I used to spend a lot of time feeling unhappy, but I didn’t really know it. It’s hard to be thoroughly happy when you spend so much time criticizing the way you look. It’s also hard when you’re looking to other people to determine your worth, especially when you believe your worth has everything to do with your appearance.
Back then I also thought dieting was the answer. A lot of people do. I love a challenge! So if I just limit my food choices or my macros, I’ll hit my “goals” and all will be wonderful.
Can we talk about goals for a minute? What are these goals? To be a certain weight? A certain body fat percentage? And then what?
Some of the best words of wisdom I’ve ever heard on the topic are this: If you spend all your time being critical of yourself, you’re not simply going to stop when you reach a certain weight. All you’ll have done is practiced being critical. Nothing will ever be good enough because you’ll always be on the hunt for more satisfaction and validation. On the other hand, you have the option to start loving yourself now and determining your goals from there.
But I wasn’t quite there yet. So I would diet, and I’m disciplined so I would reach my goals. I’d see a certain number on the scale and take progress pictures and look at myself in the mirror more and more. I’d get words of encouragement and affirmation, and it’d feel great. Actually, it felt more than great because my worth was in my appearance. I was finally feeling worthy.
The problem was that my starting weight was already healthy, so my goal weight at 15lbs lighter was pretty lean. To maintain this “is this really my body?” weight meant I’d have to be in a constant state of dieting. For life. And I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but most of this blog is about food. High-calorie, glorious food.
So if lifelong restrictive calories are out, that leaves the million-dollar question: what happens after I’ve reached my goal weight? There are only three possible scenarios: I continue to lose weight, I maintain it, or I gain weight. The first two options are out due to their need for long term, continued calorie restriction, so that leaves door #3.
Tell a woman who’s just dieted solely for the purpose of “looking lean” that she’s now going to gain weight, and you’ll probably notice that she’s not happy to hear it. But with that as my only option, I slowly worked my calories back up. The initial few pounds were hard to take. There goes my worth.
I spent the next two years battling between “the lean that once was” and living a happy, social life. No weight or body fat percentage was ever good enough because it wasn’t what it used to be. At times I’d be content and go about life as a newly engaged 24-year-old woman, and then I’d mull over how I needed to cut weight again. Up and down: my mood, my weight, my outlook, my motivation. It didn’t matter that to the rest of the world I essentially looked the same. I was hypercritical and it was disheartening. Not just for myself, but for the people who love me.
Then I realized that the cycle was never going to stop. I love enjoying dinner with my husband and cooking with my family. I love cocktails and I bake like it’s my job. To have all these things in my life, either I needed to learn to love myself now or I needed to accept this slightly miserable state. Being miserable is not an option for me. That was Phase 1.
Phase 2: I focused on my abilities instead of my appearance. As soon as I set goals that had nothing to do with the way I looked, other things, like my abilities, started taking their place on my priority list.
Phase 3: I stopped thinking about what other people are thinking about. To some my thighs might be too big, and I definitely have cellulite. These things are mine for life, so we’re going to get along.
Phase 4: I did things for my health. Because at the end of the day, being healthy is important to me. So now when I do cardio, my motivation is health rather than calorie burn.
Phase 5: I approached food with balance. I stopped labeling foods as “bad” or off-limits, and I do my best to give my body what my body needs: micronutrients, protein, fuel, wine, and ice cream.
Phase 6: I practice and repeat. Because you don’t just have to try on day one. These mental changes don’t happen overnight, and every day presents its own challenges. I still slip back into old thought patterns, but now it’s much easier to remind myself how I got here.
I’m not going to say that I’m never critical of my body anymore because that’s a hard habit to kick. But the words towards myself have gotten kinder and I remember that the way I look will eternally be the least fascinating thing about me. I know my own worth and I know it’s not found in the amount of body fat I do or don’t have. I love myself so I take care of myself. I am no longer flooded with feelings of inadequacy because of how I look that day. For the first time in my life I am truly satisfied.