Every morning I do the same thing. I wake up, put on my walking shoes and head toward the mountains behind my house. There are paths with views that could inspire the most skeptical mind. Some people have rolling oceans or busy cityscapes as the backdrop to their lives; I have Utah's mountains. Daily I converse with their whispering canyons and traverse their trails.
Last week I tried a new path that reached from the belly of Rock Canyon across the foothills to the base of Y Mountain. Inexplicably, as I hiked up and down the rocky terrain I continually ran into neighbors of mine.
"Good for you," one of them said enthusiastically to me.
"I haven't seen you here before. It's really great you're out here doing this," another said.
"Are you getting a good workout?" said another when we met atop a steep incline.
What is going on? I thought to myself. It's like they're surprised to see me. It was as though they felt obligated to encourage me or cheer me on in some new rigorous endeavor.
And then it occurred to me: They think I am out hiking to lose weight. Their enthusiasm for me carried a hopeful tone with it. There was a "You Can Do It!" sort of supposition. My panting and charging to ascend the inclines translated — in their minds — as effort to change the shape and size of my body, because my body doesn't conform to the standards of fitness of my community.
But that's not why I exercise. I exercise to thank my body, not change it. Daily I remove it from the sounds and sights of stress, up toward the quiet, assuring pockets of nature, and I walk it along at a pace that stretches it and honors it.
I suppose if I were in the business of changing my body I might be in a gym with a trainer, distracted by dozens of blaring TVs, bodies to compare mine with and sounds of whirring machinery.
But I don't want to change my body. I want that "weight loss is everything" attitude to change. I have come to a hard truth in my life that if I were to focus my time and energy toward weight loss management, I actually wouldn't have much energy for much else. Losing weight asks for me to work against my genetics, my predisposition for a body of curves and bounce. And I don't want my children to have a childhood packed with a mother who denied her body food and peace at the risk of ... well, everything.
In our home, "health" has a very simple definition: It means to love your body. It means to love it enough to take care of it, exercise it, feed it good food, nurse it when it's sick, rest it, move it, dance when it wants to dance and clean it when it needs cleaning. "Health" means you will love it as it changes and forgive it when it hurts. It means you will accept it in all of its history — including the DNA code swimming around the in cells of your bloodstream and the marrow of your bones.
In the other definition, weight loss trumps health. Weight loss never promised peace; in fact, for a lot of people it introduces an added measure of pressure. Exercise becomes a goal-oriented conquest, diet becomes an art of denial, and weight management turns into a crippling addiction. But a healthy body acceptance promotes peace and an increase of joy — it may actually be the best defense we have against obesity.
The only thing I hope to lose in this life is my fear of being me, body and spirit. The mountains taught me that.
C. Jane Kendrick is creator of the award-winning blog cjanerkendrick.com. She lives in Provo with her husband and three children. CONTACT:fb C. Jane Kendrick, twitter C.JaneKendrick, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.