New Year’s is a traditional time for new beginnings. I began studying yoga in January 2003, one of those many people trying out yoga for the first time. Overwhelmingly there is a message to change your body. Holidays are over, you overate, and clearly it is time to start working on that swimsuit body. People begin weight loss programs, buy countless books, join fitness centers, and otherwise spend billions of dollars, estimated at $60 billion in 2016, on trying to have a different body.
I know, I’ve been one of them. I come from a family of body-obsessed dieters. I cannot even recall when I first began to diet with my Mother, but I’m sure I didn’t need to lose weight when I did it. As adolescence hit I hated my changing body and the attention it got. Once I went away to college I put on more weight. I kept putting it on until my early 30s, I felt more comfortable in my large body.
When I was diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease one of the first things I was told to consider was weight loss. At the time I was also receiving news that I had very high cholesterol and I’m from a family where heart disease and strokes mortally affect the women. So I set about to lose weight like I was told to.
At first it was easy, I had decided to become vegan as part of both my yoga practice, particularly when I became a teacher and wanted to find ways to really live my practice, and my deepening practice in a Buddhist community. That dietary change had dramatic, entirely unexpected, benefits to my health. My cholesterol dropped by over 100 points and the ratios were now ideal. My allergies improved noticeably and I stopped having sinus infections, leading to lung infections, multiple times a year. I lost 100 pounds with ease.
My back pain didn’t improve.
Then it stopped being easy and I really wanted to get back down to a size I was when I was at 18. At time point my physician wasn’t encouraging weight loss any longer, my change was profound and more than hoped for. I was the one who kept pushing, falling prey to the constant dieting I’d done throughout adolescence. When the loss slowed down I turned it into a project.
I used multiple websites, and eventually apps for my phone as well, to meticulously track every calorie in and out in my day. I rigorously kept under 1500 calories a day while pursuing an increasingly vigorous yoga practice. After two years in that mode I’d lost 50 more pounds and was down to a Size 8. I’d made it.
My back pain never was changed by weight loss. Yoga remains the single most beneficial tool in managing my pain.
In the past 10 years since I made that goal I’ve regained 40 pounds. Given that most people gain back all of what they lost and more, I’ve done really well. I’m about the size I was when I left college, Size 14.
This January came around and I felt the siren song of weight loss. I could do it again. I have bins of too small clothing I’m saving for when I drop that weight again. I could devote most of my free time to obsessively tracking calories again, becoming an internal bully to not eat more calories than I am “allowed”, and constantly avoiding social engagements where people might comment on my not eating. I can turn it into a project and do it again, “It is only 40 pounds this time!!”, sings the song.
A lot has changed though. In becoming an Integrated Movement Therapist I’ve become devoted to helping people cultivate friendship with their bodies. I interrupt my students fixating on weight and body size as being linked to actual health, reminding them that healthy has a variety of shapes and sizes.
It really hit me this January that I simply cannot tell my students that weight is not an indicator of health when I am spending all my time obsessing over calories and how to push myself to lose those 40 pounds again. While I can teach postures I cannot do myself, I cannot teach people to see themselves and whole and complete, just as they are, when I’m bullying myself into weight loss.
My body has seen me through some truly hellacious experiences. Despite being in chronic pain, my body moves me trough teaching 5-6 days a week. I have to be careful. mindful of my body more now, approaching 50 years of age and having lived in chronic pain for 18 years, but my body still supports me doing so many things. So this year, for the first time in decades, I’m resolving to love and appreciate my body, just as it is.
My body isn’t a problem, it isn’t a project to be managed and solved.