When it comes to body and health goals, focus on utility of results over a destination

I lost about a million pounds over the past year and a half. OK, not a million — a little more than 20, but it might as well have been a million for all of the work it’s taken. Pounds are persistent little buggers that seem to flee only from the perfect mix of protein, lifting things, walking a lot and the proper alignment of the planets.

The weird thing about all this loss is that it’s not like one day I removed a heavy jacket and said, “Oh, wow! I feel so much lighter now.”

While it’s fun to heft something over 20 pounds and think about how that’s what I don’t have to schlep around with me anymore — I haven’t done that yet, but should try — the reality is that this was a long-term effort that took place incrementally within my own body.

This was the first time I have attempted or successfully followed a weight loss plan that wasn’t borderline or full-on — undiagnosed — disordered. The difference? My focus wasn’t actually on loss. I wanted more. I wanted more comfort and ease in my body and in exercise. I wanted to hike higher, run farther and easier, and say “yes” with less thought or anguish about the energy it might cost me or how much it would hurt.

I wasn’t focused on being less than who I am, I was focused on being more of myself. This is a pretty essential twist. It took some practice for me, especially having old, disordered relationships with key measurement and progress tools like the dreaded scale and counting calories. But I started small, and over time reestablished my habits and then relationship to the weight loss methods I used to obsess over. It’s not a perfect, or fully complete 180-degree turn from how I approached this when I was younger, but it is a whole heck of a lot healthier.

Maybe the last remnant of my old thinking and approach to weight loss was this concept of a destination. When I got to my goal weight, I seemed to imagine without actually articulating it, my mind and body will click into a kind of groove like I’ve never experienced before. I will have made it! I’ll be there, that fixed point!

And, just like when birthdays roll around and feel suspiciously like every other day of the year, the moment of achieving goal weight is more about how I inhabit it than it is the arbitrary number.

It’s wild how life just keeps on moving forward even despite how stuck I can get on creating “if-onlys,” striving for destinations that represent something better than where I am now, and generally thinking that two steps ahead is better, more, and somehow final. Like I’ll finally be able to relax when I get there.

But here’s the kicker! I am there. I’ve cruised into my home stretch, I’m hovering right around my target number. Can I tell the difference between where I started and my million-pound — indulge me — weight loss later? The frustrating yet honest answer: yes and no.

Yes, my clothing fits really well. I feel lithe and strong. I question my ability to get outside and do hard things much less. I say “yes” to impromptu runs, hikes, or skis and don’t fret much over distance or difficulty. These are all things I worked really hard for, and I’m sincerely excited to be here.

But now that I’m “here,” my effort is still the same. Am I running faster? Yes, by a lot — but it feels the same as 20 pounds ago. I’m proud and excited to be faster and that absolutely feels good, but then again I can’t really feel the difference. Like I said, I didn’t go to bed last night 20 pounds heavier and then wake up and shed it. It came off very slowly over time, so it’s hard to perceive the shift in my own body.

Come to think of it, my life hasn’t really changed that much either! Perhaps a byproduct of my focus on quality of diet is that I’m drinking a lot less, and that’s probably good. But difficult things are still hard, and they seem to come up as routinely as they did 20 pounds ago. The neighbors’ dogs still bark incessantly. Wordle only happens once a day. I still don’t understand exactly how, but I owed taxes this year.

I think this must be the final little flourish in this chapter in redefining my relationship to my body and health: there is no destination. The magic goal number is arbitrary. Nothing in life ever just “clicks” magically, because it’s all in my perspective.

I’m actually happy about that. It offers me a whole lot more control versus needing a number on a scale to dictate whether I’m successful. How am I feeling? What am I doing? What do I want to do less of; more of? These are all questions I’ve been paying much deeper attention to, and enjoying where pursuing them has taken me.

Longer runs. Hillier hikes. Bigger ski days. I’m in the peak shape of my life, and it has only a little bit to do with the number that it’s correlated with, and almost all to do with my ability to more fully inhabit my own experiences. Even if I can’t exactly remember what today feels like compared with a year and a half ago, what does it matter? I’m here, and I feel overall competent and ready for myself, in a profound way that keeps launching me into now and then the rest of my life.

Alli Harvey

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.