Practicing Progress, Not Perfection

As an early adolescent, I spent a lot of time looking at Vogue magazine. I was especially taken by Brooke Shields and her high-fashion spreads.

She and I were the same age, yet she had pencil-thin legs and a mostly flat chest. By age 13, my body was already quite developed. I looked years older than my peers. I started dieting then, and the merry-go-round has, sadly, not stopped turning since.

I can’t count how many diets I’ve been on. At 15, I dropped nearly 50 pounds and was bordering on anorexia. At 16, I was bulimic for about three months until I threw up blood one evening, which terrified me enough that I never did it again.

From age 16 until I met my ex-husband at age 24, I lost the same 10 to 15 pounds every year. I’d diligently restrict my calories for a number of months and burn additional calories through exercise. The weight would eventually come off and I’d feel fabulous. But then the most difficult part of dieting would begin.

As most dieters know, it’s nearly impossible to maintain intense fitness regimes and rigorous food restriction. Over time, I’d slowly resort to my old ways—eating more and moving less—and the weight would eventually return, much to my shame and discouragement.

When I met my ex-husband, I mostly stopped dieting. I’d found someone who accepted me as I was, and I began to let go of the need to be perfect. Mind you, I’ve never looked particularly overweight (though some height/weight charts suggest I’m right on the border). I’m tall enough and well-proportioned enough that I carry weight well—I just don’t feel comfortable in my skin. That remained true for the duration of my 18-year relationship with my ex-husband. I still felt 10 to 15 pounds overweight and wouldn’t have been caught dead in a bikini or skinny jeans, but I just lived with it.

When we split up six years ago, I gained seven pounds almost immediately—for protection, I guess. I then felt 20 pounds overweight, and wanted to jump out of my skin. I enrolled in a fitness boot camp. It was excruciating, but working out six days a week and eating no more than 1,300 calories a day (comprised of vegetables, fruit, nuts, eggs, fish, and brown rice) enabled me to lose 21 and a half pounds in three months. I ate out with friends only twice that summer. It was too difficult to monitor my portions, ingredients, and calories at restaurants, so I just stayed home and measured my meals to perfection. It was a highly disciplined way of living, but I looked and felt fabulous. For a while.

Two years have passed since that major weight loss, and I’m right back to where I’ve been most of my life, carrying the additional 10 to 15 pounds that have me feeling uncomfortable in clothes and out of them.

I’ve had it. Diets don’t work.

Kripalu life coach and faculty member Aruni Nan Futuronsky agrees.

In The Kripalu Approach to Healthy Weight, a Kripalu Signature program, she and Annie B. Kay, Kripalu’s Lead Nutritionist, help people like me find our healthy, natural weight—something I’ve never tried in all these years.

“Natural weight management means attending to the four pillars of self-care (nutrition, movement/exercise, stress reduction, and sleep) and bringing them back into balance,” says Aruni, who notes that weight management must involve more than behavior modification.

“That’s just not sustainable,” she says. “You really need to dive down to the internal imbalances.”

Aruni says the journey is one of “rebalancing and recommitting to what we’re really hungry for.” That might be more quiet time, creative endeavors, pleasurable movement, even love.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to make any changes in what you eat. “When we shift from a highly refined foods to a whole-foods, plant-based regimen,” says Annie, “we boost nutrient density and reduce the chemical load of our intake, which can help reduce bloat or weight."

How you eat is just as important. “It involves mindfulness and the way stress may play into eating,” Annie explains. “If we eat in a calm environment, and really chew and taste our food, we have an internal guidance system that often guides us in just how much we need to eat.”

I know that when I feel stressed, lonely, or bored, I gravitate to sugar and eat larger portions than necessary, often mindlessly. So the questions really are, What’s contributing to my stress? How can I reduce my loneliness and what would help me feel more engaged with the world?

Also, I’ve yet to find a form of exercise I enjoy. If I find no real pleasure in movement, then what motivation do I have to continue doing it?

But the Kripalu Approach to Healthy Weight goes even deeper than that, says Aruni. “It’s about giving yourself full permission to “practice progress and not perfection,” she notes, “to allow yourself to forget your bottom line and then, without shame or guilt, to realign and practice again.”

Sustainable weight management and a healthy relationship to ourselves and food is not just about transforming your body. Aruni and Annie say it’s about transforming your life from the inside out.

It’s about time.

Portland Helmich has been investigating natural health and healing for more than 15 years, as a host, reporter, writer, and producer.

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