“You can never be too rich or too thin.”
– Wallis Simpson
I used to take Ms. Simpson’s world view for granted.
Sure, I clucked with concern at the sight of models whose obvious eating disorders were on full display. But as long as you were certifiably thin (and just this side of a walking skeleton), I thought I should look more like you.
When PEOPLE came calling, I was already thin. I was in my happy place – the 140-142 lbs. zone, wearing a size 4. I felt good. I was content.
But the specter of posing in a bikini for the whole wide world to see convinced me that my happy place was too big. I began to pick myself apart for the many ways in which Katey is not Giselle. This belly pooch has to go, those thighs need to slim down, these arms should be more defined.
I set my sights on thinner, and Mama knows how to do thinner. It wasn’t for Healthy & Strong – it was because I didn’t want the internet to eat me alive. I pushed myself to my outer limits by imagining what the trolls would say if my bikini bottom cut into hips that were too soft.
I worked and I sweat and I ran and I cut calories, and I worked and I worked and I WORKED.
It paid off. I went to the shoot in Miami with these abs:
It was grueling. But, to be honest, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I needed to feel confident on that photo shoot, and I did. I wanted to be my leanest self, and I was.
But it wasn’t all sunshine.
Pushing my body as hard as I possibly could was full-on painful. It was punishing. It was Me Against My Body instead of Me and My Healthy & Strong Body.
As I reached my lowest weight, people who love me began to express concern. “Are you ok? Are you eating?” Had Happy Exhaustion lost the Happy part and fallen off a cliff into the darkness of an eating disorder?
It was intense.
I promised everyone that I was fine – this insanity was only temporary. It was just for the photo shoot, then I’d go back to normal.
But once the shoot was in my rearview, making good on my promise required some soul-searching. I was thinner than I had ever been. You could see my abs through my tight gym shirts! And you can never be too skinny, right? Shouldn’t I be trying to stay in this skinny body? Shouldn’t I fight *hard* to keep it?
No. Absolutely not.
Thank goodness I’ve been working on my Happy Exhaustion lifestyle for almost three years. That time brought me wisdom. I have learned so much about personal fitness, but the most important lesson is this: None of it is worth anything if you can’t enjoy your life.
None of it is worth feeling fragile.
My husband took this picture of me and my son the weekend after the shoot. I love this picture; except for one thing. It’s a picture of Fragile Me.
I had a thigh gap. I had a bikini bridge. I had abs for days. And I was a woman on the verge of collapse – both emotionally and physically.
I was skinny as hell, but I was punishing myself every single day. 136 lbs might not seem much lower than 142, but keeping my body as thin as I could physically manage was exacting. It’s not a happy place for my system. My body doesn’t want to be that lean.
Maintaining 136 not only meant 75+ minutes at the gym every day, it also means zero – and I mean ZERO caloric wiggle room. No sugar of any kind, no cocktails, not so much as a touch of creamy salad dressing. Strictly raw vegetables and baked lean proteins.
Maintaining 136 made me really cranky. Really, really, really cranky. I was snapping at people who didn’t deserve it, I was spending less time snuggling my kids and more time praying to reach the end of the day without going full-on Mean Mommy at the drop of a hat.
I was too exhausted to be happy.
So, I chose to let 136 go. Skinny was NOT worth it.
I’m afraid I need to call Ms. Simpson out. Sorry Wallis, but you were one very rich, very thin, Liar Liar Pants On Fire. I found Too Thin, and it was real.
It took some courage, but I released the reins. I went back to my Healthy & Strong lifestyle. I still work out 6 days a week, but now I take a day off to let my body rest. I still watch my calories and mind the way my jeans fit, but now I enjoy my occasional glass of wine.
I gained weight. I did it on purpose. And it was one of the happiest and healthiest choices that I’ve made since this journey began.
Fitness is only wellness when you can be happy. No diet, no size, no number on the scale is worth sacrificing your joy.
Make healthy choices. Run in the sunshine. Choose to have a salad instead of a sundae. But drive your wellness with love for your body and your life. Don’t let self-loathing or body image steal your smile. It’s all about finding your own happy place.
Welcome back, 140-142. I missed you.
beautiful post & something many women need to hear!
What a great post. I should really Start by saying thank you!! I have been following in your footsteps since July 25 (when I read the story on People.com) and I have lost almost 30 pounds and I have never been happier losing weight. I exercise 6 days a week doing the Jillian Michaels Body Revolution (Jillian and I have chemistry too 😄). I eat less than my BMR and I keep it real. Thank you for this post, a very realistic view on it all, and for really changing my life.
I totally agree with you. I have my moments when I push too hard, and I always find I’m my happiest with a happy medium. It’s important to be active and eat healthy, but happiness is just as important (I think that’s why they people who drink wine live longer than gym goers). Good post!