Thursday, April 1, 2010

It's Not About Being a "Good Girl"

It's not uncommon to read blogs or forums about weight loss and see initial statements, introductions or "pledges" from people who have had enough and are ready to buckle down and lose weight. More often than not, there is either a subtext or overt statement to the effect that one has been "bad" and now one wishes to be "good".

You see this as a pattern as people report their behavior and report satisfaction for boxes on their mental check sheet under the "good" column - drank a gallon of water, worked out, ate a ton of vegetables, resisted sweets and salty treats. In support forums, others pat them on the head for their good choices and following their plans. You find that there is also a fair amount of confessing about trivial lapses as people scold themselves publicly for being "bad". I've seen people scold themselves for eating a pickle even though they have nearly zero calories. They want a hand slap because of the salt.

People also set up elaborate reward systems which remind me of my childhood. When I made the honor roll, my mother gave me $5 as a reward for being a good girl and doing well with my grades. When I memorized each row of the multiplication table, I was given a mini candy bar by the teacher and when I memorized them all, a big candy bar. Women who lose weight reward themselves with manicures, perfume, trips, and items they desire for every x number of pounds they lost or for reaching some arbitrary number. These gifts remind you that you were a very good girl indeed.

One of the things I have realized, and this realization comes in part because I have been "warned" on occasion that I can't possibly succeed if I allow myself chocolate, cake, cookies, ice cream, and salted goodies on a regular (okay, daily) basis, is that people make this harder on themselves than necessary by making narrow definitions or categories of "good" and "bad" and shoehorning their behavior into them. I'm undeniably succeeding, but I'm not doing so as a "good girl", so therefore my methods are not acceptable and to be regarded with skepticism. I'm bound to fail in the long run because I'm not following the rules or the accepted definition of what "good" weight loss behavior is.

I think talking about being "good" or being "bad" is part of what ends up sabotaging people's weight loss efforts as the terms are so black and white. Food and exercise have to also be seen in very absolute terms. I've read about people who exercise when they feel like crap because they want to be "good" despite their poor state. The irony is that these same people claim to subscribe to the philosophy of taking care of themselves and putting themselves first. To me, forcing yourself to exercise when you feel very tired, a little sick, or just plain crappy isn't looking after yourself. If your body feels bad, you rest it. You don't push it to make a tick mark on your chart which says you exercised today.

Of course, there are good reasons why many people turn to such absolutes. They can't touch a chocolate without wanting to eat the whole bag. They can't not exercise on a day that they feel like lying down and doing nothing because it'll set off a pattern of behavior where they make excuses about not feeling up to it more often than not. That being said, I think moderation in all things is the key to long-term success, and the "good girl" approach is simply another form of excess.

I'm not a "good girl", but I've come to realize that that isn't what this is about. It's about learning to eat and have habits that can be sustained and not cause me to be unhealthy. The great thing about this is that I hate myself a whole lot less now than I used to because not being "good" means I also don't have to see myself as "bad."

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