Diets can be good things. They can help us break life-long habits of gluttony and sloth and put us on a path toward physical health and fitness. But they can be dangerous things too. When we find ourselves fretting over 3 pounds, I think things have gone too far. [...]I'm going to go out on a limb here, and make a guess: I'm guessing that at no time in her life other than while she has actually been pregnant has Danielle ever been more than about 20 pounds overweight.
In the end, physical health comes down to eating a balanced diet and being physically active—it’s a no-brainer really. But why do so many of us struggle so very much with it? Why do so many of us look for a quick-fix magic solution, even at the expense of our mental and physical health?
Our children are watching us. Let’s think about what they see.
Self-loathing and unhealthy physical obsessions ... or a balanced, responsible approach to caring for the bodies God gave us?
Why do I think that? Well, for whole hosts of reasons, some of which are personal. But in some ways she sounds like I might have sounded once upon a time.
In fact, long ago I might have been the kind of woman she was talking about, the kind who while relatively slender and healthy still obsessed about her weight.
From high school through college and up till I got married I weighed between 115 and 125 pounds--and I thought of myself as a fat person. I am five feet, two inches tall, and I have very skinny sisters, and a mother who after having nine children could still wear a size 6, and sometimes a 4.
So at a decided size 8 to size 10 I was the fat one in the family. Whenever I could diet and exercise my way to the size 8, or even occasionally buy a size 6 in something, I was proud of myself. Whenever I had to buy a ten I was mortified; this was especially true of my size ten wedding gown. I told myself that the only reason I needed a ten was because they didn't make the gown in petite sizes, and so what was supposed to be the waist was hitting my hips--but I was embarrassed to have to wear such a "big" wedding dress.
Little did I know that marriage and three successive pregnancies were going to change my figure in ways I would have done almost anything to avoid. I had no idea I'd end up fluctuating, not between 115 and 125, but between 140 and 150, clearly overweight for a person as short and small framed as I am. I had no idea I'd end up wearing size 14 in just about everything. I had no idea the excess weight would negatively impact my health as it has done. And I had no idea what it was like to try to lose, not a mere ten pounds, but thirty.
I've been trying to lose that weight for a decade, now. The closest I came was on one of those restrictive obsessive weigh and measure everything diets that Danielle seems not to like much; I got down to 132. But it wasn't enough; I was still fat. And all it took was a few pounds of weight gain for me to give up on the thing and head back to the 140s. Nobody could tell the difference anyway, I thought, so why try?
Of course there were reasons to try. Of course, as Danielle says, it's a no-brainer, really. But we could say that about lots of things: holiness? No-brainer. Being a good mother? No-brainer. Taking up our crosses, daily? No-brainer...but it doesn't make any of these things easier to do.
And being reinforced in the belief that it was "life-long habits of gluttony and sloth" that kept one at a size 10, 125 lb figure (however good that sounds now!) when every other female in one's life was the "right size" isn't necessarily helpful. Maybe it is gluttony and sloth, or maybe it was, once upon a time (because surely after the youngest baby was weaned those extra thirty pounds ought to have melted right off!) but the reality is that even for a sensible healthy portion-conscious eater who is getting regular moderate exercise it takes a very, very long time to lose a significant amount of weight--and then it takes even more work to keep it off.
I would never tell someone who needs to lose twice or three times the weight I do that all they need is a balanced diet and some physical activity. Even for me, the calculations are depressing: a woman my age and height who gets at least 30 minutes a day of exercise and who limits herself to 1200 calories a day can expect to lose a whopping 0.2 pounds per week. Yep, that's right: three years to lose thirty pounds, three years of a 1200 calorie/day diet. I can't even imagine how much harder it is for women who need to lose significantly more.
So the diet calculations and blog posts and forum conversations that spring up everywhere this time of year aren't necessarily signs that women are self-loathing and obsessed with some impossible standard of weight. I'd be thrilled beyond belief to get back to my old "fat" weight of 125; the notion that I'd really need to be a size 4 or less than 110 lbs to be "right" is long gone. But if all it took to lose thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, etc. pounds was a "balanced, responsible approach" then very few people would willingly remain overweight.
It takes grueling effort, single-minded focus, and a disconcertingly large amount of time. It takes determination, the ability to get back up when you fall down, a deliberate and conscious effort to turn away from cultural food celebrations and anything else that pulls you off the path. It's an arduous journey, and I'm full of admiration for the ones who have made it successfully and who stretch out their arms to those of us starting over in the face of odds no gambler would accept, calling out words of encouragement and hope. It takes prayer and humility and grace.
But of course, for those women who really are fretting over a mere three pounds or so, it would probably take counseling--because compared to an actual health-related need to fight and struggle and sweat and pray and work to drop dozens of pounds, such fretting must come from a very dark place indeed, and any woman afflicted by such a concern would have my utmost sympathy.