At the beginning of each year it’s all too easy to get dragged in to the ’New Year, New You’ guilt trip. I know I have fallen foul of the hype and guilt many times in the past. Every year, like clockwork, I would start with a New Year’s resolution to get fit, healthy and live my best life. The television news told me I should get off my bottom and do something that would stop me from dying early. All the social media posts of beautiful, young women with the biggest smiles, showed me they were living their best lives, because they had amazing bodies. My friends went to slimming clubs and talked about weight loss and the fact they would be ‘happy’ when they reached a certain weight, but none of it ever rang true for me.
No ‘diet’ ever seemed to be sustainable. A ‘plank for 3 minutes a day’ app on my phone never gave me washboard abs. A daily mantra to ‘love myself’ fell grossly short of me actually understanding what it was to know myself, let alone love myself. It all seemed so superficial to me – a single, working, middle aged Mum of two, approaching her 50’s, living in the real world and in Telford.
I felt that life was hard enough to juggle – managing a business, family life, a home and teenagers. Thinking about my own emotional and physical health felt selfish. Actually, the reality was that, when my emotional needs were not met and my health wasn’t good, I really struggled to manage the rest – the ‘real’ life. I had been every shape, weight and size, tried every diet and exercise regimen and lived all kinds of different lives. But I wasn’t happy – emotionally or physically.
My personal transformation took me to some pretty dark places. When I hit arbitrary weight targets, I was never happy. Learning to love and respect my body has taken time – and it is still an ongoing process.
My experience is that women in their 40s, 50s and older have been conditioned to live small lives, not to attract attention or be proud. We should keep our expectations low and limit our hopes and dreams for the future and – whatever happens – never be the one about whom others say, ‘Who does she think she is?’. Society expects us to behave in a certain way, to live by rules, but still to permanently look like we have stepped out of a glamour magazine. All whilst we balance our jobs, careers, partners, family, relatives, mealtimes, the list goes on, and it’s overwhelming.
The Diet Culture of today means endless recordings of weights, measurements and progress and applying that to every aspect of our lives. Whether it’s the amount of grams in our morning cereal or the number of inches around our waist. Measure, record, measure, record. An unending table of numbers and data that doesn’t actually tell us anything about how we feel as women, nor does it tell us that we are worthwhile, valued and amazing.
This culture encourages us to put our lives on hold until we achieve that “perfect” weight, that “perfect” size, and even if/when we do get there, we feel scared and empty as we are now petrified of falling off the wagon, again. And so, the cycle continues.
We need to learn to be happy in the present, in the now – whatever shape, size or weight we are. This isn’t easy. It means work, soul searching and, at times, facing our demons, but we have to put the effort in to our emotional and mental health as our first priority. Doing this work, will pay off – I promise you.
Surround yourself with people who build you up, encourage you and love you for who you are now. Unfollow or delete anyone on social media who is not portraying real life to you, that doesn’t ring true for your beliefs, your values. Fill your mind with soul food, read books, listen to audio books and podcasts, watch TED talks. Make this a priority to help you get to grips with who you are and your real life. Remember, that the hopes and dreams of the person next to you, won’t look the same as yours, and that is OK. In fact, that is more than OK! Own your own life. It’s yours!
Only when we start to take a good look at ourselves and what makes us tick, can we think effectively and with purpose about how we move and what we eat.
What is your relationship with food like? Do you need to review it and see it as nourishment for your mind and your body? Good food in a balanced diet will give your body a fighting chance to move well, with strength and vitality, every day. If you have been an emotional eater, ponder why that is, how can you break the cycle? Work towards a relationship with food where you can use it for energy, pleasure and nourishment and enjoy the benefits of a healthy, balanced diet that gives you energy to live.
When it comes to exercise, find the thing that you love to do and is sustainable. Start small, just do one thing a week to begin with and build from there. Go for a long walk, find a class you like, see what it’s like at the top of The Wrekin – and it’s totally fine if it takes you all morning to get up there! Just be brave and try something that makes you move and moves you.
It’s time to stop putting your life on hold because you are not where you think you should be. Life is for now. Start to let yourself off the hook and learn to be free and thrive in the present. Do the emotional work, and keep doing it every day. We are not supermodels. We are real women. We have wobbly bits, saggy bits, skinny bits, big bits. And this is GOOD! Be you – and own it.
Suggested Resource List
Books and Audio Books
Daring Greatly – Brene Brown
Rise Sister Rise – Rebecca Campbell
Stop Saying You’re Fine – Mel Robbins
The Body is Not an Apology – Sonya Renee Taylor
The Happiness Advantage – Shawn Achor
The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Mark Manson
We, Women Everywhere – Gillian Anderson and Jennifer Nadal
What I Know for Sure – Oprah Winfrey
Podcasts and TED Talks
Super Soul Conversations