A friend (hey, Tara!) recently shared this post on facebook, and I was reminded once again of how much I love Donloree Hoffman’s blog. I’ve read her blog intermittently for a few years now, and this particular post, “Healthy is Better than Hot,” is easily in my top 3 favorites. In it, she details her journey through multiple health challenges and varying states of fitness and leanness, and the freedom she has found in making fitness less of a focus in her life. This really resonated because I wasted years of my life letting my obsession with body image dominate as my number one priority. While those years certainly are not beyond redemption, my life would be much different today if I had taken the focus, time, and effort that I directed towards my body and put it into meaningful work. My education, career, relationships, and hobbies would all be different. Saying that “fitness” was a “hobby” of mine made it seem socially acceptable, even positive, and most folks wouldn’t have batted an eye. In reality, my “hobby” was managing a collection of disorders – body dysmorphia, exercise bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression, to name a few.
Normally I wouldn’t share that kind of thing publicly, but I’ve been approached by more than a few folks over the past few months, all of whom have asked the same question: How can I stop obsessing about food/exercise/my body? They’re questions I asked myself more times than I can count, and as Donloree put it, “I thought having a rocking body would make [those issues] go away; how misinformed I was!” One of the only things that helped those issues was replacing them with other priorities. When I stopped forcing myself to pursue a hot body above all else, I discovered a whole new world. [Cue everyone's favorite Aladdin song...] I have time for real hobbies now that I’m not devoting the majority of my waking hours to researching and planning the perfect workouts and nutrition. I can go out for drinks with friends and enjoy foods that are absolutely not considered healthy – pumpkin pie, French bread, burritos, anything from Starbucks – without being wracked with guilt or feeling compelled to atone for my dietary “transgressions” with hours of extra workouts. I can make plans without worrying about when I’ll be able to fit in my workout, and I can miss a workout without batting an eye if something more important comes up. I can truly focus on my other priorities without constantly being drawn back to obsess over why my body isn’t perfect and how I might be able to make it so.
What I loved most about what Donloree wrote was her focus on controlling our thoughts. Before they are actions and habits and downward spirals, disorders (and disordered behaviors) first come to life as thoughts. As much as our current society may like to deny it, the reality is that we absolutely have control over what we do with our thoughts. We can direct them, or we can sit back and let them dominate us. She likened it to having control over a jail for unhealthy or unhelpful thoughts – when one crops up, “Throw it in, lock it up, and keep going!” I would add that when you stumble upon healthy and helpful thoughts, you should elect those suckers to congress and let them stick around and help you make decisions moving forward.
So what can you do differently, and how do we answer the question: How can I stop obsessing over food/exercise/my body?
The short answer is this: Make real priorities your priority.
I’m not saying you should not make an effort to be healthy and instill healthy habits, nor that doing so is easy and requires little effort. Health is important and it requires effort…but it does not require all your effort. So give health the effort it requires, and then forget about it. Give that top priority spot to something that matters more – your career, your education, your hobbies (real hobbies…”cardio” doesn’t count as a hobby).
The funny thing is that when you make something other than your body/body image a priority, you might be surprised at how much better you feel about yourself. You know how a potential romantic interest is that much more attractive when they are pursuing their passions in life? The same concept applies to you. The more you have a sense of purpose and live with that purpose, the more attractive you become and the more confident you will feel. These days, a perfect body is not my priority, and the body I’ve got is pretty average – 135 pounds, 5’3″, and I usually wear a size 6. I’m strong but not the strongest, and I’m fit but not the fittest. I’m happy with that. Could I be leaner/stronger/fitter? Sure. Is it my top priority? No. I’m healthy, I’m happy with what I see in the mirror, and I’m so much happier with my life now that it doesn’t revolve around trying to get a perfect body. I distinctly remember wandering through the junior’s section of a department store when I was about 14 and thinking how horrible it would be if ever there came a day where I had an “average” body and fit into average clothing sizes. I could not see how I would be able to live with myself if I was not skinny.
And here I am today – average-sized, healthy, and pretty damn happy about it.
Of course, I still have my moments where I find myself a little neurotic over the shape of my ass or the size of my love handles.
That’s when I remind myself “more pleasin’ for the squeezin'” But I’ve got enough real priorities now that I don’t have the time or desire to worry too much about those details. Healthy is good enough.
What did you think of Donloree’s post?
Do focus your efforts on “hotness” or health? Do you think health is a worthy goal on its own?
How does your thought life affect your body image?