For a good portion of my late teens and very early 20s, I was an experimental dieter and a binge eater.
I grew up in a very active—very fit—family. And while I was also active (I did sports in high school, family bike rides on weekends and water sports in the summer), as I became an adult, I was the curvy one in the family who always struggled with weight.
Sure, I wasn’t obese, but I wasn’t healthy. I had to watch what I ate while it seemed like everyone around me didn’t. I felt uncomfortable in my clothes and in my own skin. I hated seeing pictures of myself. Every time I looked in the mirror, I saw all my imperfections: My stomach wasn’t flat enough, I wasn’t skinny enough, my face was too round. I was obsessed with my weight and how I looked.
As a result, I tried tons of crash diets and extreme lifestyle changes over the years. At one point, I was tracking my calories (less than 2,000 a day, if possible) and spending at least an hour—or more—at the gym every day.
My weight was constantly fluctuating as my extreme diet and exercise commitments changed.
Self-love and body image
A few years ago, I found myself burned out on dieting and running, I was heavier than I wanted to be, and I was extremely unhappy. I had built a terrible relationship with food and fitness. I decided that if I truly wanted to change, I needed to create lasting, healthy habits. But in order to create those habits, I had to first find my “why” behind the change.
The “why” couldn’t just be “because I want to be skinny like this or that person.” It had to be because I wanted to be healthy for me. I wanted to get fit because I knew that all the crash dieting and binge eating wasn’t a healthy way to live—physically or mentally.
It had to start with self-love.
I had to learn to love and accept myself as I was and to stop comparing myself to others. Only when I accepted that my journey would look different from anyone else’s and that being skinny wouldn’t truly make me love myself more could I make lasting healthy lifestyle changes.
Here’s what I ultimately discovered: Change your relationship with your body—change the way you see yourself—and your relationship with food and fitness will follow.
It has to start with loving yourself. If you don’t love yourself, there’s no need to take care of your body. There’s no need to move your body, nourish your body or care for your mind and soul. It begins and ends with self-love.
Here are some other things I learned along my journey.
Stop comparing yourself to others
Your body is never going to look like that model or that fitness star because your body is unique to you. So stop playing the comparison game. While it can be motivational and inspirational to follow fit people on social media, you can have too much of a good thing. Try taking a social media cleanse. Spend a few days off of Instagram and instead moving your body, nourishing it with healthy food and telling yourself everything that’s amazing about you in the mirror every morning.
Depriving yourself doesn’t work
My relationship with food was awful. I thought that by depriving myself of “bad foods,” I could get the body I’d always wanted. But depriving doesn’t work. I would turn around and binge on all the things I “couldn’t have,” and I missed out on enjoying amazing foods in moderation because I was punishing myself. Now I eat mostly healthy but allow myself wiggle room for fun and occasional splurges. I eat to fuel my body, but I’ll never say no to some dark chocolate or the occasional slice of pizza because it’s OK to enjoy in moderation. I don’t let that derail my progress or obsess over every calorie.
I decided to get into a rhythm by starting small. Every day on my lunch break, I would cue up a podcast and take an hourlong walk. Eventually, these walks turned into the occasional run or a workout class at the gym. I made working out my midday reward, my mental break from work and my computer screen. I noticed that I would come back to work refreshed, re-energized and ready to tackle the rest of the day. And I never skipped a workout—because who would rather sit at their desk when they could listen to some awesome music and get a good sweat going?
Don’t beat yourself up
If you have a doughnut for breakfast, don’t say “to hell with it” and eat like crap the rest of the day. Instead, look at every day, every meal as an opportunity to start fresh. Sometimes I catch myself going over my mental food diary of my day. In those moments, I remind myself out loud that it’s OK if I had some candy after lunch or that I had pizza for dinner because those meals don’t define me—they won’t make or break me. I can choose to make my next meal healthy, and I can choose to move my body in a way that makes it better, faster and stronger.
Today, my motivation to work out comes from loving my body and wanting to take care of it. I’m also amazed by what my body is capable of—it’s so much stronger than I ever thought possible! I nourish my body with delicious, healthy food (and splurge here and there) because I want to give my body the healthy fuel it needs to function well, but I also want to enjoy life by experiencing the amazing foods out there!
Yes, I’ve lost weight and kept it off, but I honestly couldn’t tell you the exact number. All I know is that my clothes fit, my body can do some amazing things and I’m no longer dieting or bingeing. I may not be a size zero or look like a supermodel, but I feel good, I look good and I love myself exactly as I am.
Photo credit: Mikita Karasiou, Unsplash