Twinkies, diet coke, baby carrots, frozen pizzas and the occasional visit to Taco Bell were some of the staples of my diet throughout high school. While I was able to run relatively smoothly and maintain a fit body in my teens, my 20’s began to see the downfall of what was once a speedy metabolism.
My whole adult life has felt like a constant battle with weight and yo-yo-ing up and down 40-50 pounds over the last few decades. I’ve gained and lost through two pregnancies, a divorce, over compensating by becoming a triathlete, gaining it back through stress eating, going back to grad school, sprinkled with years of off and on depression and struggling at life in general as a single mom. You name it, I have gained and lost weight throughout life experiences .
To make my self-esteem plummet further, my mom always pushed me into the latest fad diet due to her concern of my expanding waistline. Although she meant well and at times I found success, most instances added stress and self-deprecation.
The messaging I received from family, the media and social constructs broken down to its most simplest essence was: thin=good, fat=bad. If I was not thin, then I could not have what I wanted in life. No one would ever love me at my heaviest weight. How could I ever be successful with plus sized pants?
I tried all of the fake till you make it affirmations including the hardest to swallow, “I love my body at any weight.” I could stare in the mirror, pretending I was ok with how I looked, but in reality it was a lie that I could no longer force upon myself to believe.
The worst part of this journey is that I never wanted to impart my body image beliefs and issues onto my daughters. I tried to hide my emotional eating struggles so they wouldn’t adopt those habits. I hid food, finished their meals to avoid overeating and other partook in other neurotic preventative behaviors.
As you can very well guess, that completely backfired. Not only have they inherited my emotional eating struggles, but they face the same self-image judgments and self deprecating thoughts.
Even now as I try to impart the message of you are perfect as is, I hear the words of my mother coming through my brain—“I’m just concerned about you. If you could just eat a little better and exercise more, you’d feel better.” This does not help!
How can a person have a positive self-image when the first comment out of so many people’s mouths is how much weight a so and so has gained (or lost) or how sad it must be for them?
Why does weight have to be the first identifier for a person?
Why can’t the focus be on how a person is struggling emotionally and could possibly use some support? Even complimenting someone for losing weight can have create a hurtful response, as if the hidden message is the person looked bad before, but now looks much better after thinning out.
So the question is, with all of these years of programming and messaging, how do we break the cycle? How do we create a loving relationship with our bodies when society stills messages that thin is the goal?
The first step is to truly start honoring our bodies as the temple it is designed to be. Approaching this from a spiritual perspective and recognizing that your body is the vessel that houses your soul allows us to detach from a stories that the body is anything less than sacred. Would you walk into a sacred space, church or temple and throw trash around, kick the sculptures or graffiti to the walls?
Rather than focusing on shape and size, try focusing on how your body best supports you or how it runs. What type of movement allows relief from aches and pains? I know when I go through spurts of inactivity, the mid-life creaks and tightness start to infiltrate my lower back, neck and shoulders. By approaching exercise as a means to reduce pain and allow for better movement and flexibility, I find my mindset shifts from unrealistic expectations of how it should look into how I want to feel. Regardless of what shifts are visible, my mindset instantly improves when my temple is being honored in this loving way. Long gone are the days on needing to pound the pavement with intensity. Find movement you love! It does not have to be traditional exercise by any means. Belly dancing has become a new favorite.
Next, ask what are the best types of fuel you can give your body to help it function smoothly? Does it run better on whole or less processed food or are there other things you can eliminate? It has taken me years to create full acceptance that certain foods make me feel sick or foggy. Would you give someone you love food that you knew could make them sick? Then stop doing it to yourself! Feed your body nourishing food fuels you not only physically, but spiritually as well.
Along with this concept is the idea to stop counting calories and sugar intake. While this may work for some, more often it creates shame and guilt, especially when you can’t stay within whatever daily or weekly range you have set for yourself. Even thinking about sugar and calorie intake all day can cause so much more stress, it can actually have the opposite effect, especially as you age, by increasing cortisol production.
This hormone release can cause and bloated belly and overall water retention. While reducing sugar might very well be a big factor in fueling your body, start the focus on adding vs. eliminating. For instance, instead of attempting to avoid sugar all day, try adding three vegetables or fruit. For most people veggie intake is always something that can be improved upon, especially darker leafy greens. Make it something you love and are not forcing upon yourself. If you’re not a fan of kale, don’t pretend to be. You’ll only end up resenting kale and maybe some of counterparts.
Lastly, give your body daily gratitude for serving and supporting you throughout your life. Take a moment to reflect upon all the magnificent things it has done, places it has taken you, feats you have accomplished together. Admire all of your scars, stretch marks and baby pouches for the purpose they have served. Take the time in a bath or shower to love every inch of your body, thanking it for its support as you lovingly lather up with soap. Embrace the idea that your body is where it is meant to be at this point in your existence. It may fluctuate from year to year, but so does life. Why should our temple be anything separate from that notion.
Is this a process? Absolutely! Will it take time? Most likely. After all, it took years of cultural brainwashing to get you to this point. It may take some time to unlearn these stories, but that is what they are…mere stories. Allowing yourself to embrace the sacredness of your body is the gateway to acceptance, regardless of your shape, age or size.