The Best Version of Ourselves, 2014

The post below was originally published in 2011, and it’s been updated each year to reflect where I am in my life and the new things I’ve learned in the previous 12 months. For 2014, I remain committed to the philosophy it outlines, and I’ll be taking my compassion — for myself and others — with me everywhere I go in the coming year.

Thank you for all of your support, funny comments, and friendship this year. Wishing you a wondrous 2014 during which you live as the best version of yourself — every day, every hour, every breath.

I’ve had a weight loss goal since I was 13 years old.
That’s more than 30 years of living with a number hanging over my head. From Weight Watchers summer camp to the rice diet to Kathy Smith’s Fat Burning Plan to Weight Watchers to the Zone to Paleo… with aerobics videos and step aerobics and triathlons and boxing and Roller Derby and half marathons and CrossFit along the way.

My motivations have been many.
Fear of being fat. Health concerns. Peer pressure to conquer the 200-pound deadlift. A personal sense of pride. Unadulterated vanity.

Those motivations shaped my behavior. I ate “right” so I would reach my Weight Watchers goal weight. I set my alarm for 5:00 a.m. so I would some day see my name on the RX or PR board at my CrossFit gym. I was driven by a sometimes-debilitating fear that I would never be “better.”

Then a thought began to flicker in my subconscious. It started on holiday in Prague when I realized I liked exploring narrow, winding stairways. I was starting to loosen my grip on “destination” and reveling in “getting there.” That idea tickled me again when I was I was upside down during a handstand at the gym and during a fun, stopwatch-free run around the lake: What if I’ve been looking at this from the wrong direction?

My underlying motivation for all of it – the weight loss, the physical challenges, the healthy eating – has always been that I wanted to be the best version of myself. Happy, healthy, fit, strong, attractive. But that pure motivation was poorly translated into external measures that separated what I wanted from what I did.

So I got the notion to try something different. For the first time in more than three decades, what if I didn’t set a physical goal? No weight loss, no “leaning out,” no target time on the clock or weight on the bar.

Instead, what if I simply behaved like the best version of myself?

Then I would become her.

The best me eats clean and sleeps well and trains hard and smiles a lot. She’s free of worrying about what number might appear on a scale or a measuring tape. Instead of being intimidated or threatened by stronger, faster, leaner athletes at the gym, she delights in their capabilities. And she remembers to encourage the people around her to be their best versions.

Finally, the best version of me knows that she’s not required to eat clean or meditate or practice yoga or lift heavy or get solid sleep. There is no accounting ledger keeping track of exemplary behavior for a reward later. There is no opportunity to earn a metaphorical gold star.

The clean eating and training, meditation and lifting, the sound sleeping are the reward. They are the thing.

So I’ve banished my “concrete” fitness goals. I know that “Be the best version of me” doesn’t follow the traditional goal format. I don’t care. I’ve done it the conventional way; now I do it my way.

The best version of me refuses to be measured by some external yardstick.
The best version of me happily goes to bed early, wakes up refreshed, eats paleo, trains wisely, lifts heavy things, remembers to take a fun run and to play a little every day, spreads love, looks up, leads with the chin, makes up new recipes, and sings out loud.

Not because I must.

Because I want to. Because that’s me. The best me.

What is the best version of you?
Not the one you think other people want to see, or the one the media tells you to be. The one you desire to be, deep down. Can you work toward being the best version of you? Without judgment? Without punishment? Without reward? Can you revel in being you?

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Comments

    • Nancy says:

      I love this message and wholeheartedly agree. We should also remember that we move and train and play because we can and we are awfully lucky to have that ability and chance to shine. I just embarked on my journey with Paleo eating and have learned a great deal from your cookbook and blog. Thank you!

  • Tasha says:

    I swear, it’s a revolution. I’m seeing this sentiment everywhere this year. Maybe it’s just because I’m looking for it/feeling that way myself. If we can’t be happy with ourselves now, what makes us think we’ll magically be happier when we reach [insert goal]?

  • Shelly says:

    I am so glad you posted this because after my first whole 30 I hit all my goals I set for my body and wright loss, and I was kinda freaking out about what next because I had never reached that goal until now! Amazing! My brother recently made the comment that I needed to get exercise in a more “fun” way like in sports or while working on the farm. I told him working out at the gym and doing my crossfit routines were “fun” . To him working out was more of a chore lol. So instead of nitpicking my body about what I need to tighten now or how fast my mile is, I need to enjoy being me and staying healthy! It’s a challenge to love yourself for what you are and not keep wanting more.

  • I needed to thank you for this great read!!
    I absolutely enjoyed every bit of it. I’ve got you bookmarked to look at new stuff
    you post…

  • Leigh Gust says:

    This is so, so good. Thank you for your honesty and transparency. I think everyone needs to read this, TODAY, and begin living in action the best version of themselves. Besides, we have no control over tomorrow, who knows what it holds? We only have the RIGHT NOW to be our best.
    I could only add that to achieve optimum personal fulfillment, we ought to be on a continual lookout for opportunities to bless the needy (the ones right in front of us).
    I will read this many times this year.

  • Kel says:

    The best version of me enjoys the present and the journey. I leave every interaction with the person feeling better than before. I say yes to possibility and no to the fear that can hold me back.

    Happy New Year Mel!

  • Hala says:

    “The one you desire to be, deep down. Can you work toward being the best version of you? Without judgment? Without punishment? Without reward? Can you revel in being you?”

    Answer is: I don’t know. But I am hopeful that by keeping my dial tuned in to inspiration like yours, I can find the strength to let myself just be.

    Thank you SO much.

  • Suzanne Burton says:

    Thanks so much, Mel. This is a great post, a terrific reminder that if I do this, be my best me everyday, I will love myself for who I am, not for what someone else’s picture of me says I should be, not for what my mind says. I’ve started exercising again. I’m back on track with food and ready to restart the whole30 tomorrow. I’m making Bora Bora Fireballs today, some of which can go in the freezer, along side of your Thyme-Braised Short Ribs, so I’ll have extra food for the road. Thanks for being an everyday inspiration, and Happy New Year to you and Dave and Smudge!

  • Linda says:

    At some point this year I recognized that I waste a stupid amount of energy on negativity and comparing myself to others. Breaking this habit has not been easy, but every time I read a positive message such as this I’m inspired to keep up my resolve.

    Having “compassion – for myself and others” is my takeway here.

    Happy new year!

  • Cindy says:

    Thank you for being amazing, and for being you. You are a brainy, beautiful, badass babe, and give so much joy and motivation to so many.

    You’ve had an outstanding 2013, and I wish you a 2014 that outshines it by megawatts.

  • Judy Aylward says:

    My friend attended her 50th reunion from nursing school. As the women were looking at pictures from 50 years ago one of the women remarked, “Too bad we didn’t know that we were perfect then.” That helped me realize that in each day we live we are perfect for now. Thanks for your great attitude, your blog and the two beautiful cookbooks. 2014 has even more in store! Happy New Year!

  • kari says:

    You seriously rock! What a fantastic post!! I soooooooooooo needed to read that today. Happy New Year!!

  • Ami says:

    Well said! There is a point where you have to realize it is the journey and not the destination.

  • ARC says:

    This is so perfect and what I needed to hear. I too have had a weight loss goal every year since I was a young teenager and I’m tired of it, quite frankly. As I get older and watch my girls grow up, it’s easier for me to let go of perfect and try to model a healthier approach so they don’t grow up with the same issues. Thanks for the insight.

  • Jackie says:

    Thank you for this piece Mel. They say that the right message will come to you at the right time and this article was just what I need right now 🙂

    Only this morning I made the comment to my sister that “to loose weight and get fit” has been on my new year goal list for the last 5 years.

    Am I the best version of me right now? No I am not. Will I now take time out to re-evaluate what the best version of me will be like? Yes I will.

    Thanks again from sunny and very hot Australia 🙂

  • I think you’ve hit on the secret to happiness. Awesome!!!

  • Kimberly says:

    That sounds like the next best stop on your journey. What I wish for you (I can’t help but wish this for everyone, but especially for women in this culture) is that you can one day stop looking for the best version of yourself and just go look in the mirror. There she is. Right now, today. No matter what day that is.

    If we must have a goal (must we? maybe, I really don’t know) maybe we can make it total and radical self-love and acceptance, without constant striving for better, faster, leaner, younger that we all (myself included) fall into.

    xo

  • I love you! Fuck me you have a good head on your shoulders Mel. This is just such great stuff. I am SO THERE too!

    I got to a point where I look back and remember being 10lbs heavier or lighter and not having felt any more or less satisfied. I see photos of myself where I was so lean I was called “gaunt” and still I thought I was fat. Enough of that crap.

    I realised this year that to focus on outcomes is silly. Instead, it makes more sense to focus on behaviors. In the end, anyway, it’s how we BEHAVE, the choices we make every day and whether they are aligned with our core values, that actually make us feel good and whole or not. We are living day by day, not toiling away to achieve a goal.

    Thank you for sharing! You have a lot of heart and guts.

    Hugs!
    Danielle

  • Mel says:

    Hello, everyone! Forgive me for posting a blanket response to all of you… I’m in San Francisco for the release of Nom Nom Paleo’s cookbook and the launch of Chris Kresser’s book, so I’ve been out playing in San Francisco and Marin County!

    But I wanted to say thank you so much for all your beautiful comments on this post. I’m really glad it’s resonating with all of you, and I’m sending you best wishes for a wonderful year. It’s not always easy to follow the advice I outlined above — even (especially?) for me, but I think it’s worth the effort… and we can all support and remind each other to be kind to ourselves and just live a great life.

    Hugs to you!

  • Jen says:

    This really resonated with me, and I agree with others who say there’s a lot of this sentiment going around, and it’s refreshing.

    In fact, this is what I posted on New Year’s Day on my Facebook:

    My basic resolution for this year: enjoy my life. I only have this one. Don’t stress out that I don’t make it to the gym enough to lift weights. I love running, so if I do “too much” of that instead of weight training it’s ok. And if my cat is snoozing in my lap when I was planning to run, enjoy the warm purring and don’t stress about that either. My life is short, the kitty’s life is short. Enjoy it. And do all I can to prolong it. Happy new year, y’all.

  • Mel says:

    I love it! I want to walk around the lake more with my boyfriend, and get outside for playing no matter the season (last year we only got to the snowy mountains once! Not this year!), and not worry about what other people’s issues are or what they think about me. I bought a bunch of meat and veggies at the farmer’s market, and was happy that the farmers were happy to see me and remembered me, and the butcher I love even let some other people pay in front of me so “I can chat with you a bit”.

    I got to spend quality time with my family over the holidays, and am getting back in the gym to do O-lifting because it’s fun and I love my friends who go lift, too, and I love being a little bit stronger than I was yesterday. It’s OK that I won’t place in any competition, because I’m stronger than I was X months ago and that’s what matters, and the audience is polite and claps anyway when you complete a lift.

    I am getting off birth control pills and going for a more natural method to meet my homeopathist halfway with his supplementation regimen.

    Happy 2014!

  • Andy says:

    I have “lurked” at your blog for months now, never really saying anything but enjoying the recipes and the stories that come with them. I needed to break my silence today!

    This post made me tear up, because I identified so much with what you said. Knowing the feelings you’ve described and reading your words made me feel so understood. I’ve strived with intermittent success to get into “shape,” eat better, and confined myself to numbers and statisics without much regard to my own happiness and fulfillment.

    Anyway, I digress. I just wanted to thank you for sharing yourself with us on the internet and for being such a wonderful example on how to live such a rich, meaningful life!

    • Mel says:

      Thank YOU for being part of our little corner of the internet. I’m glad you popped out of lurking for a minute to say hi… thank you!

      Happy new year to you!

  • Boya says:

    Wonderful post Mel. Very happy new year to you to from Australia 🙂

  • Cait says:

    As I sit here reading this, I have tears in my eyes as I feel like something is starting to “click”. I feel as though this was written for me. I also have been to “fat camp” as a pre-teen, been through my fair share of WW weigh ins, running half marathons that felt like torture, and most recently have mastered the Paleo diet and am a member of an incredible Crossfit family. While I am starting to hate my body a little less as I make gains, reading your post makes me realize that if I don’t alter what I am striving for, I will forever be arching for the unattainable. Being the best version of myself? That I can do. Thank you for pointing out what was in front of my face this whole time.

    • Mel says:

      I’m very glad this post hit you in the feels. Congratulations on tackling CrossFit and finding your way to loving your body. You really can’t care for something that you hate, so I hope you can come around to the thinking that you are awesome right now. You really are 🙂

  • Rene says:

    Mel,

    As I began to read your recipe book Well Fed 2, I realized that your book was about much more than even wonderful recipes. It contained deeply profound substance having to do with having the courage to be your true self. I found myself drawn in by each word in the section on being the “best version of you”. This is exactly what I myself have been struggling to do the past year!!

    Through meditation, I started being able to differentiate between my ego and my true self. One of the major issues I have is perfectionism. I’m an over exerciser and I recently learned that my thyroid was suffering. My true self wants to work out less – find a better balance; however, my ego pushes me to keep working out like crazy and worries that I’ll get fat and then people will not love me and people will treat me differently. Maybe I won’t love myself…even….I’m not sure. I want to be brave and let go of all this non-sense but not sure how or if I can do it.

    I also want to add that I’ve been on Paleo for 3 years now and so I have formed healthy eating habits.

    I wanted to write you in hopes that you may respond to a question I have.

    Mel, when you first set out to be the best you – you could be, did you have struggles/fears with worrying how it would effect your weight? e.g. did your pants start to get tight? If so, how did you work to overcome this and to just go with it?

    I would also love to see an example of your weekly workout regime.

    Thanks again for your openness and ability write about this in your book. I love the content matter and wanted you to know that just reading it truly inspired me.

    • Mel says:

      Hi, Rene. Thank you so much for this lovely, thoughtful post. I’m really glad that you’re enjoying the non-recipe content in Well Fed 2. And thank you for letting me know! That’s very thoughtful of you.

      You wrote: “did you have struggles/fears with worrying how it would effect your weight?”

      Absolutely. I don’t think there’s a day, yet, during which I don’t think about my weight. But I’m getting better at it 🙂

      Because of various health-related stuff — my thyroid, my adrenals, blah blah blah — I’ve slowly gained about 20 pounds over the oast 3 years. It’s been rough sometimes, but I managed the emotional side of it by sticking to my healthful behaviors: restful sleep, clean eating, meditation, yoga, and whatever working out I could do at the time. It was always fun, but I took comfort in knowing that i was, literally, doing all that I could to take care of myself. I had to put my concerns about my weight to the side for a while.

      Now that I’m healthier, I can turn my attention to weight loss again, but it’s not changing my behavior very much. I’m able to increase the intensity of my workouts — yay! — and I’m playing with my nutrition a little bit to see if I can jump start some fat loss… but I’m still not looking at the scale or the tape measure. I’m just living my healthy habits and working with my trainer to tweak them if I need to.

      I’m glad to share my workout routine, but please remember that all of us are really different. I have a VERY slow metabolism — had my resting metabolic rate tested — so I know that I need to move a LOT to manage my weight. But as a 45-year-old woman with no thyroid, I also ahve to be careful to not over do it.

      My routine right now:
      – I’m walking at least 10,000 steps every day. I’ve been doing that since Jan 1, and it feels really good. Some days, I take a really long walk — 75 minutes — and go well over the 10,000 steps. Some days, I just accumulate 10,000-ish by walking around my neighborhood and runnign errands. I’m just trying to be more active every day since my writing job requires so much sitting.

      – Three days a week, I got to the gym and lift weights. You can read more about my approach to that here: http://www.theclothesmakethegirl.com/2013/12/13/meet-mark-schneider/

      – Saturday mornings, I go to a Hatha yoga class that’s mostly stretching and held poses, so it’s a lot of mobility work and a little strength work. I also go to Kundalini yoga (very light movement, lots of meditation) twice a week.

      – I do 20 minutes of Loving Kindness meditation every day. I listen to some groovy music, like in a restorative yoga pose, and chant to myself: “May I be filled with loving kindness / May I be strong and well in body and mind / May I be safe from inner and outer dangers / May I be truly happy and free.”

      That’s what I’ve been doing since Jan 1, and that’s my plan until May 1. Then I’ll assess and see how things are going.

      Hope this helps!

  • Rene says:

    Hi Mel: Thank you so much for your response! I truly appreciate your honesty and it’s so refreshing to hear you say that it wasn’t so easy.

    I think it’s empowering for women to speak candidly and openly about our struggles to put our health and happiness above all. When I watch TV or read magazines, seems like all I see are skinny, perfect looking woman.

    It’s taken me to my age of 53 to wake up and see that all those years of working so hard to try to look so perfect has not brought me the happiness that the media lead me to believe I would get. I would get there if I would by “buy” more beauty products and “buy” more clothes, and “buy” more purses and “buy” more shoes and starve myself of food and work out excessively. I would get there by putting my looks above my spiritual, personal growth. What a crock…

    The more I bought, the more I realized that the emptiness was still there.

    I heard an mp3 recently having to do with the reasons why so many woman have thyroid issues and this man who I was listening to was saying he believed it was because woman have been repressed in speaking the truth for so many years. Wow…that was a thought I had not entertained before!

    Taking it a step further, what if we do what you are proposing and not only speak the truth, but live the truth!!! Why don’t we be true to ourselves?!!!

    Thanks again for giving me so much to think about, for inspiring woman, and mostly for your courage to live and be true to yourself!!!

    Rene

    • Mel says:

      I think you’ve hit on the big secret: comparing ourselves to what the media and marketers promote as “happiness” is a sure way to be miserable 😉

      I’ve realized that I’m much happier when I stay away from Twitter, FB, TV commercials, and celebrity magazines. I just want to live a happy life, and no one… NO ONE in my life that matters judges me on my appearance.

      I’m really glad this post resonated with you. Hoping for you to have all good things in your life.

  • Rene says:

    I love your saying “NO ONE in my life that matters judges me on my appearance”

    I need to remember that.

    Thanks again for everything.

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