This is for the running enthusiasts, the calorie counters, the be fit, eat right lovers out there. And if you're none of these, this is still important and still empowering.
I was never really that self-conscious about my body until my sophomore year of college - the year after I gained the dreaded "freshman 15." My mom noticed the weight I gained. I noticed it too, and I wanted to get back in shape, but it wasn't really that big of a deal to me. To her, it was a big deal. She had been overweight my whole life. She always stressed the importance of being active and staying healthy to me. This wasn't only because she was overweight and didn't want me to live the same way - it was also because she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and knew the frustration of not being able to physically do certain things because her body wouldn't let her. After she was diagnosed with MS, my mom made sure to exercise everyday to keep gaining strength while she still could.
My mom had a personal trainer at the gym, Laurie, who she talked to about me. She told Laurie how I had gained weight and wanted to get back in shape, so Laurie offered to help me via e-mail with my diet and workouts. It was like a free personal trainer - it was awesome!
And that's where it all started. I began logging my workouts and counting all of my calories every single day to send to Laurie. I started running to train for my first 5K, and eventually for my first half marathon. I would send Laurie pictures of myself in a swimsuit every month to show her my progress. I felt myself getting stronger and I saw myself losing weight. I lost 20 pounds and I looked the best I ever looked. I was obsessed with my progress.
It wasn't long before it all started getting to my head. When I first started seeing results, all I could feel was a sense of accomplishment. Then suddenly, all I could feel was failure. I couldn't lose those last 5 pounds. I couldn't get into those size 4 jeans. I remember crying and throwing a fit because I ate a piece of cake and I wasn't supposed to be eating junk food. I was less social, skipping out on dinner with my friends because I didn't want to be tempted and go over my calories. I was a mess.
Eventually, I stopped counting calories and stopped running as much, and when I did, the weight crept back on. So I'd try counting calories again or try a new diet, start running again, try a new workout plan. It would all go good for a few months, but then I'd quit and gain weight again. I was always going back to square one.
It wasn't until I read about intuitive eating that I learned to just RELAX. I learned to allow myself to eat what my body craved, and lose the diet mentality. When I let go of that mentality, I let go of the negative thoughts. And when I let go of the negative thoughts, I didn't feel like I needed to workout to lose weight anymore - I just wanted to workout to feel healthy and strong.
I still make a conscious effort to eat better and get exercise, but I'm no longer working out to fit into a certain size of jeans - I workout because I like it and it makes me feel strong. I don't feel bad when I eat something bad - I eat what I want to eat because I enjoy it. I don't run to lose weight - I run because I can, because I have the ability to. I have this gift that some people don't have - people like my mom who live with MS.
I once read somewhere that your body is the only place you HAVE to live in. Maybe it's not the nicest looking place to live... maybe it's missing some features, but one thing I know for sure is that I'd much rather live in it being happy as it is than being unhappy with what it isn't. So my advice to everyone who is struggling with their body image is to stop. Relax. Appreciate your body for what it is, what it's capable of, and find peace to make yourself at home.
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