By Vado Porro • January 17, 2011•Writers in Residence
Like a lot of women, I was not particularly comfortable with my body as I was going through the last years of elementary school, through middle school, and in high school. Like many girls my age, I sat around with my girlfriends at lunch and maligned parts of my body. I had no concept of healthy foods or eating properly, and as a vegetarian, understanding nutrition was a struggle as a teenager. Ten years later, I managed to get myself to a place where, most of the time, I didn't think much about my weight.
Recently, I got married and my campaign job ended, and in the wedding aftermath and the emotional pitfalls of unemployment, my weight began to creep up. In December, I got tired of my pants no longer fitting and became concerned that if I did get a job, I would no longer be able to wear my good suits. So I began to exercise more, and began to track what I ate to try to get enough protein and avoid eating too much unhealthy junk. It's been a month now, and I still haven't seen the scale budge. But, since I went back to exercising daily and made an effort to incorporate a one-mile walk into my schedule every day (to make up for how much I don't exercise with my new sedentary lifestyle), my head has been clearer and I have felt happier. I also committed to finding volunteer work which required me to leave the house and eat meals at regular mealtimes, rather than snacking throughout the day.
I think there is a lesson here. Too often, we think of exercise as a way to change our bodies. The reality of exercise is that we should be using it to change how we feel about our bodies. There is an old saying that you should, "change how you see, not change how you look." Nothing will help you change how you see more than exercise - when you exercise, you will see yourself as strong, powerful, and fierce. I can tell you that on both a personal and professional level, these things matter a whole lot more than feeling or looking thin. I can tell you that when I look in the mirror and I fixate on the size of my thighs and how hard it is to find suits to fit me, I can also remind myself that those thighs helped me get a breakaway at last week's game and they carried me through a half-marathon and a triathlon.
Exercise is frequently referred to as a tool for "getting healthy" when people mean "getting thin". We connect weight and health in a way that is unhealthy for us as a society. I used to be heavier, and when I was, I obsessed over the fact that my BMI put me in the "obese" category. I worried that this made me unhealthy, even though I exercised every day, played hockey, and ate vegetables. As I got portions under control and stepped up my exercise to lose weight, I realized something, which was that I was not getting any healthier by losing weight.
This is not to say that exercise does not make you healthier. But by focusing on exercise and weight-loss, we are depriving ourselves of all of the other ways which exercise makes us healthier. I am healthier now, with my renewed commitment to exercise, than I was a month ago, when I was still exercising more than 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week. People often give up on exercise because they do not lose a large amount of weight right away. Unfortunately, they do not understand that weight loss is not a reason to start exercising. Weight loss is largely a product of dietary changes, reinforced by exercise. Exercise can also increase a desire for healthy foods, and makes you more aware of using food to fuel your body, rather than to simply fill your stomach.
So if you had a New Year's resolution to lose weight, or start exercising, I'd like to suggest a different resolution to you - change how you see, not how you look.