How often I've heard women saying, "I love my 40s! I finally don't care what anybody else thinks! I have confidence! I love my body! I'm sexy as hell! I'm going to wear that damn bikini!" or some such variation.
I keep waiting for that confidence that was supposed to come with this stage of my life. I'm into the second half of my fifth decade, and when someone from my youth finds me on Facebook, I still dread them seeing my photos. I'm a good 40 pounds heavier than I was in my college days.
I've always loved exercise—yoga, Zumba, HIIT, volleyball, pilates, even mowing my damn lawn. I'm careful about what I eat, though, believing the adage, "You can't out-exercise poor nutrition." I abide by Michael Pollan's rule, "If it arrives through the window of your car, it is not food." The admonition to "only eat food with ingredients you recognize and can pronounce" is a good one, too. Unfortunately, I can recognize and pronounce "sugar" and "flour." Still, a much larger percentage of what I eat is whole, healthy and unprocessed than it was 10 years ago. And yet ...
There's a saying that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. A friend pointed out that this is also the definition of the scientific method. Either way, when it came to weight loss, I did the same thing over and over again and expected a different result each time. Was I crazy? Scientific? Both?
I didn't do the same diet plan over and over—each approach was different, but never extreme. I've done Atkins, Somersizing, Game On! or Dukan, and they were all based upon eating healthy, whole foods, lots of vegetables and lean meat, and minimal amounts of processed food. I never did the crazy cleanses or dangerous drugs.
Over 15 years, during which I have tried to exercise strict control over my food intake, I've learned two things:
1. In order to successfully lose weight and keep it off, I must basically eliminate sugar and flour from my diet—to a degree I consider extreme.
2. I'm incapable of (and/or unwilling to) accomplishing #1 for any lasting period of time.
Certain things take a while to dawn on me, no matter how blinding the evidence. A series of these revelations have moved me to abandon any further attempts to weigh less than my body wants to weigh.
The first was recognizing that I haven't EVER liked my body shape, regardless of what I weighed. Why limit so severely what I ate if, in the end, I still wasn't going to like how I looked? I have just as much trouble looking at my thin self in a bathing suit as my heavy self.
The second was realizing that if I wanted to stop gaining weight, I had to stop dieting. I was astonished to realize that what experts repeatedly declared true, was indeed true: Each time one ends a diet, one eventually winds up heavier than before one began it. Why, for so long, did I consider myself immune to such effects? Because I am insane. I mean, a scientist.
The third of these was discovering that what I wanted even more desperately than to be thin, was to not mind NOT being thin. My quest for my "ideal" weight kept me home from social and professional get-togethers. I didn't want to be tempted to eat the chocolate-dipped strawberries or the pita chips that inevitably were served with the hummus.
A meme I saw smacked me in the face recently. It said, "The problem with dieting is not watching what I eat. It's watching what OTHER people eat." I'd see my thin friends around me drinking wine and eating pizza and I'd be absolutely consumed with envy. More than being without extra weight, I longed to be without envy. I longed to enjoy these wonderful people and their presence without the toxic jealousy that always crept in when I saw them laughing and loving in their size 4 clothes.
The fact remains that I will never be someone who gazes lovingly upon my cellulite and says, "I adore you, cellulite, because you are part of ME!" I will never be someone who names each of her stretch marks, then looks at them wistfully in the mirror, gently telling herself, "I got YOU, Sally Stretch Mark, when my body miraculously grew another life inside of me ..." Please.
But my outlook did at least begin to improve slowly when I realized the path to that pot of gold lay not in my getting thin, but in my getting mature. Becoming more forgiving. Doing my best to eat healthy food that does good things for my body, and accepting the weight gain that comes with enjoying cookies and fries sometimes, too. I am trying to allow myself the self-love a tiny, though growing part of me knows I deserve, even when I need to buy bigger pants.
I'm getting there. I'm learning that trying to control my body and it's chemistry to the degree I must to stay thin is about as stubbornly childish as my five-year-old self trying to draw a perfectly straight line without a ruler. I'm older now, and I know better.