Since I was about eight years old, I’ve had this exchange at least once with 90% of the people I’ve ever met:
Person Who Isn’t Very Good with Small Talk: Say Dustin, you’re awfully skinny, aren’t you?
Dustin: Yes. And thank you for pointing it out, I was unaware.
PWIVGwST: You need to eat more! Put some meat on those bones!
Dustin: I actually eat quite a lot already — more than most anybody else I know, actually.*
PWIVGwST: Wow, you must have a really fast metabolism.
Dustin: Yes, that’s the likely explanation. Excellent deductive reasoning, that.
PWIVGwST: Well enjoy it while you can, because once you’re <insert upcoming age and/or milestone here> that’ll all stop. I used to be skinny like that when I was your age, too.
And this is the part where I — being fairly competent with small talk — don’t point out that the person I’m talking with is usually decently overweight, and their implication is that once they were as skinny as I am, but due to circumstances beyond their control, they couldn’t stop eating (or start exercising) once their metabolism crapped out, and it’s only a matter of time before I turn into a fat glob of a human like them.
Now here’s what annoys me about this whole exchange: people are wrong. About me, and about my metabolism, at least. And they never seem to realize it. I spent years of my life thinking that these people — many of them older and wiser than me — were right, and that it was just a matter of time before I helplessly succumbed to the perils of an aged and weary metabolic system. That’s until I started to notice that the variable in the aforementioned conversation began to change as I grew older, but not fatter. When I was young, it was always “once you’re in middle school you’ll start having to work to burn those calories,” or “ when high school hits it’ll start to slow down.” Then high school came and went, and it was “well once you’re in college you’ll put on that freshman fifteen.” Nothing. Halfway through college I was told that, “at 21 years old, drinking and pizza and late nights and whatnot, you’ll be packing it on.” Nada. By senior year of college I was assured that “after graduation, you’re in the real world and drinking coffee every day, you won’t be able to keep those karmic pounds you’re owed from piling on.” Fast forward two more years, and I’m guaranteed that “at 25 years old, everything starts to shut down and you’ll be as plump as the rest of us by age 26.”
In exactly ten days I turn 26 years old, and at my last random weigh in (a couple of week ago), I’ve actually lost weight because I haven’t been exercising as much the past few months. I’m now a hearty 15-20 pounds underweight, and still going back for seconds and thirds at every meal. I’ve even spent entire chunks of my life trying everything short of steroids (I don’t have anything against steroids, I just don’t like to use them because I’m not much of a baseball fan) to gain healthy weight (because anyone who’s just trying to put fat on for fat’s sake is an idiot), to no avail. Multiple daily protein shakes, professional trainers, eating plans and workout plans — and all it ever got me was a really attractive, toned body (ladies?).
Now I’m not a complete fool (only a partial one), and I’m fully aware that sometime between now and when I’m 77, my metabolism will come to a screeching halt, and I’ll need to adjust my eating and lifestyle habits accordingly. But when it happens, I will know before it’s “too late” because I will have spent several decades listening to and responding to my body’s needs.
The point of all this is to say that I know and understand my body and its workings better than just about anyone else (just as you do yours), and that letting other people try to tell you what’s best for you, or belittle you into thinking you need to look a certain way or fit a certain shape, is ridiculous. Humans are born with an amazing and unrivaled capacity for self-awareness, and if you tap into that and stop judging yourself by the world’s cookie-cutter standards, you will know what’s best for yourself. Maybe you need to exercise less and eat more. Maybe you need to exercise more and eat less. Maybe you look better with a little extra Christmas cheer around your waist. Or maybe you are the person who actually needs the ridiculous products they try to sell you during those 4am infomercials.
Regardless of whichever of those categories describes you best, I can say from firsthand experience that happiness doesn’t come from looking a certain way or fitting into a smaller pair of pants or a larger muscle t-shirt. It comes from the confidence that’s generated when you realize you are who you are for a reason, and with a purpose, and everything else can just grow from or adapt out of that.
Trust your instincts, be the example that those around you need to see.
*It should be noted that this claim has been scientifically documented, and isn’t just hyperbole. A nursing major friend of mine in college (shout out to Katie B!) had to do a study where she monitored everything a friend of hers ate for an entire weekend, then averaged it out over the three-day period. My daily average caloric intake was 10,000 calories. Ten. Thousand. Calories. The suggested daily intake is 2,000 calories, and while most people eat significantly more than that (hence why America is one of the fattest — if not THE fattest — nation in the world), it’s the starting-off point. And I was eating five times that average. That’s essentially as if instead of eating three meals a day, I was eating fifteen meals day. And at no point in my life have I been fewer than 10lbs under my ideal weight for my age and height. Now I certainly don’t eat as many calories nowadays as I did back then, but that’s just to give you an idea of the sort of super-powered metabolism I’m dealing with here, and why people who think they know what’s best for me or how I’m gonna turn out, usually don’t.