When I was in fourth grade (I think it was fourth grade, though the early elementary school years sort of blur together) one thing I knew for sure was that I was larger – physically larger – than I was supposed to be. I knew because when my class lined up in the nurse’s office to be weighed and measured, I was taller than everyone else and I also weighed more than everyone else, even a lot of the boys. I knew this was a very bad thing that needed to be fixed, because there was a chart and I was supposed to fall within the green area but I was far into the red area, and this meant trouble. I also knew that this was something I should be ashamed of, because when they read our height and weight out loud (why they needed to do that, I have no idea … and I hope to God that they’re not still doing that in schools) there would be snickers and gasps when the higher numbers were announced. The nurse would *tsk* at the higher numbers, and shake her head. “Too big,” she’d sigh. “It’s not healthy for you, you know.”
There were snickers and gasps when my numbers were announced. The nurse *tsk*ed. And so I learned that my size made me abnormal and unhealthy. It made me less-than. It triggered a warning letter home to my Mom – a letter that I hid in my room because I was too ashamed for her to see that she had an unhealthy, too-big daughter who was in the red zone. And when she found it stuffed in the back of a dresser drawer, it made me cry. About my weight – for the first time that I can remember, but certainly not the last.
So the next thing I knew for sure was that I needed to get smaller. I needed to be in the green zone on that laminated chart on the wall and if I could get there, I would be ok and I would be healthy and I’d have more friends and I wouldn’t have to feel ashamed anymore.
And I essentially held on to that idea for the next 15 years – the idea that THIS was the thing – losing weight, getting to a size that was “normal” – this was the only thing that mattered. No matter how many other things I did right – grades, activities, other random achievements, and just generally being a good-hearted, growing little human – none of it mattered as long as I was fat. I didn’t matter as long as I was fat. And I was fat, chart-wise, for a long time. I didn’t find my way to the green zone until early adulthood, when I fought and clawed my way into that fucking green zone with a ferocity I didn’t know existed inside of me.
Chart-wise, I’m still taller than lots of people (even the boys). But now I’m in the green zone. I am safely in the green zone with enough of a buffer on either side to withstand moderate fluctuations in either direction. I know this because my doctor has a super-official scale and her own laminated chart on the wall. I studied it last week while I stood there, awkwardly, tugging at my paper gown as I waited for her to come in. I actually don’t weigh myself, ever, unless it’s at the doctor’s office (in the picture above, taken in a gym, I didn’t actually get on the scale); otherwise, it becomes a ridiculous, unhealthy obsession where I’ll disappear into the bathroom 12 times a day to check my weight. As it is, I must have stepped on and off of that doctor’s scale at least seven times in the 10 minutes I waited for her. Just to be sure. I found my height on the chart and traced a line with my finger over to my weight. Green. Safe.
My doctor, by the way, is a complete badass boss bitch. Seriously – she is amazing. She is sharp and quick and absolutely bursting with the most radiant type of energy, and when you speak with her she looks you in the eye and she is right there with you … in your pain, in your fear, and in all of your fleshy, vulnerable humanness as you sit there in that silly paper gown. She gives hugs, so she’s one of my kind. And she calls bullshit as she sees it. So when I ask her about the chart on her wall and she tells me it’s crap, I’m a little taken aback. Of course, I know there’s more to health than simply maintaining a healthy weight, but I’m surprised when she wholly dismisses the chart with a quick wave of her hand.
“Forget the chart – it really doesn’t matter to me. You are perfectly fine as you are.”
(Well, there goes my life’s work, I think to myself … only half-jokingly.)
There’s a more important question she has for me.
“Overall, do you feel generally healthy?”
I paused. I didn’t have an immediate answer for her. It was almost yes, but it was not yes. It was not yes. I turned this over in my head for a few seconds but I knew for sure that I could not give her a 100-percent yes. Huh. I asked her if I could think about it for a while. She laughed, because she’s used to responses like this from me, I think. “Ok lady – you e-mail me!” (And she meant it. And I will.)
So I had a thing to think about. Another thing to think about (one more can’t hurt). What was it that kept me from saying yes?
The truth is that the weight thing – the goal of simply attaining and maintaining a healthy weight – the thing I’ve been chasing my entire life? It’s just a piece of the whole that makes up generally healthy. And I suppose I’ve always known that, but now that I’ve been here in the green zone for a while, it has become increasingly obviously that there’s a lot more at play here and it’s all important in order for me to feel healthy.
To be honest, you guys, there’s been a lot of struggle for me lately. There has been stress, and deep sadness, and loss, and fear. I have, at times, felt hopeless, and worthless. There have been sleepless nights, and far too many tears … and not enough laughter to help balance it all out. The worst, I think, has been the loneliness – and the incapacitating fear that all of this may go on forever. It has been a rough patch, and I know it’s impacted my overall health. How could it not?
That day, in her office, my measurements, my vital signs and my lab work were all normal and healthy. But I’d hardly slept the night before. I had eaten poorly and was not fueling myself properly, despite keeping up daily intense workouts. My skin was breaking out and I had dark circles under my eyes. I looked unwell and I felt unwell, and it stopped me from giving her a 100-percent yes. The yes would have been a lie.
Please don’t get me wrong; for me, attaining and maintaining a “normal” weight has been a hugely important part of my overall health, and I will always be grateful for what I’ve been able to accomplish and all of the second-chances with which I’ve been blessed. But it’s not the be-all and end-all I’d once imagined, and quite frankly, facing that stings a little bit. It stings because it means that I’m forced to acknowledge a lot of other factors that are now far more difficult than managing my food and exercise. (It’s funny – I never could have imagined that anything would be harder than exercise or not eating junk food all the time. Life is funny that way.)
So now, I’m asking myself some other questions, and the answers are challenging me to alter the way that I think about health.
Am I making good choices for myself most of the time? In areas including but not limited to food and exercise?
Am I making choices for the right reasons? When I make the “good” choices, am I acting out of self-love and self-respect, or am I acting out of guilt and self-loathing?
Have I been standing up straight? Heart forward, and heart open?
Am I listening to my body? Taking rest when I need it?
Am I listening to my heart? Practicing self-compassion when I need it?
How am I speaking? To others, and to myself?
Am I sleeping well? Or enough?
How am I feeling at the start of each new day?
When I think about the future, which is in control – the hope, or the fear?
Do I feel stuck?
Am I connecting with others as much as I need to, and on the level that I need?
Am I being authentic with other people? With myself?
Do I feel lonely?
Do I feel part of a larger whole, or a larger purpose? Am I taking the time to stop and think about all of the bigger spiritual questions inside of me?
Do I feel a sense of belonging to anything? Do I feel worthy of being here?
Have I remembered to give thanks? Do I feel grateful?
Am I paying attention to the people and to the experiences that surround me right now? Or am I zoned out – lost in rumination over the past or phantom fears about the future?
How much have I laughed this week? Have I made anyone else laugh, or smile? How many hugs have I given?
Have I caused pain or chaos? If so, have I made amends?
Am I making a positive difference in the world? Am I helping or improving the existence of something or someone else on this planet?
(If so, do I believe it? Do I feel it?)
There is so much to be uncovered here – so much that, for me, is crucial to my overall health and well-being … and so much that I have neglected during the years I spent fixated solely on weight and physical fitness. It’s all interrelated, and it all matters, and so now I am challenging myself to spread my focus out a bit more and to tackle some of these areas I’ve been avoiding.
The Green Zone was the first goal. Now, a new goal: Generally Healthy.
What do you think? What does healthy mean for you? What questions do you ask yourself to help you decide whether you feel healthy? What questions am I missing from my list? Where are my blind spots?