While I am usually impressed, even moved, by the writings that Elephant Journal publishes, I must say that Altucher’s (2010) essay, How I lost 30 Pounds through yoga and never saw them again, with embarrassing before picture, gave me pause. Well intentioned and genuine as the author seems, I find the underlying messages of the article inherently flawed: that we should be “embarrassed” by our bodies “before” we make healthy life changes; that lighter is healthier; that yoga is the magic bullet.
I am always skeptical of headlines or articles that proclaim weight-loss as a focal point. The way I see it, weight-loss is either a product of healthy life choices, unhealthy life choices, pregnancy, or a medical problem; since we rarely know which (unless we know the person well), I find it prudent never to bring it up, nor to dwell on it. Despite being an observant person who is fascinated with people’s bodies, I rarely notice when my friends, family, or students lose or gain weight. Perhaps I have trained myself not to notice, because I don’t think it matters–what matters most is the person’s quality of life.
Some of the steps Altucher mentions are benign enough; others are inspiring: “love yourself;” “start cooking;” keep yourself in balance; have patience. Some others are downright dangerous: try a “colonic” to “cleanse” your system (our bodies do this just fine when we eat and excrete, thank you); “when you are hungry, drink water first” (I prefer to listen to my body, and actually eat when I am actually hungry). And call me crazy, but I don’t see how someone who truly loves herself can simultaneously feel embarrassed by a picture of herself with 30 more pounds. Shouldn’t true self-love triumph over shame?
I do not mean to tear the article or its author apart. If she is happier at 118 pounds than she was at 148, then I am glad for her. I do, however, want those who read the article (and others like it) to ask themselves some very honest questions: Why do we see losing weight as good and gaining weight as bad? Why are we moved to exercise, or to be sedentary? What inspires us to eat healthy food, and what spurs us to binge? When we can answer ourselves honestly, without judging our answers as good or bad, right or wrong, strong or weak, we empower ourselves to harmonize our actions with our feelings.
Living a healthy, balanced, and happy life is a constant experiment. It is not something we can achieve, but rather, something we must continually invent and reinvent. Throughout my life, I have experimented with strict vegetarianism, veganism, not-so-strict vegetarianism, the Paleo diet, running, not-running, yoga, cycling, CrossFit, and fasting. I even experimented with bulimia for a brief time in college—not because I thought it was healthy (I knew it wasn’t), but because I mistook lightness for a sign of health (it’s not). Throughout each of these experiments, I gathered information, tested my hypotheses, made new conjectures, and began the process again. I have learned never to tell others that their choices are wrong, that they should exercise, that they should eat certain foods, that they would be happier if they would just _____. The truth is, none of us knows what makes others happy; we only (sort of) know what works for us. That being said, I will agree with Altucher that loving oneself is a key element to real and lasting happiness. Rather than think of it as “the first step,” however, I prefer to think of it as the most prominent theme.