The Struggle With Body Image

In March, my husband and I decided to try an eating plan called Whole30. To break it down as simply as possible, you go thirty days without consuming sugar, dairy, grains, or legumes.  Not even a single bite. If you cheat, you start over. For those thirty days, you focus on meats, eggs, vegetables, some fruit (though it's optional), and healthy fats like avocado.

It was hard. Oh lord, was it hard. We were instructed not to weigh or measure ourselves even once during the 30 days, but we were encouraged to weigh and measure ourselves before and after to see what the 30 days did for us. So on Day 1, I weighed myself for the first time in many months. I'd hit a record high for my weight: I'd broken 200 pounds, and my heart fell.

You see, there's a reason I don't weigh myself: I begin to obsess about my weight. I get anxiety. I can't stop thinking about it. I worry. And some might say that's a good thing -- that by knowing what I weigh and worrying about it, I might stay in better control of it. Unfortunately, that's not the case: it takes an emotional toll on me, it causes me lots of stress, and in the end, it makes me eat more.

And let's be honest: the number on the scale is not an accurate measurement of anything except the force your body exerts on whatever is underneath it. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean we don't put pressure on ourselves (see what I did there?) to be at a certain number. When I saw that number on the scale, I was thankful that I was beginning a diet anyway that would help lower that number and that I didn't have to obsess about it. Most other times, I'm not so lucky. So I don't weigh myself.

The truth is, I've always had a healthy appetite to say the least, and a major sweet tooth. I'm not a terribly active person, so the combination of all of these things has resulted in a steady and consistent weight gain since high school. I've had various stints of working out consistently (Stickk is the only thing that motivates me, and even then it's not 100% guaranteed) and I've gone on Weight Watchers countless times (again, it's the only thing that really works for me diet-wise). But I always fail to sustain diet & exercise, because the truth is that my issue, right down at the core of it, is emotional.

We've all heard of emotional eating, and I'm not a nutritionist or a psychiatrist, so I'm not going to get into the details about emotional eating. Let's just say that this Weight Watchers commercial just about sums it up. :) But the emotional part of it is so much more than that I eat when I'm feeling (fill in theblank);it's about how I feel about what I'm doing.I started to realize a few years ago that I was never going to change my body by hating it so much. For some people, that works: you see something you don't like, and it's enough motivation to change it. For me, it's enough motivation to eat to make myself feel better. My weight and my eating habits were directly related to the things I said to myself every day, and the thoughts I had when I looked in the mirror.

So about two years ago, I decided I wanted to change that. I was tired of looking in the mirror and hating what I saw. I didn't hate it because it was something worth hating; I hated it because somewhere along the line I had defined for myself what was worth loving and what was worth hating, and apparently by the standards I (with the major influence of society) had created, my body didn't fall into the category of "worth loving." And one day, I realized how dumb that was.

There's no real standard for what defines "beautiful" the way there is for what defines "blue" or "cold". There is only what we have all decided in our own heads is beautiful or not beautiful. I decided that I didn't need to change my body to fit a particular definition of "beautiful"; I needed to change my personal definition of "beautiful" to include my body. So for two years, that's what I've been doing.

I can't say there's any real trick to it, except to catch myself thinking or saying something negative about myself, and trying to change my perspective. It helps to actually try to see myself the way I think other people see me (by way of how I see other people). I can think of a few people I know or have known who are, by society's definitions, "overweight." But when I think about them, I don't zero in on their size. Who they are to me is defined primarily by their personality. They are each a whole; their bodies are only parts of that whole. So I can only assume (hope) that other people see me the same way. When I say something to make someone laugh, I don't think it's affected by the cellulite on my thighs or the stomach roll above the waistline of my jeans. And if it is, if there is someone out there who judges who I am because of the size of my thighs or my jiggly arms, then the problem is with them and not me.

Over the last year is when I've made the most progress in actually liking what I see in the mirror without having changed it. I used to think that if my clothes didn't fit me, I needed to lose weight. Now I think that if my clothes don't fit me, I need to buy clothes that fit me. Because I can be beautiful even if I am a size 12. Even if I weigh 200 pounds. Even if I don't have makeup on. Even if my hair is dirty. (So can you!) And as a side effect from this new way I've started to see myself, I've started to see everyone else differently. Everyone is more beautiful to me, because there is love in every inch of every person.

I hope I haven't made this process I've been going through seem easy, or finished. It takes a long time to really change your perspective on something... to train your brain to have a different automatic response. The progress I've made in the past two years has been huge, but there's still so much ground to cover. I still have days when I'm weighed down by the thought that I will probably never be skinny. I still have days when nothing in my closet fits me right and I just feel bad about myself at work all day, so aware of each lump and roll on my body at which I'm sure everyone is staring. I still have days when I think it's a good idea to commit to nothing but water, coffee, and gum all day to make up for how much I ate the day before.

But what I've learned about myself is that no positive results come from negative thoughts. Positive results only come from love, and I am happier now than I was two years ago. So I'm going to keep pushing through the bad days and learning how to love every part of myself.

If you struggle with anything even remotely similar to what I do and you want to talk about it, please please contact me! I'm no shrink or nutritionist, I'm just someone going through something similar to what you might be going through. Sometimes it helps to chat about it. :)

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