Chances are, you’ve been hard on your body before. Perhaps you’ve had an up and down relationship with your body and food for years. Perhaps you’ve cycled between diets in an attempt to feel better about your body and ultimately about yourself. Perhaps you’ve struggled with bingeing or over-exercising. Perhaps you’ve struggled to accept your body, no matter how much it weighs. Perhaps you’ve even struggled with an eating disorder, or with disordered eating.
I hope you know that you’re not alone. I’ve been down these paths before. I’ve wished that I could have a smaller body. I’ve had a smaller body. I’ve dieted. I’ve restricted. I’ve lost and gained weight. I’ve obsessively counted my calories. I’ve run the extra miles. I’ve had panic attacks in dressing rooms. And I’ve dreaded wearing a bikini at the beach.
I once was convinced that I would find happiness once my body was “perfect.” For too long, I believed that my body was flawed, and if only I could fix it, everything else would fall into place. I spent years trying to control my weight, in the hopes that having this sense of control would bring me peace of mind. I thought that fixing my body could protect me from pain. I thought that if only I could love myself, life would be a little bit better. I thought that inner healing would occur once my body was the “right” size. I thought that my anxiety would be cured if I felt confident in my body. I thought a smaller body help me solve all of my deeper routed problems. I thought it would make me feel more loved. And somehow I believed that if I looked okay on the outside, the inside would magically fall into place.
So there I was. I couldn’t save my mom from dying of cancer, so I controlled my weight. I couldn’t handle the grief I felt when we lost her, so I put all of my thoughts into counting calories and counting miles on the treadmill. I couldn’t force my introverted self into loving college, so I tried to obtain a body I could love. I lost the weight that I had wanted to lose for so long. I reached my “goals” and had exceeded them by a long shot. But when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t feel any better about myself, or about my life. I didn’t love myself anymore. I didn’t feel any more confident. I wasn’t more loved, and I didn’t have more friends. And under all of the weight loss, I could feel the heaviness of the grief I had pushed aside and hidden away. I felt the same self-esteem issues that had weighed down on me for years. No matter how much weight I lost or how few calories I consumed, my life didn’t get any better. And I felt the same insecurities that I felt prior to the loss of weight.
It has taken my years to learn that my body was never the problem and that my body will never be the solution. It has taken me years to understand that existing doesn’t become miraculously easier if I weigh less. I’ve learned from experience that controlling my body won’t give me any more control over my life. And today, I have finally started to realize and accept that it doesn’t actually matter how big or small I am. It doesn’t actually matter what size clothes I buy, or how I look in the mirror. What matters above all is that I accept this body. That I accept the softness and the stretchmarks. That I accept that while this may not be the body I wish I had, it’s the body that I have been given. And with that being said, I now know that this body that I’m in deserves compassion and kindness. It deserves respect.
And if I’m being honest, sometimes when I get dressed, I still panic, thinking that my clothes make me look wide or “bulky.” I still completely panic in dressing rooms from time to time when I see my reflection in those daunting mirrors. And when I step out of the shower, my appearance in the mirror still startles me. I wonder, Is that really what I look like? Sometimes I can’t help but want to hide this “new” softer body from the world. Sometimes I feel like it would be much easier to run back to the body that I used to have, the body that I had even just a few pounds ago. A body I could feel safer in. Sometimes I still feel that if only I lost just a few pounds, I would feel more comfortable. If I just lost those few pounds, I wouldn’t have to worry about others judging me for gaining weight. But deep down I know that having a body that is even only slightly smaller is not possible for me right now. Because shrinking my body is not worth sacrificing my mental health.
So I’m not going to go back to that body. I’m not going to try to lose any weight. Because the real work that I have to do is the work on the inside, not the outside. It has nothing to do with calories or scales. It has nothing to do with the size of my waist or the lines on my legs. No, the real work is accepting who I am as a person, and understanding that my body is just a body. Nothing more, nothing less.
The process of learning to accept this body, exactly as it is, has given me more freedom. It’s given me more space to live. Now I know that it’s okay to eat ice cream when I am craving ice cream, rather than restricting so much that I “accidentally” binge on something late at night. It’s okay to have a glass of wine while watching The Bachelor and to not feel any guilt about it. It’s okay to split an appetizer with my friends without freaking out about gaining weight. It’s okay to eat a hearty brunch out, and then still eat two more “regular” meals that day (or more if I’m hungry). It’s okay to exercise in a way that feels good to my body, and it’s also okay to take days off from exercising if I’m just not in the mood.
So for you, if you are struggling with your body image – know that as hard as it is to hear, the truth is, being smaller or losing weight won’t actually make you any happier. Losing weight won’t change how you feel about yourself deep down. It won’t change how others feel about you, especially the people who care about you and love you. Your body is the least interesting part of you. You don’t have to think your body is beautiful or perfect. You don’t have to be completely head over heels in love with your body for you to be okay. You just need to know that your body is worthy of being appreciated and accepted, at any shape or size. Your body is just a body. Your body is remarkable, but your heart, your thoughts, and your beautiful mind are the most important. And the battle to lose weight is certainly not worth the toll it will take on your mental health.
Controlling your food and your body won’t give you control over your life. It won’t reduce your anxiety or heal your pain. It won’t protect you from hurt, and it won’t make you a better person. It won’t fix your life. But being in touch with your heart and mind? This is where the real magic will happen.
Know that making peace with your body takes time.
But you will get there.
We both will.