Many years ago, before I lost weight and when I struggled mightily with self-confidence, my brother and sister-in-law were here in California for a visit. Naturally, my mom wanted to take photos of “all of us kids” together. And, naturally-at-the-time, my sister and I sort of rolled our eyes and made “ugh” faces and complained lightly – I’m so fat and My hair doesn’t look good and I hate this shirt – about taking pictures. And that’s when my sister-in-law said something I’ll never forget:
You might as well smile for the camera, girls, because you’ll never be this young or this thin ever again.
Now, I know that comes off a little snarky and maybe even a little defeatist in writing, but I assure you, my sister-in-law wasn’t being bitchy at all. In fact, the exact opposite. She was offering up the best piece of advice I’ve ever heard in my life.
I’ve noticed more and more lately (mostly because I’m paying attention to it, this has probably been going on for a long time) that we, as a society, are obsessed with Before and After photos. They’re everywhere! I know advertisers have used that visual for years, but now with social media? It’s like you can’t escape.
People in the fitness industry throw those pictures around like confetti – Look what you can achieve with our product! – and act as though “After” is an actual destination at which you can arrive. A magical, mythical land where your body is perfect and all your goals have been met and you can live there happily and fat-free forever.
But here’s what I know about that “After” picture (and not just how easily they can be Photoshopped – that’s a discussion for another day): it’s a lie. Just ask Oprah or Kirstie Alley about arriving in the world of “After” and getting to stay there. There’s no such thing.
I lost thirty pounds about nine years ago, and in the intervening time, even though I’m still thin and I look sort of the same (minus the wrinkles and the graying hair!), so much has changed:
- My weight fluctuates constantly. This is a simple matter of biology most of the time, with regard to how much water I’ve had or where I am in my cycle, but it’s worth noting that your weight is not something that you can depend on for constancy. Just because you’re at your “goal weight” on Tuesday doesn’t mean you’ll be there the next day, so trying to be an exact weight is a losing battle. I’ve learned to be happy within a range of about 8 pounds.
- Even though I probably eat a similar number of calories, the foods I eat now are very different than nine years ago. Tastes change. Habits change. Foods that used to feel like good fuel sit in my gut like lead now. Some of the changes are behavioral, but I suspect that some of them are biological, too. As your hormones and metabolism change with age, it makes sense that your reaction to certain foods would change, too. I try to pay attention to how I’m feeling and make adjustments in my habits accordingly.
- My body has changed shape. Some of the changes are due to time and gravity (who are ultimately going to win it all, you know), and some of them are from changes in my habits. I do a lot more strength training now than I used to, and my body – specifically, my booty – reflects that. Even though the scale is more or less the same and I still fit into the same jeans, they fit differently now. Tighter. Which I don’t love except…
- I am capable of so much more these days than I ever thought possible. Back when I got to that mystical “goal weight,” I was barely running 5Ks, and now I’ve completed a handful of 50Ks. Squats used to be a chore, and now I do twenty every day as a warm up! (Hmmm, I think I know why my butt barely fits in my jeans anymore.)
- I still have to be vigilant about what I eat. I think a lot of people go on diets thinking that as soon as they lose the weight, it’ll be like flipping a switch and their bodies will just stay in “thin mode” even if they go back to eating crap. That’s not how it works. I do let myself eat treats – like I’m going to turn down birthday cake! – but every single day, I still think about what I eat. I mentally weigh and measure the foods, I watch my portions, I add up servings of fruit and vegetables, and I stop eating when I’m done with my daily calories. The good news is that after all these years, so much of that process is just humming in the background, rather than filling my consciousness like it was during weight loss. Most of my vigilance is simply habit, but it’s there.
- I don’t always feel fit. Honestly, this was probably the most disappointing thing about losing weight. Being healthy and fit didn’t suddenly make me immune to being self-critical or stop me from having the sort of day where you feel like a busted can of biscuits hanging over your waistband. It did, however, slowly shore up my confidence to the point where, even if I’m having a “fluffy” day, I can shake it off and not feel defeated. I feel strong most of the time, and I think that’s about all you can ask for in life.
The point that I’m making here isn’t that losing weight and being fit are a never-ending uphill battle, by the way, even though I realize that it might sort of sound that way. Rather, I think it’s a good idea to be practical about your expectations of fitness and – the most important thing of all – be satisfied with where you are RIGHT NOW.
There is no “After.” And, really, there was no “Before,” either. Your whole life is a long and glorious “During,” and you’re living it, so why not make the absolute most of it? Why not revel in the things your body can DO, rather than wasting time on what it looks like?
There’s a reason I never offer up “Summer Body” workouts or make claims about getting in the best shape of your life: I would much rather help you discover that you love to exercise and get you excited about the prospect of making movement a daily part of your life for the rest of your life. The exercise videos and Workout Guides I make for you will never be a six-week quick fix, because I want so much more for you than that.
My sister and I don’t always see or interpret situations the same way, but on the particular occasion of my sister-in-law’s offhand comment that I described above, we both took it completely to heart. In a good way. Nowadays, whenever a camera comes out, you can see both of us throwing our shoulders back and putting on a big, happy smile, ready to record this amazing moment in time.
Because we’ll never be exactly the same ever again.
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