Trying on my wedding dress in January and wearing my wedding dress in September. Wedding photo by Jason Quigley.

Trying on my wedding dress in January and wearing my wedding dress in September. Wedding photo by Jason Quigley.

I recognize the desperation because it usually starts with the word “please” and transitions to the word “exactly.” I’ve been hearing it more often lately. “Please,” it starts, “tell me exactly what I need to do to lose weight.” “Please,” someone says, “tell me exactly what you ate and exactly what workouts you did.” “Please, tell me exactly what I need to do.”

I remember being the person who felt that same urgency, that same desire to find the answers. I needed to know precisely what I should be eating and how I should be moving my body in order to lose pounds. I needed to know specifically how a person went about improving her life. I needed to know exactly what to do and I couldn’t calm down until I figured it out.

Here’s the thing. When I receive these questions, which has been happening a lot lately, I don’t think the question truly being asked is “How do I lose weight?” I think what the person is truly asking me is “What do I need to do to change myself?” And my answer is always the same: Nothing. You don’t need to change yourself. You can learn to love and accept yourself as is, wherever you are, in the exact size and shape you’re in, right now. And until you’re ready to do that, nothing is ever going to change.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, you say. Isn’t that the entire point of a transformative journey? In order to take the steps toward a healthier lifestyle, don’t you need to want to improve yourself? Isn’t wanting to be a different, better version of you the thing that’s going to motivate and propel you?

I simply don’t believe that’s true. I believe that starting your journey from a place of fear and desperation, a place where you feel like you must change your body or else, gives you nowhere to go. I believe there’s nothing motivating about looking in the mirror, hating what you see, but promising you’ll like yourself better when your body’s a different size or shape. I believe that wanting to become a different person has nothing to do with health or weight loss and everything to do with whatever demons you’re battling in your mind. And I believe the only way to successfully become healthier is to love and appreciate the person who is on Day 1 of this journey. If you wait to accept her until Day 100 and you beat her down along the way, she’s not going to make it to Day 100 and you’re going to miss a lot of moments when Day 1 or Day 17 or Day 33 You does something to make you proud, something that makes Day 100 You possible.

Trying on my wedding dress in January and wearing my wedding dress in September. Wedding photo by Jason Quigley.

Trying on my wedding dress in January and wearing my wedding dress in September. Wedding photo by Jason Quigley.

I love looking at pictures that contrast the way I looked when I tried on my wedding dress in January with the way I looked when I wore my dress in September. My body went through a lot of changes and it’s fun to see the difference. But here’s the truth about the woman in the left Before Photo of all these pictures: I adored her. I didn’t think she needed to lose a single pound. I knew she wanted to tone her body for the wedding and I was willing to work hard to make that happen for her, but I didn’t think she looked terrible and I didn’t think she was somehow unworthy of getting married in the exact state she was in. The woman in the Before Photos was recently engaged to the love of her life. She spent her days working at a cute home office in a sweet house in one of her favorite cities. She enjoyed spending time with her friends and her fiancé. She enjoyed going out to dinner with her parents. She enjoyed playing with her niece and nephew over the holidays. The woman in the Before Pictures was content. She was loved. She was a little soft around the edges but she didn’t spend too much time looking in mirrors and hating what she saw. She felt tired from inactivity but she felt excited at the prospect of a fresh start. She believed in herself. She believed she was worth it. She believed she didn’t need to make herself miserable in order to become healthier. She believed she could find the joy in eating healthy foods and moving her body every day.

And she did. She found the joy. She figured out the meals she loved the most. She figured out which exercise she found fun. She encouraged herself. She encouraged others. She learned to be more creative – both in the kitchen and in the daily notes she wrote to herself. She learned from her missteps. She treated each day as a new day. She spoiled herself with a new workout outfit one week and a manicure the next. She always believed she was worth it.

Months went by and the pounds dropped off without her ever having to think about it. She didn’t need to spend one single second figuring out EXACTLY what she needed to eat and EXACTLY what she needed to do. She didn’t have that feeling of desperation. She didn’t feel like she needed to drastically change herself. She allowed herself to have fun and everything else fell into place.

If you’re in that urgent place, that place where you’re reaching out to a stranger and saying, “Please tell me exactly what I need to do” I want you to ask yourself this: What is it that you want? Do you want to improve your health? Do you want to get to a place where you don’t have to think about your food choices so much? Do you want to fit into a particular item of clothing? There’s nothing wrong with vanity-driven goals, but you can’t just make a commitment to the future person standing at the finish line. You have to also make a commitment to Day 1 and Day 10 and Every Day In Between You, the one who’s going to work hard and have off days and get tired and lose motivation and make healthy choices and make not-so-healthy choices and improve and grow and keep trying. Give her everything you have – all the support, encouragement, pride, admiration and love you can muster. She needs it. She deserves it.

And if you’re not willing to give it to her, why are you even doing this? If you’re only willing to give a high five to the Finish Line You that somehow magically works her way toward her goals despite all you do to tear her down, what’s the point? Think about the next few months of your life. Think about how you want to spend them. You don’t have to approach them from a place of desperation and a sense of I Need To Change Myself and My Body In Order to X. You don’t need to change yourself, no matter what X is. You don’t need to change yourself to get married. You don’t need to change yourself to go to the beach. You don’t need to change yourself to be a better person.

Learning to be healthy isn’t about changing yourself. It’s about treating yourself well. It’s about treating yourself with kindness and love. It’s about taking care of yourself and loving yourself wherever you are on your journey. Focus on that and whatever else is supposed to happen will happen. I’ll be honest: I didn’t spend a single damn day worrying about losing weight or wishing I was further along in the process. Changes happen when they’re meant to happen. In the meantime, take care of yourself. You deserve it.  

Trying on my wedding dress in January and wearing my wedding dress in September. Wedding photo by Jason Quigley.

Trying on my wedding dress in January and wearing my wedding dress in September. Wedding photo by Jason Quigley.

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