As a “fat girl” for the last 14 years of my life, I have struggled with my weight and my shape, trying all different types of lifestyle changes, eating plans, and even exercise programs. I have alternately hated my body and tried to love it, tried to use exercise equipment and then eschewed it, etc. I’ve tried walking alone on a track; I’ve tried doing various diets (even low-carb, for about 5 minutes); I’ve tried exercising with music on headphones. Nothing worked for a very long time–I got bored, I got out of the habit, and then it was back to living like I was, relatively sedentary because of my lower body’s arthritic injuries, and avoiding anything green and leafy like it’s got mold.
Does “Healthy Living” Always Have to Equal “Lonely Living?”
During these years of struggle, I’ve noticed something: “living healthy” is a lonely process, like I referenced in the title of this article. It’s very difficult to get people to eat healthier with you, or to exercise regularly with you, due to scheduling, different food needs and likes, and just plain being too busy or too disconnected. And since I’m such a social creature, liking to do things with other people than by myself, it makes it doubly hard to stick to any plan. Not only are the plans difficult to follow because they’re SO different from the way I live my life and they often cause me lots of physical pain, but I have to do everything alone. Doing things alone is a great way to unmotivate oneself.
Perhaps I sound like a crybaby. No matter; I’ve been called a crybaby many times during my life, and I’d say that my sensitivity makes me a much more impassioned writer and a better artist than it makes me a well-adjusted human being. It’s just that if I have to go through something as life-altering, painful, and tough as “getting healthy,” then I’d like a little support. After all, there are support groups for everything else in life.
“Anti-Health” Support Groups, Ahoy!
In fact, I’m comfortable making the assertion that we currently have unintended “anti-health support groups” in America and around the world. There are plenty of people to help you eat all the wrong things, but if you’re on a super-healthy diet, you eat alone. There are plenty of people to help you laze around and watch TV all day, but if you’re going to exercise, you have to do it by yourself. We all help each other sink farther and farther into unhealthy activities because those unhealthy activities feel so darned good and the healthy activities feel like punishment.
In light of this, why are fat people like me subjected to teasing, ridicule, and blame, when we ALL are to blame for being rather hedonistic in our choices of lifestyle? Somehow, it’s still completely “our fault” for being fat, even when the culture immediately around us rewards bad choices and punishes good choices.
When Good Health is Associated with Bad Emotions
I’m tired of being lonely during exercise, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Apart from my Zumba experience, which has been amazingly awesome despite not being able to do quite all the moves yet, my exercise repertoire in the past mostly consisted of boring workouts that somehow manage to leave me unbearably sore and bedridden the next day.
Walking, for instance, BORES ME TO TEARS. Just walking and walking around in a circle not doing anything else productive is not relaxing for me–it makes me anxious about the time I’m wasting doing this useless junk when I could be at home working on a project I’ve got coming up. Walking and other “10-reps-of-this, 20-reps-of-this” exercises drive me insane. There’s nothing to THINK about except how much pain I’m in, and how much pain I’m going to be in tomorrow, and how airless my lungs feel. There’s an incredible isolation that descends upon you when you’re in pain–no one else can feel what you’re feeling at this moment, and quite possibly, no one even cares how much it hurts. When exercise is associated with humiliation and pain, it’s no wonder people don’t want to do it.
I’m also tired of being lonely at the dinner table, and I know I ain’t the only one. When everyone else is indulging in wonderful treats of all types and you’re stuck with a “Rabbit’s Delight” salad, you begin to feel like the odd one out. If you’re the only person counting calories, watching carbs or fat, etc., you feel like you’re in “Food Time-Out.” Starving oneself while everyone else eats heartily, eating something that tastes absolutely disgusting just because it’s “healthier” than what you like, is not my idea of culinary fun. As a very picky eater, hating almost all vegetables and fruits because of the nasty pulpy/crunchy textures and brackish dirt/water tastes, it’s hard for me to find healthy things that I can eat, though even I draw the line at Taco Bell’s ground beef these days (it’s more grease than meat, or is it just me?). I try to choose the least of the food evils and eat smaller portions of whatever I get, but I still feel like I’m depriving myself–and I end up hungry 45 minutes later, without fail.
Do We Deserve “Body Punishment?” I Don’t THINK So!
When “getting healthy” is lonely, boring, and horrible, it doesn’t exactly help anybody join the program. And yet, it seems there’s an idea of “body punishment” for those who have to get healthy to live longer lives–somehow, it’s perceived that we “did this to ourselves,” so we “deserve” all the pain and hardship we go through to get healthy. Not everyone who is fat and/or unhealthy got that way by life choices; sometimes, as in my case, our genetics chose for us.
A Side Note about How My Genetics Chose for Me
As a young child, up to about age 10, I was actually fairly slim, and tall for my age. In fact, my grandmother once got mad at my parents after seeing a photo of me at age 8 on a recent beach trip–she saw the dark circles under my eyes (hereditary) and the slenderness of my whole body and thought that they weren’t feeding me enough. But I went from being that tall and almost-too-skinny 3rd grader to being a rounded, textbook endomorph model in 5th grade. I was 90 pounds and 5’3″ at the beginning of 5th grade, and by the end of 5th grade, I was 145 pounds and 5’5″. I had just turned 11 years old, and went from skinny girl to fat girl almost overnight, gaining butt, breasts, and hips, and a wonderful little muffin top belly which has helped me look pregnant ever since. It was like a switch flipped off, and my metabolism crashed, with absolutely no change in exercise level or food intake. My mother, my aunt, both female cousins, and my maternal grandmother all went through this same body change at onset of puberty as well, so I know it’s not just peculiar to me.
I wish all the skinny Minnies who run diet and exercise plans understood this, how my own body betrayed me and made me a target for all the school bullies, both male and female. Because of how I was treated, especially in middle-school gym classes, exercise became strongly associated with feelings of unpreparedness, humiliation, and sub-humanity. It has taken over a decade to even begin to break down those psychological associations of punishment and pain, and I’m fairly confident my experience is all too typical.
How Can We Start Helping One Another?
Yes, I will say if somebody’s just sitting in bed day after day stuffing themselves until they’re almost sick, they’re doing themselves a disservice. But even so, they deserve support too. Otherwise, there will be no motivation to leave their comfort zone, and they will sink further into their painful and insidiously dangerous lifestyle. While I’ve never turned to food as an emotional void-filler, I do know the hopeless feelings associated with diet and exercise, and it’s no place for any human being.
If you truly want to help someone become healthy again, you don’t treat them like dirt–you offer them support in the form of being an “exercise buddy,” a “going-out-to-eat buddy,” whatever kind of buddy you need to be in order to keep them accountable (and keep yourself accountable, too). Knowing that someone else actually gives a rat’s rear end about what you’re doing is a wonderful motivator; I’ve seen it work with me and with other people, too. When other people reach out and care, when others connect with you, want to know week by week how you’re coming along, you start thinking “maybe I’m worth being cared about.” That healthy attitude change is the first real step to becoming healthy in body again.