The magazine racks are wallpapered with fitness magazines. The cover models differ, the workouts inside vary, but the overall theme is the same: Spring is here! Time to shed those stubborn pounds!
It’s so tempting to seize the idea of the season. Spring is that time of change and renewal, when the geese fly back and trees start showing off their greenery again. If the trees are sprucing themselves up, maybe I should too. Maybe I should slim down, reinvigorate my look, fit into that bikini by summer.
Does this thought process sound familiar? I know I’ve done it before.
There’s just one thing about spring: It comes every year. Much like “dieting season” comes every year. We should have recognized the over idealization of diets by now.
Yet, like spring, they sound so appealing. You picture jogging under a canopy of green trees, svelte legs powering you along as you flash bleached teeth in a grin, overcome by that runner’s high of endorphins and adrenaline. You don’t crave junk food, your body is a holistic temple. Such temptations are overcome through juice cleanses and sucking on citrus fruit.
That’s the idealization.
However, nearly anyone who has tried dieting before knows that diets are more like the reality of spring, not this mental image we have of it. Maybe a dieter cuts out chocolate and trans-fats. That might work for a week or two. Meanwhile, their willpower slowly melts away.
Then one day, it happens. They break a rule, eat a chocolate bar and are hit with an avalanche of guilt. This is like the dump of snow that crashes on the city just when people were starting to think that spring was truly coming along.
This dieting “failure” often results in a slew of guilt, like the muddy slush of March that many of us slough through.
Take this cycle and repeat.
Sometimes exasperation, or fatigue finally puts an end to it. Sometimes individuals continue with these seasons of dieting throughout their life. I know fifty-year-old women who diet. I know thirteen-year-old girls who diet. This is not an issue defined by age.
Some people wonder if this is an issue at all. What’s wrong with trying to be a size six? Isn’t it healthier to be skinny?
Actually, there is a lot of debate around that idea. For example, the Health At Every Size movement stresses that individuals may live healthy lifestyles at any size. The group encourages healthy eating that still allows treats, exercise and accepting the natural shape of one’s body.
That’s an important word: Acceptance. Loving your body for how it is, for the great pleasure it can give. The very idea of dieting goes against this: Rejecting your body as too fat, too unattractive, unworthy of your love and respect.
Let me be clear: Trying to live a healthier lifestyle is not dieting. A lifestyle implies commitments kept over a long period of time. Trying to live healthier means keeping up healthy habits if not permanently, at least for a long time. A healthy lifestyle still allows a bit of junk food: Who would go the rest of their life without chips, cookies, chocolate and caffeine? The key is moderation.
Diets then quickly become unsustainable in the long term. Diets, with their emphasis on restriction, are designed for short sprints, not marathons.
Take a low carb diet for example. You cut out bread, pasta and more with the hope of losing weight. There is the misery of resisting these delicious foods, combined with fatigue. After all, carbohydrates are the body’s main providers of energy. That’s why runners talk about “carbo-loading” the day before a race: They respect their body enough to give themselves the right fuel for the job at hand.
True, we are not all pro-athletes. I’m not saying we should chow down on a loaf of bread whenever we’re tired. I am advocating everyone respect their body, regardless of the season, regardless of beauty conventions.
So, if you find yourself in a changing room wishing to be size six, twenty four inch waist, twenty inch thigh, here’s some numbers for you: 120/80. That’s the optimal blood pressure for women. With cardio-vascular disease as the number one killer of women in Canada, that’s a number women of all sizes should pay attention to.