I Love My New Body!
You may be wondering if I’ve tried a new diet. Perhaps you think I’ve been hitting the gym extra hard. And if you really don’t know me, maybe you’re wondering if I got some plastic surgery. The truth is about as far from any of those as you can imagine. As a matter of fact, I’ve gained weight recently. My belly, never flat to begin with, protrudes further from my body than ever (except during the two times I was pregnant). My thighs jiggle a little more, as the florets of cauliflower-like cellulite define them. My upper arms wiggle just a little more. My butt — well, it’s just bigger. Many of my clothes, including my favorite pair of jeans, don’t fit. By all medical standards, with my recent weight gain, I am now well in the range of being overweight. (Though I stopped weighing myself a while back, I have definitely gained significant weight since the last time I did weigh myself, at which point I was already at the top end of a “normal” weight for someone of my height.)
So, you may be asking, have I gone mad? What is there to love about flab? Cellulite? Loose, jiggly flesh? Well, it’s part of me. That’s what’s to love about it. I have spent years trying hard to achieve a body I have never had, but thought I was supposed to. Nearly my whole life in fact. I have tried all the standard tricks, and some not-so-standard tricks to try and mold my body into the shape most of us consider to be ideal. But I hated the deprivation of dieting, and therefore only rarely even came close to reaching what is considered to be my “ideal” weight. Even when I did reach what was close to my “ideal” I was not happy with my body and surprised at how much more I thought I had to lose in order to reach that ideal. My disordered eating habits ranged from my on-again, off-again relationships with Weight Watchers, to starvation and purging. I do love to exercise, but felt consumed by the numbers game, and the feeling that I could never get ahead. My whole life, despite all my efforts to change my body, a tiny but strong part of my inner being refused to give in and allow me to succeed in this game so many of us play, and as a result I spent years feeling disgruntled about my body at best, and hating it — feeling utterly disgusted by it — at worst.
It never mattered that my husband has loved me AND my body unconditionally throughout our entire 16 year-relationship. Even after gaining 50 pounds during my first pregnancy, he couldn’t keep his hands off me. It has never mattered that my body was strong enough to carry and nourish two children in my womb and by my breast. Even my good health wasn’t enough to convince me that I had a body worth being proud of. After completing my first triathlon, I couldn’t stop worrying about how I looked in my wet suit, and I was hesitant to share pictures of myself in my bike shorts.
Even as I was telling others to love and accept their bodies — statements I made with full conviction — I could not accept and love my own. And then, after many forces converged at once, I began my own journey towards self acceptance. Instead of trying to change my body, I decided to change how I feel about my body. My first source of inspiration was the women in my life. So many women judge themselves entirely by their bodies. Nevermind that my friends are successful, beautiful women. Because their bodies don’t meet an arbitrary societal ideal of beautiful, they cannot feel good about themselves. And yet, every time I look at them, I see nothing but pure beauty on the inside and out, and it breaks my heart to know they can’t see it, and find something to admire about themselves. But how was I going to convince them of what I could see in them, if I couldn’t see it in myself. I was doing myself AND the women in my life a great disservice by refusing to love my body. That had to change.
My second source of inspiration was Jenni Schaefer, author of Life Without Ed. As a recovered anorexic, no one understands what it’s like to hate your body more than Jenni does. Talking to her inspired me to find the same kind of self acceptance that allowed her to overcome her eating disorder and live a normal life with a healthy relationship towards food and her body — something I fully believed I was incapable of myself. During the course of our interview, she mentioned a book called Intuitive Eating.
Unconvinced that I would ever be able to let go of my food and body obsessions, I doubted Intuitive Eating would have any more of a lasting effect than the honeymoon phase of a new diet or exercise routine would have. Desperate for anything, however, I figured I had nothing to lose by reading the book, and of course, I thought it would provide good material for VenusVision. As I read it though, I immediately recognized myself in the types of eaters/dieters they identify in the book. It’s been a long time since I identified myself as someone “on a diet”. Instead I insisted that I was focused on good health and making good choices. But really, as the book revealed to me, it was just my own trickery to avoid telling myself I really was on a diet.
After reading the first few chapters, I decided I was going to fully commit myself to becoming an intuitive eater, and this book became the third force in my life guiding me down the path of self acceptance. I wasn’t looking for a quick fix. I was looking for normalcy and became dedicated to achieving it. But a huge part of forming a healthy relationship with food is also having one with your body. While reading Intuitive Eating, it became clear that you cannot pick and choose which elements of the philosophy you will follow and which ones you won’t. It’s all or nothing, and finding ways to love and appreciate your body is a big component of the work — and yes, it is work.
So I set about trying to determine what it was that made me feel so negatively about my body and then reject those arguments. The first thing I did was stop comparing myself to others, in any respect. The beauty of the human race is that we are each so dramatically different. The variety in our species is endless. So why limit myself to trying to be something I never have been and was not genetically programmed to be. I don’t try every day to force my feet into a smaller size shoe thinking that will make me more attractive. So why do the same thing for my body?
The second thing I did was really evaluate why being thin had become so important to me. Ultimately, what would it accomplish? Sure, it might have led to short-term happiness based on reaching a superficial ideal, but how much would I have had to give up in the process? Would my husband love me more for it? Would my children respect me for it? Would I be more successful if I whipped myself into a disciplined frenzy of limited eating and excessive exercise? Maybe if I was aspiring to be a model or actress, but I’m not. So I let go of the ideal.
Instead, my ideal is truly optimal health and I no longer deceive myself that thinness is an indicator of optimal health. In fact, I have pretty much already reached a level of optimal health. My cholesterol levels are good, my blood pressure is low, and my cardio vascular fitness generally ranges from good to excellent. I am strong, I work out regularly, and I eat a healthy balanced diet. And even better, as a result of my shift, I never feel deprived. Yes, I eat whatever I want but that isn’t the same thing as eating poorly. I am learning to listen more to my body, and by giving myself permission to eat anything I want (one of the principles of Intuitive Eating) the lure of many foods hasdissipated . While I mostly eat foods with high nutritional values, I also have my fair share of food with no redeeming nutritional value. But I mostly eat them only when I really want them, and generally I crave the foods that make my body feel its best. I have found that as my relationship with my body has improved, I am more aware of which foods make me feel good physically and which ones make me feel lousy, and just like after a night of heavy drinking that leads to a hangover and the profession that you won’t do ‘that’ again, when I eat food that makes me feel rotten, I don’t want to repeat the experience.
My attitude towards exercise has also changed, and I no longer feel an obligation to work out, burning X number of calories each week. That’s not to say that I’ve stopped exercising. In fact, I have a renewed love for exercise. But much like my attitude towards eating, I stick mostly to activities I genuinely enjoy, and I have learned to focus on how physical activity makes me feel both during and after exercise. While I am working out, I work on reaching what Abby Lentz of Heavyweight Yoga refers to as the point of ’sweet discomfort’, where I am making progress in my fitness, but not at the expense of my physical health by pushing too far or not enough. At times, when my alarm goes off at 5:00 am to get to an early morning class at the gym, I may have a moment where I resist getting up. But like the lure of a drug, I get fixated on achieving that euphoric feeling that comes from a good work out and within a minute or two, I am up and getting ready. The flip side of that is, however, that if I don’t go, instead choosing to sleep in, I don’t let guilt overcome me. I allow that my body needed more rest that day and I was listening to my body by getting more rest rather than pushing my body beyond what is best for it.
Last year, I had the opportunity to attend a congressional hearing on eating disorders featuring a panel of experts on the subject. At one point, I asked the panel how we as a society are supposed to reconcile the growing obesity epidemic and all of the health issues associated with it with the obvious need to love our bodies. The response I got was that when you love your body … truly love it, you want to treat it well. That means not filling it full of junk food and sitting on the sofa all day because really, that says you don’t give a crap about your body and how it feels. But it also doesn’t mean starving it which in the end isn’t really any better. My path to self acceptance is ongoing. But in sharing my experience with you, I really hope that it can help you figure out what you need to do find peace with your body and take steps to show your love to the most important thing you have.