When it comes to your body, you are not a contractor.
(Stay with me here, I’ve got a patented Kaila metaphor for you!)
A contractor is someone who is hired on a project-by-project basis. The project has a definite start and finish date, and the contractor has an imperative to complete the project during those dates. It’s completely goal-based. And at the end of the project, if you want to keep working, you have to start a brand new project.
Salaried workers, on the other hand, can do projects, but they don’t only have a single project on which to focus. Salaried workers are in the long-term maintenance game, working on several projects at once, many of which that don’t have start and end dates. Salaried workers keep on going with the job they have and see their work in terms of career and not in terms of a single deliverable.
The same thing is true with you and your body. You are not a project-based contractor. You are not doing a series of “start and finish” jobs, hopping from one to the next. You are not a diet-doer.
Diets are short term projects that trick you into thinking that you are and have to be doing your work on contract. Diets and challenges and detoxes and resets (they’re all the same thing) distract you from your career as a long term worker in your body. They get you so used to having your start and end date (before and after!), that once you reach the end date, you don’t have any idea what maintenance is.
So you either go on a full-on binge or drop the fitness plan entirely, or you become so afraid of your newfound “freedom” that you quickly find the next project to start.
That’s why having a “goal weight” is bullshit—because the contractor in your isn’t going to be satisfied when the work is done. The contractor in you is going to ask: what’s the next project?
This happened to me when I first started my figure competitor journey in 2009. I had a goal weight at which I “knew” I would be “healthy” and “sexy” and “ready”—but once I reached it, I wasn’t content to maintain. My inner contractor asked, “Can we try to go lower?”
It was only two pounds, but once I reached that goal, my inner contractor got nervous. She didn’t want to be out of work. I went for another two. And another. You get the idea.
The same thing happens when you use the word “again” with the Whole30 or the 21 Day Sugar detox or any reset (read: diet) plan you follow. The reason you have to keep starting over isn’t because you failed the first time, fell off the wagon, or actually need a reset in order to regain self-control in the presence of food; it’s because the only “job descriptions” you ever see are for contract work and your recruiter only knows how to hired your inner contractor. Besides, contract workers are cheaper and easier to come by than talented salaried workers…right?
Sorry if the metaphor got a little tangled there. Here’s what I mean in no uncertain terms: the reason you have to keep dieting is because you keep dieting. The reason you have to keep “resetting” and “detoxing” is because you keep buying resets and detoxes. The bad habit you have to break isn’t emotional eating or sugar-bingeing. The bad habit you have to break is dieting itself.
If you ever want to break free of the restrict-relapse-repeat cycle is to start thinking of yourself as a salaried employee of your body. Within that salaried work, there are definitely start and finish projects, but there are also enough maintenance and upkeep tasks to keep you busy so that you don’t become single-mindedly focused on losing weight or optimizing your health or whatever it is that you’re doing when you start your next “30-day something.”
You are not a project. Your body is not work to be finished. It’s a living, breathing, growing, changing entity that needs regular upkeep and a lot of love and passion to keep you engaged in the work long term.
But salaried “body work” is a lot slower than contract work. Because unlike at a real job, your only deliverable is to show up each day and do the best you can. That may mean taking inventory of all of the “projects” that you’re pushing yourself to do and deciding which ones you can stop doing.
In today’s podcast with Jen Sinkler, we talk about what it means to take a break and “do one less rep.” Jen’s one of the few fitness professionals whom I still follow, because I think she has a great handle on body image and using fitness constructively. For health. I wish we had more than an hour because this was a great conversation—