I like you just the way you are

A few years ago, Sheila and I were at an art gallery opening when we saw a friend of hers who had lost a lot of weight. People were commenting on her new appearance and asking her what she was doing to lose the weight. 

“Tell me me everything you’re doing,” one person said.

Her answer?

Chemotherapy. 

This woman fielded many similar questions before she ultimately succumbed to ovarian cancer.

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We make assumptions every day. And nowhere is that more apparent than when it comes to someone’s appearance. I read a similar story of a personal trainer who was judging another trainer at his gym because the other trainer didn’t look fit. That coach was experiencing weight gain as a side affect of his chemotherapy. 

Our culture is obsessed with weight. 

Obsessed

No. 

No. Just, no. 

There is merit to losing weight, as the process can be empowering and go a long way in promoting health and healthy habits. But making assumptions like the ones above only fuels the cultural obsession that skinny equals happy and overweight equals lazy. 

No.

I believe we can start changing the conversation. 

Last night I went to see the movie "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" about Mr. Rogers. (Despite earlier claim about assumptions, I'm going to assume that you know who Mr. Rogers is...) One of the lines he most often repeated in his show was this:

I like you exactly as you are. 

How powerful is that? 

I see people everyday that believe they have to change who they are and what they look like in order to be loved. I see clients who don't feel that they deserve to lose weight, deserve to be happy, or deserve basic love and kindness.

What if everyone believed that they don't have to change themselves to deserve kindness? 

I don't know what that would look like - but I certainly would like to find out. 

I'm not saying that we don't have to work on ourselves. We absolutely need to take care of ourselves and challenge ourselves to grow physically, spiritually, and emotionally. What I am saying, is that we don't need to be someone different to experience kindness.

I know that many of us wake up in the morning, step out of the shower, and pinch some part of our body that we don't like. I'm not immune from this. You'll rarely catch me in shorts these days because I'm not too fond of my varicose veins. I'm guilty of not feeling that I deserve love or kindness either. But I'm working on it. 

Let's shift the focus. Stop telling me what you need to lose, and tell me what you've gained. Tell me about your non-scale victories. 

Tell me about the hike you took that you couldn't do last year. 

Tell me the happy little moments you’ve experienced and they ways you celebrate your body. Tell me stories of who you are and the scars you've earned and the struggles you've used to make you the person you are today.

Tell me about you the person, not you the number. 

Let's change the world through kindness.

I'm in this with you for the long haul.
 

Stop moving the carrot

Growing up, I thought happiness was on the other side of a college diploma. 

In May of 1999, I walked down State Street in Erie, Pennsylvania in my cap and gown - college diploma in hand, wondering what I was going to do next. 

I'd like to say that I was happy in that moment, but I wasn't. Relieved, maybe, at reaching an end to the constant pressure that can be college. But I wasn't happy. I was wondering what would come next. 

In 2010, I set a personal goal of deadlifting 200 pounds. 

In 2011 I deadlifted 205. Then 225. I capped out at 280lbs. 

With each successful pull, I wanted more. Currently, my goal is 300 pounds. 

But when will I be happy? 

Most of us are taught in life that if work hard, we will be successful. That with the right job, the right partner, the right house, the right money, we will be happy. 

How many times per day do you find yourself saying "if I could just (lose five pounds, make 5k more, open a banana farm*) then I'd be happy?"

But what does the if/when equation do for us right now, in this current moment? 

Are you happy right now? 

A few weeks ago, Sheila and I were in San Diego and I indulged in a big ol' iced mocha from Starbucks with extra whipped cream. 

"Do you know what this is?" I asked Sheila, who was just trying to read her book.

"This," I said, pointing to my drink, "is happiness in a cup."

 Sometimes I get carried away with Canva...for better or worse. But I think you get the gist.

Sometimes I get carried away with Canva...for better or worse. But I think you get the gist.

She nodded and looked back to her book while I spent a few seconds drinking straight whipped cream through a straw. 

Beyond the occasional Starbucks drink with whipped cream though, I mostly kick my carrots on down the road, just like the rest of us. 

I'm happy when I snuggle with Rooney, or have dinner with Sheila, or lay on the floor with my niece and nephew and watch a movie. I'm happy when I Facetime my folks on Sunday mornings sometimes, though often in many of those moments I'm still thinking of all of the things I'd like to get done. 

I have continually pushed happiness forward. 

I’ll be happy when…

There is a carrot in front of us and then we get to it and chuck it further down the sidewalk. 

Here’s the thing - I work in a small business now and I understand one concept very clearly - if you’re not growing you’re dying. 

But I’ve also watched one too many clients push happiness further down the road. With weight loss, with fat loss, with miles run, with workouts put in. 

Stop it. 

I know the drill. We want to put happiness off until we *****

No.

You need to find happiness in the now. You need to find happiness and acceptance in where you are and who you are right now, in this very moment. Let yourself have the carrot. Sure you can create a bigger carrot to chuck on down the road for your next goal. But take a minute now and soak in who you are and what you’ve done now, today, in this moment. 

Celebrate you now. 

Don’t wait. 

You deserve to celebrate who you are right now, gosh darn it. 

So go do it. 

I'll wait.

Let me know how you celebrated. I'll be waiting to hear from you. 

Life lessons - you can let go but you can't give up

We sat at Cafe 21 in the heart of San Diego’s Gaslamp district and watched the marathon finishers file past, one small group at a time.

I pushed my omelette around on my plate and sipped my coffee. 

“That was supposed to be me,” I said to Sheila, watching yet another gaggle of runners stroll past the sidewalk cafe. Some looked less beaten down by the miles and the California heat than others, but they all shared a similar expression.

Satisfaction. 

They all looked satisfied. I saw it in their faces, in the finishers medal around their necks, and the way they all seemed to carry the lightness of the day ahead. Whatever they did for the rest of the day, they’d be wearing the satisfaction of having completed a goal. 

“There’s always next year,” Sheila said, and I cringed. 

Next year.  

Those words are meant to comfort but they've always felt hollow to me. 

Next year. 

I pushed away from the table and leaned back in my chair, sipping my coffee.

 I didn't run a marathon but I did see a few stellar sunsets. 

I didn't run a marathon but I did see a few stellar sunsets. 

What’s the difference between giving up on something I’ve always wanted and letting go of something I’ve always wanted? 

Both of them are attitudes.  

But one of those attitudes is throwing in the towel. It’s a mindset that says I’m never going to do this, I’m never going to get there, I’m never going to achieve my goal. I’m never going to meet someone, I’m never going to have a job I like, I’m never going to have a body I can appreciate. 

Screw it. If what I’ve been pursuing is never going to happen, then why bother? 

So you quit. 

That’s giving up. 

Letting go - ah that’s more complicated, isn’t it? Because letting go is also a mindset and an attitude. But letting go is more about embracing the circumstances. Accepting your situation for what it is and making peace with yourself. 

Making peace with yourself. 

Letting go means trusting that you are enough as you are, right here in this moment, and that the pursuit of whatever goal you’re chasing does not define you. I don’t believe that pursuing a goal and embracing yourself as you are, right now in this moment - are separate from one another. 

I haven’t given up on the possibility of running a marathon. But I spent the better part of these past few days in San Diego trying to let go of my own expectations. I spent time on the beach, at a baseball game, reconnecting with my partner, of whom I’ve seen so very little lately. 

Had I come out here to run the marathon, we’d have had some time together. But the pace would have been different. Less exploring, less walking, less connecting. 

Yes, I still moped around a bit on Sunday - mostly out of the frustration that my body can't always do what I ask of it anymore. 

But, as we walked around  San Diego and I looked at the marathon signs and banners hanging in the streets I tried to shift my self-talk from "that should be me" and "why can't I stay healthy for anything" to "I'm grateful for this time away with my partner." 

I tried to shift the soundtrack. Sometimes that's enough. 

The trouble with numbers

125

4

100

1200

125 pounds was the weight I thought was perfect for me.

4 was the size of pants I thought I should wear.

100 was how many calories I burned in one mile of running, approximately.

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1200 was the number of calories I thought I should eat in a day.

Those numbers have been burned onto my brain since I was in my early twenties - maybe earlier. 

We have relationships in every part of the fitness process - we have a relationship with exercise, we have a relationship with food and many of us, especially women, also have a relationship with the numbers. When I was a freshman in high school, my friend Jodi told me that if we multiplied our height, then that was our ideal weight. 

My ideal weight came from a friend who heard it from someone who read it somewhere and I thought that number was gospel.

At 5’5, my ideal weight was 125 pounds. Less was okay, and throughout high school I weighed 115 pounds. But when I went off to college and gained a little weight. I was ok as long as I weighed no more than 125 pounds. Though I didn't proclaim to anyone that I was on a diet, the minute my weight went over 125, I ate nothing but salads and was strict about staying below 1200 calories, which was another number I soaked up from somewhere I can't remember. I also knew that running burned roughly 100 calories per mile, so I'd run three or four miles. 

This was my unwritten rule for myself. 

That is the unwritten rule for so many of us. 

The rule of my ideal weight exploded in my face in my early thirties when I took up strength training. I was feeling stronger and enjoying the workouts but I wasn’t prepared for the scale to go in the opposite direction. Instead of going from 130 pounds to 125, I went to 135. Then to 140. 

Intellectually I knew what was going on - I knew that muscle weighed more than fat and blah, blah, blah, science. I knew that. 

But I still could not reconcile this new number. Because the old one, as bogus as it was in its foundation (shockingly, not everything I learned in high school locker rooms was true…) was absolutely seared into my brain. 

Seeing a number on the scale that was more than my ideal weight made me feel shameful. I felt bad about myself, despite what I knew intellectually.  

For many of us, certain numbers bring elicit memories and emotions. 

Maybe it was how much you weighed on your wedding day or when you graduated from college or some other positive time in your life. The ideal number in our head triggers positive memories or experiences. And that’s what we want.

For many others, there is a goal weight in mind - those who have struggled with weight all of their lives might have a number in mind as an end to the journey. 

Once I hit this weight….fill in the blank.

Once I hit this weight I’ll be happy. Once I hit this weight I can stop going to the gym seven times a week. Once I hit this weight….

And it’s not enough to intellectually understand that it’s ok if your weight goes up when your muscle mass goes up and your body fat goes down. Because sometimes you can tell yourself over and over again that it’s ok, but you never really buy what you’re trying to sell yourself. 

Developing a relationship with your body that doesn’t have numbers is so. hard. to. do. 

It is so hard. 

Because we sure as hell don't like the other feedback we rely on, which for most of us is mirrors. Just this morning I got up, took one look at myself in the mirror, and was thoroughly disappointed with what I saw. I haven't trained consistently because of injury, so I feel sluggish and quite frankly, didn't like what I saw in the mirror. 

I share that mostly because I know there are so many out there who feel the same way. 

So what do we do? With the numbers and the feedback?

We work on it. I know - that work is hard and complicated. But we create awareness where we can, we remind ourselves, at every opportunity, that we are more than a number. 

We ask for help. 

We offer help.

We remind each other that we're beautiful. 

We lift each other up. 

In the words of the ladies over at Girls Gone Strong - "strong women lift each other up."

Lessons from an ugly teapot

On a Saturday afternoon in March of 2002, we were celebrating my friend Melissa's upcoming wedding. As bridesmaids, we took her dancing on Friday, showered her with gifts on Saturday, and then someone decided that should we paint our own pottery.

For Jon and Melissa.

As a gift.

That they'd have forever. 

My artistic skills begin and end with watching Bob Ross. Watching. While I was fascinated that he could create a painting in under 30 minutes, my skills were limited to stick figures.
 
But, I suppose I was feeling ambitious that day. More accurately, I was so wanting to show my appreciation for Melissa’s friendship that I decided to make a grand gesture. Melissa and I often shared cups of tea while trying to sort out our purpose in life (or mostly she listened to me trying to sort out my purpose in life) so I decided to go all in and paint a teapot.  

16 years later, that gesture continues to be grand. 

Rather than take the simple approach and paint my teapot one color, as my fellow bridesmaids did, I decided I’d paint a nature scene on the teapot. 

 I was an adult when I painted this.

I was an adult when I painted this.

But after finishing a barren tree with no leaves, I decided I’d just paint the other side green. Then I painted the lid yellow and gold, because Jon was a Steelers’ fan.

Then I painted the spout brown because…well, it was already pretty ugly.

By the time I was finished, the thing was so ugly that I felt compelled to add a quote on the outside that read, illegibly, that “it’s not what’s on the outside that matters.” 

When I took the final product to the employee, I tried to bribe her to break it before it made the kiln.

"Oh no," she said. "We're very careful with our pottery."

"But if I gave you an extra 50 bucks..." I offered.

 Nothing says best wishes for your future like a barren, dead tree in winter. 

Nothing says best wishes for your future like a barren, dead tree in winter. 

 My reaction when the teapot reappeared in my life a decade later...

My reaction when the teapot reappeared in my life a decade later...

This teapot, needless to say, has been the butt of jokes since 2002. It has survived multiple moves and plenty of questions from Jon and Melissa's kids. The teapot made a surprise trip from Pennsylvania to Maine in 2013 when Melissa spoke at our wedding. 

Melissa reminded me recently of the teapot last week when she told me that it was currently on prime display on her counter top. 

Originally, I was going to use the teapot as a symbol of what happens when you constantly change your nutrition and fitness routines - jumping from the Whole 30 to the 21 day fix to weight watchers to nutrisystem. 

And I do think that’s true when it comes to health and fitness. Jumping around from program to program makes it very difficult to see progress. You have to commit to a process for at least 90 days if not longer to see results. 

 Um...can you guess which ones her kids painted? Her kids whom are all under 10? 

Um...can you guess which ones her kids painted? Her kids whom are all under 10? 

But as I started writing this post, I was reminded of several conversations I've had in recent weeks with friends and clients. These folks are taking big risks - leaving old jobs for new ones - leaving jobs without a new one - going back to school - starting their own businesses, and deciding that it’s time for a change in their lives.

Sometimes a blank slate, while appealing and beautiful and filled with possibilities is also terrifying. It can feel permanent and scary. 

This teapot, ugly as it is, is pretty symbolic of the way my past 16 years have gone. I’ve started and stopped multiple journeys - second guessed decisions, tried to please other people, and in the process, created something that was sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful, but always, always, always authentically mine.

So I guess my message today is two-fold:

Choose a fitness and nutrition plan and give it time to work.

But follow your curiosity and your heart. This is your journey. This is your story. Write it for you. Take that leap of faith. 

Be kind to yourself, today and always.