Nothing Tastes as Bitter as a Cheat Day Feels

Years ago, when I tried to mentally motivate my way through another diet, I started a Pinterest board called Fitspiration. I pinned images of sports bra-wearing fitness models with the glistening abs, biceps, glutes, and more that I so desperately wanted.

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I pinned links to all the pump-you-up Nike commercials I could find.

Candid shots of celebrities in swimsuits.

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Inspirational blog posts about weight loss success—with the obligatory before-and-after photos.

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And quotes I wanted to pound in my head.

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One of those quotes was this gem:

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I looked at those words constantly. I looked at it before I ate something I thought I might regret: a cookie, a cocktail, a carrot dipped in a smidge too much peanut butter. I looked at it when I wanted to back out of my workouts.

Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.

Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.

Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.

I visualized skinny-me. I marveled at how good achieving my dream body must feel that it would inevitably trump the deliciousness that is French fries and biscuits and hot fudge sundaes.

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Now, having successfully lost the weight and kept it off—with no thanks to the Fitspiration board, by the way—I need someone, anyone, everyone to know this truth:

Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels is bullshit.

That’s not to say I’m not happy. I feel amazing. Shedding the fat, the shame, the guilt, the bulbous burden I carried on my body, in my head, on my spirit my entire adult life was absolutely worth the hard work, the sacrifices, and the sometimes-tough choices.

But Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels is still a bullshit philosophy that pins happiness against satisfaction in an unhealthy way. In an impossible way.

Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels says you’ll be happier if you don’t eat a slice of cake. Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels means that under no circumstances is enjoying what you eat acceptable. Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels tells you that when you lie awake at night with hunger pangs, you can take comfort in the fact that your thigh gap is widening. Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels teaches us not to enjoy food, but instead to enjoy the way our bodies look when we’re starved for it.

And that approach to health and weight loss and happiness is not sustainable.

So instead of “cheat days” when we’re allowed to indulge without feeling guilty—and still feel guilty anyway—why don’t we empower ourselves to make smart choices all day, every day based on what we know about our own bodies?

Instead of punishing our weekend indulgences during a Monday workout, let’s make fitness a sacred time and space where we take care of ourselves, where we invest in ourselves. Where we cut ties with everything that drags us down, sweat out stress, and celebrate every triumph.

Exercise is not a punishment any more than indulgent food is a reward. Because one day, after you’ve had an balanced breakfast and a healthy lunch and you plan to go for a run after work, cookies may show up in the break room at your office.

And you may decide to eat one. And it will taste good.

And that’s okay.

Because cookies do taste good. And bagels taste good. And heavy-handed pours of malbec taste good. And power foods like avocado and sweet potatoes and salmon and raspberries and almonds taste good.

But being healthy, putting healthy things into your body, investing in your health and happiness and well-being, that’s what feels good.

It feels better than skinny. It feels better than fat. It feels better than over indulging or dieting or cheat days or juice cleanses. It even feels better than watching the numbers go down on the scale.

So if you want to be healthier, lose weight, or simply be the best version of yourself, here’s my advice: Forget Fitspiration. Forget cheat days. Forget what everyone else looks like in a bikini. Forget what society says you’re supposed to look like in a bikini. Forget how far you have to go. Forget how many times you’ve tried and failed. Forget the mantras. And definitely forget Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.

But please remember this:

Nothing feels as good as taking good care of yourself.

The Weighting Game

When I started out this year—overweight and disillusioned yet somehow determined to make a change—I promised myself one thing: If I hit my goal weight, I will post a picture online of myself in a bikini.

I couldn’t tell you why this motivated me. Perhaps since the dawning days of Facebook, I’d seen other women my age boldly share photos at the beach, on the lake, in the pool, or simply modeling teeny-weeny polka dot bikinis in their mirrors at home. I’d envied their curves and their confidence, their flat stomachs and slender thighs.

Unlike these women, I’ve never been comfortable in a two-piece swimsuit. Being at the beach meant hours spent trying to figure out how to sit in a chair while hiding my stomach at the same time. It meant sucking in and being as absolutely still as possible. It meant feeling my thighs rub, butt jiggle, and belly bounce for all to see as I walked down the sand. There weren’t enough towels in the world to make me feel adequately covered up in a bikini.

That is until this year, when January rolled around, and I decided for the ga-zillionth time to lose weight.

I didn’t want the decision to feel like a fad diet or a weight loss scheme or a New Year’s resolution, so instead, I called it an opportunity.

When I first passed on bacon-garnished bloody marys and gravy-smothered biscuits during a Sunday brunch (and my friends cocked their heads in disbelief), I explained, “I have an opportunity…to take better care of myself this year. I’m giving it a shot.”

And just like that, opportunity became my mantra.

This year, I’ve had the opportunity to choose salads over spicy chicken sandwiches. The opportunity to go for a walk, a jog, a run. The opportunity to invest time each day into myself. The opportunity to feel proud. And to not go another summer avoiding the water that I love so much.

I marked successful gym days off on my calendar, tracked food with MyFitnessPal, monitored my heart rate with a Fitbit, only allowed myself on the scale on Wednesday mornings, and measured my red wine pours by the ounce. Some days I went decidedly off the rails, but I quickly got back on—always with the echoes of opportunity encouraging me forward.

By August, I’d lowered my blood pressure to healthy levels I hadn’t seen in years. I watched my BMI drop from “overweight” to “normal.” I went from a snug size 8 to a roomy size 4. And I lost a total of 40 pounds.

Now it’s October and the opportunity continues, although in a different capacity. Today, I have the opportunity to be strong, the opportunity to live life more comfortably—more fully, and the opportunity to love me, every day, both inside and out.

This morning, I decided I would keep the promise I made to myself in January—even though I don’t even fully understand why I made it to begin with—and post a photo of myself in a bikini.

Why?

Maybe just because I can. Maybe because I’m proud. Maybe because I think I’ve earned it. Maybe I just want to know what in the world it feels like.

Or maybe somewhere inside I know that if I never did anything that made me uncomfortable, I’d still be 40 pounds heavier and already dreading the summer of 2016.

So here’s to pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones…

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running from bagels

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Sheltered behind my cubicle walls, I heard her voice above the typing of keys, the slurping of coffee, the early morning chatter, as she agonized over a breakfast spread set up just outside a neighboring conference room.

As others came by, grabbing scones or muffins or fruit cups  or coffee–definitely coffee–she chatted them up. Hello’s and how-are-you’s and an occasional introduction.

But those little chats were just circles; they never ventured far from where they started. And they always came back to the bagels.

“I’m thinking about having a bagel,” she’d declare to no one in particular. “I ran this morning, so I think it’s okay.”

Minutes would go by. Others would come to stake their breakfast claim and again, she’d pipe up: “I already went for a run today, so I can probably have a bagel and it’ll be okay” or “Six miles is enough to cancel out a bagel, right?”

Part of me mentally smacked myself in the forehead each time I heard her seeking out justification for her food choice. We’re talking about a bagel for heaven’s sake, not deep-fried challah french toast. Not to mention it wasn’t even nine ‘o clock in the morning and the woman had already run half a half marathon.

Part of me wanted to stand up, peer my head over the wall of my cube and say, “YOU’RE GONNA BE FINE. EAT THE DAMN BAGEL ALREADY!!”

But part of me was all too familiar with the circuitous journey she was on. A roundabout road toward health and happiness and self-contentment with the occasional toll of sanity that must be paid along the way.

I’ve argued myself in and out of many a morning run, a tiramisu, and yes, even a fresh-baked bagel. I’ve measured out two tablespoons of hummus to accompany my carrots, just to make sure I didn’t accidentally overdo it. I’ve brought my own packed lunches to untrustworthy dinner parties, so I wouldn’t be trapped without a healthy option. I’ve sopped the grease off my pizza with a paper towel. I’ve had my fair share of low fat and no fat and low sugar and no taste.

I’ve fallen victim to the endless pinwheel of longing, indulging, guilt, and regret, and I’m acutely familiar with the same empty hole that waits in the middle . . . whether you eat the bagel, or you don’t.

Somehow, I found my way out of the loop. I’ve stopped running from bagels or running for bagels. I’ve stopped counting calories and fat grams and minutes until lunch.

But I still recognized the dread and doubt and indecision in that woman’s voice. And I hated every moment for her.

I’m not sure if she decided to eat that bagel or not. And really, it doesn’t matter. It would have plagued her either way.

I do hope one day she sees the justification she needs can’t come from her coworkers at the breakfast buffet. Or her husband. Or her children. Or parents. Or friends.

I hope one day she stops running in circles and makes peace with herself. And all the bagels she has yet to consume.

Photo credit: Pretzel Bread Bagels via Miss Munchie on Etsy

 

the difference between hating and healing

You’d never believe it, but the thing I had confused my entire life, the thing that I couldn’t get straight – left to right, up and down – the thing I was so wrong about I would’ve sworn to death I was right, that thing was the difference between hating myself and healing myself.

And I know what you’re thinking. Those two things are nothing alike. Even a complete twat would know the difference between hating and healing. But I’m here to tell you this complete twat was damn wrong about it. For a long time, too.

Every time I picked up a cupcake or a French fry or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Fro Yo, I thought of it as a treat to myself. A little splurge just for me. Because I was having a tough week or I had gotten a promotion. Because I deserved it.

And every time I laced up my running shoes and dragged my tired butt to the gym and moved myself round and round on the elliptical like a hamster on a wheel, well that was my punishment. Punishment for looking like a linebacker instead of a lady, punishment for not fitting into a single pair of pants, punishment for not going to punishment the day before.

And just like that, the lines were not just blurred, they were completely wrong. And I was lost in a world where I healed myself with hatred and hated myself as I healed.

I probably would have gone until I was a 45-year old obese, depressed, and real-damn-confused divorcee before I figured it out. But instead, my mom died. Right before Christmas.

And I swam around in a fuzzy world of grief and denial and numbness for a few weeks. Then one Sunday evening, after a zombie-like day spent walking around my apartment aimlessly holding onto a can of Pledge and an unused dust rag, I decided I should go to the gym.

But it wasn’t like every other time I went to the gym. Because I wasn’t being punished. In fact, just the opposite, I was going to try and heal.

So I went and pounded my feet on a treadmill for 45 minutes until my cheeks were red and I’d sweated so much my nipples were hard from the dampness of my shirt. But the whole time I was there I repeated five words in my head: “THIS. IS. HOW. YOU. HEAL.”

And the next day I went back. And I didn’t look at how many calories I burned. And I didn’t think about how I wanted to look in a bikini. And for once, for once in my entire life, I wasn’t there to change me. I was there to heal me.

It didn’t take long for the food revelation to follow suit. I think I was in the shower when I realized how ass-backwards I’d been my whole life in the way I thought about eating and exercise.

I finally figured out that healing yourself is about putting good things in your body. And taking care of yourself. And spending the time to do the things your body needs.

Every day, I make decisions focused on healing – first, from the loss of my mother, but also from the years and years of hate I inflicted on my body.

I don’t obsess about food or constantly day-dream about my next meal. I don’t dread going to the gym. And I don’t think about how I want to change myself.

Healing is based in love. And I’m finally healing myself. And I’m finally loving myself. And there’s this peace in my world that I can confidently say has never existed before. And I’ll tell you what, it’s quite beautiful.

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She let out a heavy sigh as she stared down at the black scale on her cool bathroom floor. She removed her wrinkled t-shirt and cotton shorts before stepping on. Drew in a deep breath. The scale’s dial whipped around quickly, then teetered back and forth before settling on a number.

And that’s it. That’s the number that defines her today. She’s seen it. She cannot change it. Today, that’s her number.

And it’s not good enough. It’s not low enough. It’s not thin enough. It’s fat. It’s bloated. It’s ugly. It’s big. But today, that’s her number.

She shakes her head silently as she steps back off and turns to start the shower. Tomorrow will be better.

She’ll shave her legs and curl her hair and line her eyes and powder her nose, but it won’t matter. That number has already taken hold. She’ll pick out her cutest dress. Pair it with trendy heels and statement jewelry. But the number hangs over her still. And she’ll examine herself in the mirror before she walks out the door, but all she’ll see is that number.

Every woman she runs into she’ll match up against her number. Every size two and extra small. Every time she’ll fall short. Her number is just too high.

Every bit of food she consumes she’ll weigh against that number. Will this make it worse? Is it worth it? What if I just skip this meal? She won’t enjoy a single bite. Food has become a number too.

And at the gym she’ll mount the elliptical and watch the calories slowly climb. Exercise is just another number. She’ll push and pull and sweat and gasp and think, tomorrow must be better.

She’ll drink water and pass on dessert and go to bed as her stomach growls and dream of a better number.

I know this girl. I was this girl. I see this girl still every day. And every time I see her, I want to tell her a lesson I learned long ago about numbers on the scale.

Those numbers do not define who you are. They do not determine your worth. They have no gauge on your potential. And they most certainly cannot assess your beauty.

They are numbers on a machine. A machine designed to tell you your relationship with gravity.

Stop looking at the scale and start looking at yourself. You are beautiful. And everyone else can already see it.

miles to go before i sleep

I used to run. Five or more times a week. Four to eight miles each day. Life used to happen while I was running.

I would drive out to Folly Beach. Park in an open lot near 2nd or 3rd streets and walk out through the dunes toward the water. I’d usually go right first, toward the pier. I’d run until the beach ended. Until there was nowhere left to go.

I’d stop there and just take in the view. All sea oats and foamy peaks and glittering water and nothing more. I’d give myself a minute, maybe two. Sometimes I’d even stop my iPod and just listen.

Then I’d turn around and go back. On good days I’d even go past where I parked, toward the water tower, picking up some extra miles along the way.

The last quarter-mile or so I’d gradually increase my pace until I was all out sprinting as I crossed a mental finish line. Hearing the voice of my old track coach in my head with every stride, “Finish strong, Shelnutt!”

On the way home, I’d ride with my windows down the whole way, no matter what temperature it was outside. It was the runner’s high. An incredible feeling. A euphoria. An overwhelming state of absolute satisfaction.

Somehow, the habit that I loved so much didn’t hold. I lost it along the way. I moved away from the beach. Tried running downtown, in gyms, in parking lots. I tried trails and bridges. I found partners and lost partners. I bought new sneakers. Ran 5k’s and 10k’s and half marathons. But I never could get back to that place.

Where running wasn’t exercise. It was just my time. A gift. It was a moment of therapy. A moment of glory. A moment of peace and pain at the same time.  A moment where I just loved myself. I was strong and nothing else mattered.

Today, I haven’t run in months. My running shoes are old and filthy. My playlist, out of date. My sports bras and shorts hardly fit anymore. But today, I’m lacing up again. Today, I’m going to run. And again tomorrow. And again the day after that.

So hopefully, one day weeks or months from now, I’ll be able to find that place. And life will once again happen while I’m running.