A lot of people are burned out from dieting, and I say it’s about time. Researchers at The NPD Group, which tracks Americans’ dieting habits, revealed that only 20 percent of American adults reported dieting in 2012, down from a peak of 31 percent in 1991. Only 23 percent of women claimed to be dieting – 10 points down from a decade ago.
The very word “diet” has the echo of oppression. Years ago I decided life was too important to obsess over trying to look good in skinny jeans and redefined “diet” as a way to simply get healthier. This was liberating: no more weighing protein on little scales. No more arbitrary deadlines to lose “X” amount of weight. After I made this decision, I felt ten pounds lighter already.
It took me years to slowly peel off a dozen pounds with this mindset, which is kind of pathetic. On the other hand, my weight never see-sawed up and down either. Today I’m not fat and not slim, but I am at peace with my “huggable” proportions.
As a kid, I loved to eat more than I hated being pudgy. Sometimes I claimed to be dieting but secretly bought cinnamon crumb donuts from the junior high cafeteria. I was jealous of friends who could eat whatever they wanted and not gain weight, like my friend Janet, who I watched toss back four large donuts in a row without expanding one millimeter. The existence of Janet’s masterful metabolism might explain my youthful hesitancy to believe in a good and just God.
During college, I realized that my favorite lunch of a double slice of thick-crust pizza with a frozen yogurt chaser was in direct conflict with my goal of attracting a man to marry. I hated jogging, but it beat swimming and the chlorinated water that always ended up in my nose, so I ran, loathing every minute of it. I cut back on the pizza and discovered fresh broccoli and tofu-vegetable stir-fry dinners. Fortunately, I liked going green. Exercising more and eating less, I was thrilled by the novel sensation of cinching a belt over a defined waistline.
I stayed motivated because eating healthier and exercising, even a little, made me feel better, and I was determined to avoid the health problems that were already beginning to plague my sedentary and overweight parents, still only in their 50s. I refused to get discouraged by my slow progress or by co-workers who said things like, “I’d give blood, too, but I don’t weigh enough.”
With his infinite sense of humor, God sent me a husband who was naturally slender and almost indifferent to food. On our first date, he wouldn’t finish a single scoop of ice cream after dinner, claiming he was full. Wanting a relationship based on honesty and frankness, I demanded he hand it over. I finished it.
Marriage requires patience and forgiveness, and I have forgiven my husband for still fitting into his wedding suit after twenty-five years and for his unfathomable quirk of “forgetting to eat.” (I text him at work to remind him.) What choice do I have? His love and affection for me have never wavered, no matter if I wear a size 8 or 12.
Raising four kids who for years would only eat pasta, hot dogs, pizza, and chicken nuggets – even with broccoli on the side — took its toll. When I realized that my waistline had gone missing in action, I vowed to get back in shape. Wanting variety, I tried everything from boot camp fitness, belly dancing, boxing, barre-style Pilates, Bikram yoga and even some things that didn’t start with the letter “B.” Ironies abound in the fitness industry, including gym instructors who shout, “Remember to breathe!” (do they think I’ll forget?) and yoga teachers who preach self-love but who correct you in front of everyone saying, “This isn’t an interpretive dance class.” There’s a lot to laugh about, and laughter burns calories. And here’s a tip for you health food zealots out there: Friends don’t tell friends they have sworn off all white flour and sugar and feel better than ever.
Like everything else worthwhile in life, getting and staying healthy takes work. But it’s not a zero-sum game. If you can’t exercise four times a week, exercise once or twice a week and try to build up. And instead of looking in the mirror and frowning at a body that doesn’t match our shallow culture’s “ideal” figure, appreciate all the miraculous things your body does for you every day. The Almighty knows how we mere mortals often focus more on what we don’t have rather than on what we do have. Our morning blessings are a great opportunity to say “Thank You, G‑d” for some of the most basic things we would otherwise take for granted, like the ability to see, walk, move our arms, and think. Starting my day with blessings and a connection to G‑d is also a reminder that what really counts is how I build my spiritual life – those are the muscles I need to keep toning!
I wasted decades obsessing about my weight and am relieved to have lost that emotional flab. My Jewish values taught me that God gave me my body as a gift – even if I might quibble with the packaging – to use in building a purposeful life. I work to keep it healthy so that I can keep giving, creating, taking care of my family, and living the full and rich life that Torah affords. Focusing “on high” in that way fosters a sense of inner beauty and strength that helps me “just say no” to a big mound of potatoes or that crumb donut at the office.