Happy new years everyone!

So we’re into January now. The holidays are over, we’re all feeling fat off of turkey or chocolate or whatever it was we decided to gorge ourselves with this holiday season. And, more than that, the new year is upon us now, and the new year has traditionally been a time of great change. It’s the old “new year, new me” mentality; we make our resolutions, and we hope that we have the resolve to stick to them.

And for many of us, those resolutions will involve losing weight or eating healthy (there’s a reason why gyms get to be packed in January). We want to shave off the few pounds that the holidays might have added to us, and perhaps a bit more than that. Ten pounds here. Twenty there.

And all of this reminds me of when I began my fitness craze, roughly three years ago now.

Growing up, I always had a slightly larger frame than all of my friends. I was never overweight, exactly, but the fact that I was larger made me think that I probably would be someday. And, being a child, I didn’t want that. I saw how the overweight girls were treated: they were poked at by the boys in our class, laughed at, called names. I didn’t want to be treated like that. So, growing up, I always had a little bit of a fear of gaining weight.

This fear didn’t really come into play in my life until after I graduated from high school, when I lived on my own for the first time. In the course of two years, I gained about thirty pounds – at which point, I panicked. Logically, I knew that there was nothing wrong with me. I knew that there was nothing wrong with being a little overweight, I didn’t think it made me any less beautiful or anything like that. But I still had that fear, and so I told myself that all I was trying to do was “get healthy”. I was going to change my eating habits and I was going to start exercising, because I knew that I hadn’t been doing that enough while I lived on my own.

Except, as time went on, my actions made it very, very clear that health was not what was on the forefront of my mind. And perhaps part of it was related to the fact that I wasn’t quite educated enough on what being healthy was for a woman. I knew that I had to eat less, and so I did. In fact, if I ate fewer than 1000 calories a day, I was proud of myself, even if that meant that I went to bed early for the sole purpose that that would bring me to breakfast sooner (for reference, the average woman needs to eat 2000 calories a day to maintain weight, and 1500 calories a day to lose weight). I also knew that exercising was a good thing, and the more that I did, the better, so I worked out six days a week, for about an hour and a half a day. I didn’t realize at the time that I wasn’t eating nearly enough in order to power these kinds of workouts, so I felt weak and small and hungry and irritable – but, hey, I was losing weight.

And the more that I ate, the worse I felt. If I got so hungry that I could no longer take it, and I splurged on pizza or something, then I felt so guilty about it that I felt the urge to go into the bathroom and throw it back up. If I didn’t do that, then I’d work out so hard the next day that I gave myself a headache.

But of course I went through all of this; I’m not alone. In fact, our society practically grooms women to do exactly this from the beginning.

Society tells women that it is not okay to be fat. We so rarely see body fat represented in our celebrities, in our models or actresses or musicians. As children, we’re endlessly mocked by our peers for it, and as adults, we’re told that we aren’t healthy or that we’re lazy or that we’d be so much prettier if we just lost a few pounds. So of course we don’t want to be overweight. Of course we feel disgusting and ugly when we are a little bit heavier. It isn’t because we are; it’s because society grooms us to feel this way.

And, more than that, society doesn’t simply tell us that we can’t be overweight; society tells us that we have to be thin. In fact, the thinner, the better. And what exactly does that mean? Who knows! All that we know is that we can’t be fat, and we get so obsessed with that thought that we see fat everywhere. We see fat in the rolls that naturally form in our belly when we slouch. We see fat in our thighs jiggling when we jump. We see fat in our cheeks, our arms, our butt, in everything. So we can never quite get thin enough; we never know when to stop.

And how, exactly, does one eat healthy? How does one exercise properly? Society doesn’t tend to really talk about that, except for in the countless diets and trends that float around from time to time. For the most part, all that we really hear (unless we go out of our way to research into the matter) is that we need to eat less and exercise more.

But when we take this approach of eating as little as possible and exercising as much as possible, we aren’t really acting for our own health. If we were, then we wouldn’t feel weak, hungry, or tired all the time; that’s not how a healthy human being feels. No, the only thing that we are really accomplishing by doing this is making ourselves thin – and is that really the most important thing? Isn’t it more important to be happy? Or comfortable? Or strong?

So if losing weight is part of your resolution this new year, then I can’t really fault you for that. I understand how much importance our society puts on being thin, so it makes sense that you might aspire to that. But before you begin your weight loss journey, I recommend two things:

1) Do your research. It’s a little bit difficult to recommend where to start, because different sources will tell you many different things, and the same thing won’t work for everyone. Some people will recommend cheat or ‘treat’ meals every once in a while; some people find that more difficult. Some people can cut out meat or cheese or bread from their diet; some people can’t. It’s a matter of trial and error, and it might take you a while to realize what works best for you, individually, but it is always best to go into this well-informed. So try talking to different people about what worked best for them, and search things up on the internet, read about different theories and experiences. Trust me, there is a lot of information out there (almost too much).

2) This is the most important thing: start thinking about this whole journey differently, and start from the very beginning. Many of us begin our weight loss journeys from a place of self-hatred; we want to change because we think there is something wrong with us. Our goal, first and foremost, is weight loss, not health. But the thing is, there is nothing wrong with us. We are beautiful, and we are capable, and we are wonderful. Being overweight is not the worst thing a woman can be. So if you want to change your eating habits and start exercising, then great, but don’t do it because you want to ‘become prettier’ or lose weight. Do it because you want to get healthier and take better care of yourself.

Weight and health are not necessarily correlated. You might appear to be overweight, and yet be in the best health that you can possibly be. And you can have a Barbie doll’s figure, and be starving, weak, and frail. I know that I wasn’t in my best health when I was at my skinniest. In fact, I’m in better health now, ten pounds heavier than I was a year ago.

Love yourself, and accept yourself as you are. I know that that’s easier said than done, but it all starts with an attempt. By looking in the mirror and telling yourself that you love your belly, your thighs, your arms. Keep telling yourself that until you believe it. And once you do, then decide if you still want to change. Because if you do, great; just make sure that you are changing for you. Don’t change because you think society expects you to, because that isn’t healthy for any of us.

Published by Ciara Hall