Like it or not, most of our social activities revolve around eating and drinking, which presents a problem to any would-be dieter. Back in the BD (before diet) years, I used to have a packed social schedule that often involved meeting friends for drinks or food, or both, almost every day of the week. London, and especially South East London, is the perfect place to get fat; new bars, restaurants, pop-up diners, street food festivals and markets spring up practically every week, providing the ideal climate in which to gain some extra padding.
This complicated environment is compounded by a social contradiction that I have often come up against during my fitness quest; how to reconcile the two following things:
- Society’s disdain for those perceived to be overweight, obese or generally unhealthy
- Society’s judgement of people who speak out about wellness as “health bores”
This impossible balance was expertly highlighted to me in a recent article that I read, which asserted that “people who obsess over diets, health and weight are the most boring people you will ever know in your life”. Nestled in among an array of otherwise fairly innocuous sentences, I found this statement particularly galling and, maybe reflecting my own “insecurity”, I took it personally. Sorry, but I’m human.
It seems to me that there is a tacit implication that in order to be fun, you have to be a) reckless with your body and b) not care about the consequences of such an attitude. I agree, Rose of yesteryear was a lot wilder, she cared less about what she ate and drank, and didn’t much enjoy the idea that she had to restrict herself in any way. Lol, fun right? But Rose of yesteryear also hated the way she felt when she looked at herself in a mirror, when people insulted her in the street because of her weight, or when she was forced to laugh along at the multiple jokes and jibes made at overweight people in the mass media and popular culture. So she did the only thing she could think to do, and she started measuring her portions, watching her booze consumption and clocking in more of her social hours exercising. Sounds boring? Well let me tell you something, it isn’t.
Because to me, balance, more than anything, is what brings the greatest sense of happiness (I’m Libran, so sue me). No, it wouldn’t be fun to turn down all social engagements and deprive yourself all the time, but similarly, it doesn’t feel very fun to cry when you see photos of yourself. And managing to navigate a relatively strict diet and fitness plan of the degree that will help you to achieve your goals, while balancing a social life is a bloody impressive achievement, and should be applauded, in my humble opinion. Maybe I’m defensive, but I’m fed up of the deluge of click-bait articles rammed in front of our eyes at every available opportunity, telling us to do or not do certain things, feel good or feel bad about our behaviours, our moods, the way our bodies function, or our life choices, and it’s time to speak up.
As someone who has (hopefully) done a relatively good job of losing a lot more kilograms than friends over the past few months, I’ve compiled a list of pointers that have helped me along the way:
- Offset: this one is my favourite, because you can still do the bad thing, as long as you do the good thing too; that, my friend, is balance. Going to a festival all weekend? Get up an hour early and go for a run. Going for dinner with your mates after work? Pick somewhere half an hour walk from your work and go there on foot. Celebrating your anniversary? Pick some locations on a map and cycle between them (tried and tested), then treat yourself by relaxing the rules with what you’re eating.
- Plan ahead: I have been known to spend longer than is probably acceptable from a work POV looking through menus ahead of meeting friends, to ensure that we pick a restaurant that can accommodate my diet. I sound like hard work, sure, but here’s the thing, if your friends are great, which I’m guessing they are, they’ll be happy to accommodate your requests if it means supporting you in something that means a lot to you.
- Make sensible choices: this one applies to things like, “shall I have another glass of wine?” Questions you should ask yourself in this situation include: could you recite your phone number back if forced to? (No, I don’t know who would ask you to do that.) Will that wine make you feel better or worse tomorrow? Will it actually make you enjoy your evening more? If the answer to all three is yes, then go forth and imbibe. If not, maybe give it a miss. Also, fun fact, dieting makes you a total lightweight, so you probably don’t need it anyway.
- Be economical: NOOO, not with money; if you were looking for financial advice, then I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong blog. I mean with your calorie intake. The thing is that all diets and fitness plans work around the same key concept: your metabolism is like your bank balance, in that in order to get to the good place, you need to spend less than you earn. You can boost your earnings with exercise, but as long as you consume your entire allowance, you’ll never see positive results. So if you want a mars bar, cool! Do it. But maybe offset it with a carb-free dinner or whatever the kids are doing these days.
- Socialcise or exerlise: OK, we can all agree, neither of those conjoined words worked, let’s not dwell on it. But the idea here is to combine socialising with exercising. Simple. Go for a walk with your pal instead of sitting in a bar. Hit a yoga class with your boyfriend. Play badminton with your colleagues. Go wild. Go crazy. Go healthy.
- DO NOT APOLOGISE: what you are doing is amazing. and more power to you for making difficult changes to your life, and (for the most part) sticking to them. You are not a fun sponge, you are not boring, you are incredible, and you have my utmost respect for what it’s worth.
Right, now, go forth and do (or eat) whatever the hell you want (or think is fair based on your calculations of how to achieve your desired health goals).