In my early 20s, I was in the best shape I’d ever been in. I was about 120 pounds and was practicing yoga for about an hour a day. It was the first time in my life I was able to see my abs. I was tight, long and limber.
It felt good to be strong. There was definitely a personal and spiritual power in that. But I would be lying if I said there wasn’t an aspect of vanity to it. I loved feeling beautiful. Finally, I had the body I’d always wanted.
That height of perfection only lasted so long. Life became busier. I slacked with my yoga. I started eating more crap than before. Some of the pounds came back; some of the tightness softened. Then I had a baby, and you probably know how the rest of the story goes.
I am now about 15 years and 15 pounds away from what I’ve always considered my most fit. I’ve had two kids and have been staying home with them mostly full-time for almost 10 years. Sometimes I bemoan the extra pounds and the fact that I have nowhere near the amount of time I used to have to exercise.
But along with the pounds, I have gained a certain wisdom about it all. I’ve realized that the ideal body I had in my 20s is simply unachievable now, as I edge toward 40. Most importantly, I’ve learned that there are things far more important than a flawlessly chiseled body.
Even if I exercised as much as I used to and ate as lean and clean as I once did, I would still not be able to achieve that same slim, sleek physique. My metabolism is different, and I am permanently stretched in certain places. All the women in my family are blessed with large breasts, hips and thighs. I’ve stopped trying to fight genetics.
Even more than my body, my mind has changed. Eating well and exercising make me feel good. When I’ve gained a few pounds or haven’t exercised in a while, I feel worse. It’s pretty simple: I am no longer chasing after a perfect body; I’m chasing after a healthy body.
I want to be able to run after my kids (and grandkids!) and not be out of breath. I want to be able to stand on a stool and change a lightbulb without pulling a muscle in my neck. I want to be able to wake up in the morning with energy and pack my day doing the things that I love with the people I love. I want the stamina to keep up with all the goodness I’ve been blessed with, and the strength to make it through all the muck and mire that life will inevitably throw my way.
And goddammit, for however many years I am gifted to be on this planet, I want to live them feeling good. I know stuff that I have no control over is going to happen to this body of mine. The other day I let out a big sneeze and leaked for the first time (yep, adding a ton of kegels to my exercise routine stat). Menopause will be here before I know it, along with a whole slew of minor (and potentially major) health issues that accompany aging.
So I roll out my yoga mat a few times a week and pound the pavement for a few miles here and there. I eat as well as I can most of the time (a girl needs her chocolate and salty snacks sometimes, too). I do these things not just to stay at a healthy weight, but also because this is the only body I’m going to get in my lifetime, and I want it to last. I want to live the rest of my life not just surviving, but feeling as damn good as I can.