight, I took measures into my own hands in search of a quick fix. Whilst eating emotionally I would consume lots of laxatives or I would fast. I would obsess about every calorie. I would look at myself in the mirror literally every day and inspect my stomach from all angles. Is that a new bulge? Do I look slimmer today? Can I see more ribs than usual? Can I see less ribs than usual? The answers to all of these questions would impact my uptake of the aforementioned self-prescribed weight loss methods.
I’ve worked really hard over the last three years to accept myself for who I am. It has not been easy, but I’m at a place now where I love my body and all that it has been through. This body gets me up out of bed every day. This body is strong. It has dealt with rejection. It has visited countries all over the world, fought off infections, and most importantly it didn’t give up during the worst days of anxiety.
So when my doctor explained my cholesterol levels to me, I burst into tears. What have I done to my body? I thought. I don’t want obsess about my weight like past Steph has, but I don’t want to die young. I don’t want to be unhealthy.
When you have high cholesterol, the first remedy options include exercise and diet with weight loss the goal. I explained my weight loss history to my doctor, and he was very understanding. He told me not to focus on health as a size, but rather to focus on mind, body and spirit. He encouraged me to aim to do three days of moderate exercise per week to help me sleep better, reduce anxiety and give me more energy. He said if I lost weight then that was a bonus, but really the aim was to feel healthy – not necessarily look ‘conventionally’ healthy.
As for my diet, it was already relatively good. I like eating healthy. I love fruit and vegies and smoothies and green juice (but it needs to have some apple in it!). And I also love chocolate and wine. But I don’t believe in deprivation. That only leads to obsession. Balance is now key.
I’ll be honest – I hate exercise. I work full time, I commute two hours per day, and I would rather spend time catching up with my husband, or watching Real Housewives of Wherever after work than becoming a red sweaty mess. I pondered about how I could make exercise fun (yes, I said that). I don’t like gyms, I don’t like group classes, I don’t like MIRRORS in work out spaces that reflect my jiggling bits.
So husband and I decided to walk the talk. We went for a hike. And then another, and another. And it’s great. Obviously we are still novices when it comes to hiking but we’re doing pretty well at it if I do say so myself. I’m making mountains my bitches. And sometimes it’s bloody tough and I regret making the decision to do a steeper climb over a shorter, flatter walk, but the regret fades when you finally finish.
The aspects of hiking I like best are that I can catch up with my husband, it’s a full body work out, and depending on where you are, the views are spectacular (pics below). You can make it a short walk or a day trip. You can pack a picnic, or a podcast and have fun with it. You can discover places you never though would be a few hours down the road.
It’s been one month since that doctor’s appointment and every week I’ve exercised a minimum of three times per week. I’ve incorporated regular dog walking around my neighbourhood, with a weekend hike and yoga when I have the time. I had some time off from work which made it easier to commit to, I’m back at work now so the challenge of finding the time has arisen but I’m up for it.
I guess my point is body positivity is not black and white. The shades of grey are plentiful and there are ways to embrace yourself, and be healthy without committing to fad diets and bad habits. You can be a part of the body-positivity movement but still make choices and decisions that are best for you. No matter what you decide, body shaming, body-hate and guilt can take a hike! (omg so corny but so appropriate!)
Much love xo