"I've been underweight, I've been chubby, I've been skinny fat, I've been super lean, I've been at the peak of my physical fitness and then lost it all again. All along this journey, I've hated my body, loathed it, accepted it, then loved it, then hated it again, wanted it to be skinnier, then stronger, fitter, more flexible, and the list goes on...
Reflecting back on the last couple of years, I realize that there were so many stages that I went through in finding peace with my body. Because I've been journalling for six years now, I have all this personal material to read through and piece the puzzle together in retrospect. My diaries tell a story about how obsessed I used to be with trying to lose weight and controlling my food intake - I used to write down every single meal and snack for years - and how I equated weight loss to beauty and self-worth. They tell a story of realizing I didn't want to keep living life in such a mundane and sad way. They tell a story of struggle, falling down, wanting to give up, pulling myself back up, trying again and all along never giving up hope. As the pages progress and become filled with an increased sense of self-awareness, subtle changes begin to happen in my behavior and thought patterns. At the time I remember thinking that I wasn't progressing, but I can now see that I had to go through those subconscious, intangible changes first in order for them to come to sustainable fruition. It's also been interesting looking through previous Insta posts of mine (here, here, here, here, here, here) and reflect back to what I was expressing at the time.
But don't get me wrong.
Some days my self-doubt and anxiety is still triggered. I might see a girl in the same dress I'm wearing and think "I don't look as good as her.", I might see a picture of myself and catch myself going to town on how I look, I might get dressed in the morning and a pair of jeans seems tighter than usual or I might scroll through Instagram and let the picture-perfect images screw with my mind. I call it my BDD flare up, BDD standing for Body Dysmorphic Disorder. The sudden escalation of frustration, the mood swings, the inability to rationalize my emotions and putting things into perspective, the ruthless overtake of my inner mean girl. Those. Things. Do. Still. Happen. And I'm not ashamed of it or try hiding them from you guys. But eventually, and this is in sharp contrast to the past, I get my head out of my ass and realize what a tantrum I'm causing. How I know better than this. That this isn't me anymore. And so I file the moment away in my drawer of ED mishaps, give myself a little self-love from my SOS Self Love Tool Kit and move on. Done deal. Next chapter.
What outweighs those minor flare-ups is the many victories that I've made over the years. It's small stuff, but it's those mundane and seemingly meaningless things that have made all the difference:
I'm OK with wearing shorts and don't feel super self-conscious about it
I'm OK with my thighs rubbing against each other when I walk
I'm OK with trying something on in the fitting room and it not looking like the girl in the magazine
I'm OK with getting filmed doing a sweaty workout and I don't constantly wonder how it's going to look
I'm OK with Phil playfully slapping my leg and not feel like he's "groping my fat" in an insulting way (yep that's what I used to think)
I'm OK with being in a room with girls skinnier than me and not constantly comparing myself
I've accepted that I will never have long, lean legs and a thigh gap
I'm OK with my t-shirts getting tighter around the arms because fuck yes I'm gaining muscle
Those things are massive. When you've struggled with body image issues for years and these things used to trigger you, being able to just BE and not worry about this sh*%t is honestly so freeing.
And more so than being OK with it, I am EMBRACING all these things. I've learned to be grateful for my body and or what it allows me to do.Our bodies are imperfectly perfect and do amazing things for us every day.Our worth is not defined by a number on a scale. It's not defined by how fit or ripped you are. In fact, your body does not define you, period. And I have committed to remind myself of that every day.
And here’s a truth bomb for you my loves...
the way we LOOK and the way we FEEL are not one and the same. They are two entirely different things.
Take it from the girl who's had the abs, the skinny arms, the protruding collar bones, all the compliments in the world about how good I looked. All along, I felt empty, anxious and lost. If you are seeking happiness from a certain body shape or weight then you are looking in the wrong place. I've been at my most miserable when I was the skinniest, and my happiest when I was significantly heavier. Yes you might feel temporarily and superficially happy, but it's nothing, NOTHING compared to the pure and deep joy that experience when you learn to just BE and not worry about your weight. A lot of my clients say to me "But I'll be more confident when I lose weight", and I get that. To them, I ask
Whatever it is, go do more of that. Focus less on the numbers on the scale, and move your focus towards those things that really matter. From my experience, the more we pour energy into weight loss and restricting ourselves, the harder the struggle gets.
And what happens if you finally reach your goal weight? Happily ever after? Sorry to disappoint. Now you have to live in constant fear of losing grip again, spiraling out of control and failing yourself. So you become a control freak and desperately cling to willpower and mental harassment to keep going and not cave. On top of it, you probably never feel like it is enough and you'll continue to find things about yourself that you deem inadequate. And you know what the f*%^ed up thing is?! One day you might look back at pictures at yourself from that time and think how much better you looked but remember how racked with self-doubt we were at that time. Who of us hasn’t said, I wish I had my old body now? I think we've all been there and have that photo.
The promise of a diet is not only that you will have a different body, it is that in having a different body, you will also have a different life. There's this idea that if you hate yourself enough with enough willpower and dedication, you will get your dream body, dream life and in turn love yourself. That notion in itself is absolutely insane, yet I bought into it myself for so long. We can't ever possibly hate our body's into shape in the long run, that will only ever work through love and softness. If you continue to be at war with your body, it will fight back for the rest of your life, in the form of physical/mental and spiritual problems.
In the end, it comes down to this...
The shape of your body obeys the shape of your beliefs about love, value, and possibility.
This sentence is copy pasted from Geneen Roth's book "Women Food and God" because it is so damn accurate. Side note: go read her book!
She argues, and I wholeheartedly agree, that our relationship to food is an exact microcosm of our relationship to life itself. Everything that we believe about love, fear, transformation and life is revealed in how, when and what we eat. When we are binging on ice cream at nighttime when we are not hungry, it says something about our belief system. When we are mindlessly scuffing down potato chips at a party, it's not nothing, it actually says something deeper about us. No matter what we say we believe, how we eat tells it all. Eating is a form of self-respect, and so if you are trashing your body or under-nourishing it, there's a deeper rooted reason for that as you are essentially saying you have no choice but to numb your feelings because they are too much to handle.
The changes I have made
I realize that coming home to your body after a lifetime of being at war with it might seem impossible and dreadful. But it can be done, and I want to share a couple of things that have been key in reaching my 10:1 self-love to self-loath ratio. And I'm purposely saying 10:1 because like I said, I still get "those days" and I want you to know it's normal and not an additional reason to beat yourself up.
I barely weight myself anymore.
For the first couple of years, I avoided it completely. Now I am OK with doing it, but my recommendation would be to get rid of the scale entirely. You CANNOT make peace with your body and at the same time step on the scale every single day.
I found my fitness freedom.
Ask yourself "Why do I exercise? What are the benefits I get out of it other than my physique?" My main reasons are stress relief (my nr.1), being in nature, learning new skills, challenging myself, stepping outside my comfort zone, spending time with friends and family and refocusing my mind after a day at work.
I let go of the "My diet starts tomorrow" - mentality.
For a second allow yourself to feel how different life would be? Would it be liberating? Freeing? Stress-free? The concept of diets never works in the long run, and if anything, causes destruction along the way and leaves you with self-defeat, an array of unhealthy thought patterns that become engrained along the way and a sense of shortcomings on your end. Also, deprivation = binge eating. Until you give up that mindset for good, you will never be able to sustain healthy habits in the long run. We have got to relax our iron-clad grip on food and make our choices coming from a place of LOVE for ourselves rather than a place of fear, and then, only then, can our relationship to food start to heal.
I am constantly mastering my inner mean girl.
I catch her early, and then I quiet her through meditation, journaling, going for walks in nature, going to bed super early and dropping all social commitments.
Gratitude, every single freakin' day.
I also do this through journaling or taking a couple extra moments in the morning to thinking about the things I'm grateful for. Showering is another time I like to check in with myself like that. Wherever, whenever, the more the merrier.
I remind myself that our bodies are only a vehicle on this journey called life and nothing more.
This is an excerpt copied from Geneen Roth's book "Women, Food and God", and is something that you can start practicing right this second, or whenever you feel a disconnect with yourself and your body.
Reminding yourself that you have a body during any given day looks like this: you are lurching along and suddenly catch yourself walking without realizing that you are walking. Then you remember to be aware of your breath – your abdomen moving, your lungs filling with air. You sense some kind of flow or density or warmth or tingling in your legs. You notice that you have arms, that you have hands, and that one of them is now lifting a pen or a child. You arrive in your body for a moment and you are gone again, floating from place to place with no clear remembrance of the transition. Then you suddenly land here again – first one breath, then another – you bring yourself back to your body about a thousand times a day.
What 2017 had in store for me
2017 was an interesting year for me body-image wise. In the beginning of the year, being fit wasn't on the forefront of my agenda at all. I didn't want to follow an intense exercise program and instead simply enjoyed exercising for the fun of it and without a particular goal in mind. I was also still taking in the Sydney food culture and the many amazing cafés it has to offer. At the same time, I was dealing with some emotional stuff and was admittedly using food to cope with it. I put on a couple kilos too many for my liking and eventually reached a point where, despite all the "spiritual crunches" and self-development work, my inner mean girl was roaring it's head and brought old thought patterns back. I realized that it was now, more than ever before, that I needed to practice what I preach and do the whole unconditional self love thing. Uh oh. I had kind of scraped the surface of that before, but now it was time to really dig deep.
And so I did; instead of vowing to lose weight again, I learned to sit with myself and be accepting. To give myself double the love and tenderness and appreciation. At one point, I wrote my blog post I gained weight, so what? , and I think that's around the time where it really sunk in for me.
Fast forward to yoga teacher training in India: 4 intense weeks of physical, mental and spiritual work. At the time the effects weren't as obvious, but in retrospect I really think that this experience changed so much for me...One of the things I took away (amongst many others, read here and here) was that I was lacking routine back home. And so when I returned from Rishikesh, I signed myself up for a 6-week boot camp and haven't looked back since. I suddenly had a drive back to challenge myself and push myself physically more than ever before. Obviously, as a consequence, I started getting fitter, losing weight and body fat %. I was in a bit of a limbo though; I wanted to tone up again but felt like by having a physical goal, I was giving up on the unconditional self-love work that I had done before. I also was worried of being judged by you. My friend Hollie wrote a blog post called "It's OK to want to look your best" and it hits the hammer on the nail. What she, and myself eventually, realized is that as long as your intentions are coming from a loving place, then that's what matters. It's the WHY that counts. It's normal that we want to look our best - when we look best, we feel best. Duh. And that transpires into how good of a lover, mother, father, daughter, friend, colleague etc. we are.
18 weeks post-boot camp, and dare I say I am at my peak physical fitness again. The difference to previous times (like the "before" picture at the top of this post, where I thought I was at my-then-peak) is that I know it's sustainable. That it's healthy. That it's coming from a loving mindset and that all along I stay super in tune with my body and my mind and my needs. I am happy and healthy, and I'm not at war with my body.
I might gain weight again, I might lose more, I might not give a shit about push-ups and burpees and soft sand sprints in 2018, who knows. What I know is that 2017 taught me to be OK with the up's and down's of fitness and to respect and love my body no matter what the circumstance. And with that, I'm another step further in my journey.
But the ultimate victory is this
From walking through life half-heartedly with closed eyes to actually taking in every second of my life and living it to the fullest. Experiencing true joy, happiness, gratitude, strength, pride and at the same time being able to stay with my feelings instead of going into auto pilot and plunging into food when things get rough. The best part about it all is that I can, not only, love myself but from that self-love comes a love and willingness to give towards my partner, my family, my friends, complete strangers, that I never had before.