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A question of health

September 9, 2012

When I first started running – I guess it was about 8 months ago, a lot of people asked me if I had noticed any weight loss yet.  Some simply asked if “it was working” – with “working” being an assumed synonym for “caused weight loss.”  These questions, although asked with sincere curiosity and no ill-intent, REALLY upset me.  There are three assumptions inherent in this question that were troubling.  The first is that because I’m new to running,  I must be new to exercise in general.  The second is that the only (or at least the primary) reason to try a new exercise regime is to lose weight.  The third, and most upsetting assumption, is that I, in fact, need to lose weight.  Now – please don’t take offense.  I’m not saying that anyone who asked this question was really thinking any of these things, but these are the assumptions that I heard when the question was asked.  “Have you lost weight yet?”  “Why? Do I need to???”

Well, let me say first and foremost, I DO NOT NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT.  Yup.  That’s right.  I said it.  I’ve never said that before, and will plead temporary insanity if anyone ever  quotes me on it again…but it’s the truth.  I am healthy, with a good BMI, I eat well and I exercise regularly (ish).  Do I wish that I was thinner?  Yes.  Do I look in the mirror and think about how I wish that my stomach/arms/hips etc etc etc were smaller?  Absolutely.  Do I get depressed when pants that I love are a little too snug this week?  You betcha.  Do I look at other women and covet their bodies while cursing my own?  Of course.  I’ve been trained very well by our society (see previous blog post on beauty)… but when push-comes-to-shove, my body works quite well, thank you very much.

So why did I take up running?  Well, basically, it is really the most convenient (and cheapest!!) form of exercise there is!  I take classes and use machines at the gym and do a bunch of videos, but if I’m traveling, well, running shoes are easy to pack!  Also, there’s a social aspect – running is something that you can easily do with others (although I’ve discovered that I prefer to run alone).  Finally, most of my family members run, and if they can, well, why can’t I?  I was also curious about this supposed “runner’s high,” but I don’t think that I’m quite there yet.  I’ve never been able to run before – I didn’t have the stamina and my asthma would act up within the first few minutes, but I wanted to try again, so I followed a program and learned.

Ok – so what’s my point?  Well, it’s something that’s been on my mind a lot lately, and that’s the correlation between weight and health.  Now, before I get too far into this, here’s the disclaimer:  I know that obesity is a major problem on this side of the world. I get it, and I’m not arguing that fact. I applaud all of those that have embarked upon weight-loss programs in order to improve their health.  I think it’s wonderful.  I also know that weight is the cause of many health problems and vice versa.  All of that being said, I can’t deal with how “health” and “weight” seem to have become synonymous in our society.

I used to subscribe to two magazines – one called “Women’s Health” and the other simply “Health.”  After a year I cancelled the subscriptions to both.  Not a month went by when the large front-cover story wasn’t about “15 ways to lose those love handles” or “the best fat-loss diet yet!”  I scoured those magazines for HEALTH information, and found that the majority of the magazine was weight loss information.  Huh?  Is weight the only health-related issue that women care about?  This is the same reason that I stopped watching Dr. Oz.  I have yet to see an episode where he doesn’t have some new “breakthrough” weight loss method.  Yes.  I get it.  Ratings.  This is what women seemingly want to hear about… but come on!  You’re a doctor – supposedly looking out for our overall health… whatever happened to treating the whole? To the idea that often, when other health issues are resolved, weight tends to balance itself out?  Whatever happened to the understanding that OBSESSING about weight is likely the LEAST healthy thing that we can do?

Infuriating.

What are we doing?  And I say “we” because I am just as guilty (or more-so) as anyone in this.  Our bodies are miraculous things.  Miraculous.  They are intricate systems that need care – a great deal of care – and love.  It can be very VERY hard to love our bodies when there are things that we want to change, but, just like in relationships, change only happens when it is motivated and supported by love.  This brings me back to my running.  I’m not really built to run.  No, that’s not an excuse for why I’m still pretty weak at it, it’s the truth.  I don’t have very strong legs – I have a tough time strengthening my thigh muscles.  I was not lucky enough to be gifted the “soccer-player legs” (or “figure-skater legs” as we call them at home) that help with speed and endurance running.  My sister got those genes – lucky for her.  I have always been heavier than my sister, and yet I wear much slimmer-cut pants than she does… it’s just how I’m built. Good for fashion, not so good for sports.  When I put the tips of my two middle fingers together and the tips of my thumbs together, the circle that forms fits around my lower thigh.  (Go ahead.  Try it.  I know you want to).  Some of the absolute thinnest friends that I have can’t claim the same thing.  Again.  It’s just how we’re built.  This is why I don’t ever expect myself to be a sprinter… It ain’t gonna happen.

I also have a little heart  “thing” (I refuse to call it a condition!).  It’s fine.  My sister and my dad both have it, but lucky me, mine’s a little more apparent.  My doctor told me recently that my heart is simply not cut out for any kind of sustained exercise.   He said that I HAVE to stop every few MINUTES (I wasn’t thrilled to find this out!)  This is why I don’t get upset when I have to walk for a few minutes of my morning run (yes, I’m pushing myself longer than he suggested.  I’m fine so far and want to keep building heart strength). Stopping mid-run to take a breather isn’t an indication of weakness or laziness… it’s just how I’m built.  I want to honor my body, continue to push it to new goals, but I also understand my limitations.  Yes, I know, we all have the potential to change our bodies with the right training, nutrition, focus, tenacity, etc.  I don’t have the time (or desire) to train for hours a day, and so I’m happy with the knowledge that this is the body that I have.  I will treat it well, and by that I mean I will eat well, exercise, and LOVE and HONOR my physical form – in the same way that I am learning to love and honor my mind and spirit.  It’s all one thing.  We are not minds with bodies, or bodies with spirits.  The beauty of the human experience is that we are minds, bodies, and spirits all wrapped up in one spectacular package.  When one isn’t being taken care of, the others will fall into disrepair as well, and when we learn to honor and accept ourselves entirely, we will find that health and vitality will come much more easily.

I know… easier said than done, right? It starts with small things.  I may dislike how my stomach looks, but I can honor how my intuition uses the feelings in my stomach as an instrument through which to “speak” to my mind.   When I think about it this way, I can’t really say that I dislike my stomach, because there are aspects of if that I love and appreciate.  We are all whole beings.  Our physical health is more than just our weight, and our overall health is more than just our physicality.  I will never have the “perfect” body, nor the perfect mind or spirit… but I’m learning to love all aspects of who I am, and to me, that’s holy.

alright – I’m sick of talking about this.  Rosh HaShanah is a week away, and there are more important things to think about.

Wishing you light and love

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3 Comments
  1. As I’ve gotten older I’ve begun to appreciate my body for what it can do and not for how it looks… I so wish that our culture hadn’t wasted my teenagehood – and yours – with its destructive obsession with thinness.

    I’ve made peace with my body’s aesthetics and build, and I’m trying to work on its health. You’re right about other people, though. In my extended family, “you look good” means, “have you lost a few pounds?” and “you look fantastic!” means, “you’ve gone down three dress sizes.” Only slightly infuriating.

  2. you’re so right! i completely forgot about that… “you look wonderful” is SUCH code… ugh…

  3. Martina permalink

    I love the distinction between wanting to be thinner and needing to loose weight. Aspirations are worth having as long as they are balanced with appreciation for where we are at. Way to go 8 months of running, you are an inspiration:) L Shana Tova

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