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Living a healthy lifestyle means learning to love yourself

I always talk about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but what exactly does that involve?

Sure, it means eating healthy and exercising on a regular basis. It means trying to keep stress levels at a minimum and living life to the fullest.

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But most importantly, maintaining a healthy lifestyle means loving yourself for who you are before you even move on to doing anything else.

So many people want to live healthier lifestyles because they are unhappy with their weight or how they look. They claim to have muffin tops, stretch marks or flab. They look in the mirror and criticize every little detail about their body. They worry about having too much hair there and not enough here, not having enough cleavage or having too much cleavage, or they have too much flab around their stomach and are too bony around their arms. They stand on the scale and hate the number that appears. They criticize every little detail, striving for perfection, or at least what they think perfection should look like. I won't lie — I've been guilty of it.

A lot of people do it. The difference is that I have learned to love my body and appreciate myself for who I am.

Perfection is impossible simply because everyone has a different idea of what perfection is.

A lot of our physical traits are genetically inherited. These thunder thighs of mine aren't going anywhere no matter how much I run, bike, squat and eat healthy — I was born with them. And guess what? I've learned to love them; they're actually pretty great for softball. Don't consider a physical trait negative. No butt? Big butt? Large breasts? Small breasts? Big-boned? Bony? Hairier than the average person? Cellulite? Stretch marks? Scars? Rather than criticizing yourself and trying to change your physical appearance because you don't think you are beautiful or handsome, own those traits. Those are what make you unique — what make you, well, you. I wouldn't be me without my big butt and thunder thighs, and I am 100 percent OK with that.

And that number on the scale? Yeah, that does not determine your health, either.

A lot of professional athletes are considered obese based upon their weight, despite the fact that many of them are some of the healthiest people to walk the planet. These athletes are solid muscle. And remember, muscle weighs more than fat. Skinny does not equal healthy; likewise, chubby does not equal unhealthy. Weight does not determine health. Muscle-to-fat ratio, vitamin and nutrient levels, happiness, and the functionality of body systems do. So exercise, eat healthy foods — remember that it is OK to splurge moderately — take care of yourself, and get regular check-ups to ensure overall health. Of course, don't forget to love yourself first.

The important thing is that the body gets the vitamins and nutrients that it needs, meaning eating fresh fruits and veggies and staying away from overly processed junk food. Some people count every single calorie, grain of sugar and ounce of fat, while others don't pay attention to what they are eating at all. Be aware of what goes into your body, but don't be obsessive. Moderation is key. Most importantly, don't beat yourself up for eating that bowl of ice cream occasionally and realize that there is no need to count every single calorie eaten every single day. Remember, we are not striving for perfection.

If you choose to maintain a healthy lifestyle, love yourself first. Make the decision to eat healthier, exercise more, and live better for yourself — because you love yourself and want to take better care of yourself, not to lose weight or to look better. Make the decision for the right reasons.

The goal should be a healthier you, not a perfect you. You are beautiful. You are handsome. You don't need to eat healthy, exercise frequently, stand on the scale or look in the mirror to know that. Do not let anyone else ever say otherwise. You only get one body, so own it, love it for what it is, and take good care of it.

Amanda Oppenheim is a junior at Stevenson University and can be reached at amandaoppenheim15@gmail.com.

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