In the health and fitness world, I see a lot of trainers/gurus/athletes/TV personalities saying something along the lines of “you need to tap into your ‘why.’ Your journey will suck sometimes, so you need to have a strong enough reason to keep going.” Right? We’ve all heard it. The other day, I saw this question pop up in my newsfeed. I felt somewhat…perturbed. I didn’t know how to anwer the question. I’ve been working solidly on getting stronger for the past 6 months, and I’m loving it, but if you asked me “why,” I couldn’t tell you.
This morning I thought about this again while I was lifting. What is my “why?” (I didn’t even say it out loud. And as soon as I jotted down a note to write about it later, my kid said “do you know why you are doing that, Mama?” Damn. Kids can be so creepy sometimes.)
Here’s the thing…..all my life, I have done a lot of things with the underlying motivation of becoming thin/conventionally fit looking. I always told myself at the time it was to be healthier, but deep down, if I knew there was NO possibility of my body shrinking, I probably would not have done some of the things I did. Then, earlier this year, I learned about Health at Every Size and the research that shows that, for 95% of the population, weight loss attempts lead to gaining all the weight back (and then some, in many cases), within 5 years. I realized that this is consistent with my experience – every weight loss attempt I have ever made resulted in a net weight gain, by the time the 5 year mark was up. And that puts me in good company with the rest of the dieting/health seeking population. (By the way, I am by NO means enough of an expert on this topic to write about it just yet. If you are interested in learning more about this, read Linda Bacon’s book) And for some reason, it all suddenly clicked with me that I couldn’t keep doing that. I couldn’t keep trying and failing to change my body size and be smaller, and then feeling badly about myself, and putting more important things on hold while I put all my focus into something that was statistically almost certain to fail. I had denied myself so many experiences, telling myself I would do it once I was thinner. I couldn’t let my son grow up thinking that was normal behavior. I grew up in a household where that behavior was glorified, and it really shaped my entire self perception. It may be common in our culture, but it is f*cked up, and I would not let my son think it was healthy behavior, nor would I perpetuate the normalcy of this behavior anymore.
I went through a period of sadness after reading Linda Bacon’s book. I had wasted so much time and money chasing a dream of being thinner, because I thought it would make me happy. And here I was, with the deep realization that it was probably NOT going to happen. Sometimes I still feel sad and wish I had done more of the things I would have liked to do, like study abroad or go to the beach and feel comfortable in a bathing suit. What if I had not focused on my size at all? What else could I have accomplished instead that would have actually contributed to something in this world? So anyway, here I am……and my primary reason for doing so many things all my life is just…..gone. Not gonna happen.
So….I have no idea why I am doing some things that people call “healthy.” On “reality” television, contestants often give reasons like “I want to live longer for my kids.” “Disease runs in my family and I want to avoid it.” “I want to set a good example for my kids.” Honestly, those reasons sound good and all, but they are not really an underlying motivation for me. They’d certainly be welcome side effects if they happened, though.
Here is what I do know: I know I love feeling strong. I love the way my body feels when I lift heavy things. I still struggle with liking the way my body looks. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Deep down, I think I still really don’t. I can name things I wish to change about my body. I sometimes look in the mirror and don’t like what I see. However…..that glance in the mirror is a very short part of my day, and when I lift well and rest well, I like the way my body FEELS, even when I’m unhappy with the way I look. I hope that I learn to like the way my body looks more. But in the meantime, I can like the way I feel, and appreciate my body in that sense, if not with my eyes. The feeling of strength gives me confidence that allows me to relate to the world better than I used to, even though I still don’t like the way my body LOOKS sometimes. It is helping me overcome and “feel the fear and do it anyway.” I don’t know if that’s going to be a deep enough motivation to keep me going when things get hard. So far it has. But it’s only been 6 months. However……it’s a habit that I LOVE doing. I look forward to lifting. I feel sad on rest days because I just love it.
So, maybe I don’t need a “why.” Maybe I just need enjoyable, sustainable habits that work for ME. I guess if you are doing something you hate (burpees. jumping jacks.), then maybe you do need a “why.” Right now, I’m just not doing that stuff. I’m focusing on the stuff that I love so much that I can easily sustain, even without knowing WHY I am doing it. I’ll be curious to see how my “why” evolves as time progresses. Thanks for reading!