If you've followed me for awhile or listened to the podcasts I've been a guest on, you know that I've had a rocky relationship with food and my body. In high school I struggled with an eating disorder and throughout my college years I struggled with disordered eating, not knowing that there was any way out of the anxiety, shame, and guilt I felt around food. It wasn't until a little over a year ago that I stumbled upon Intuitive Eating. I actually blogged about the beginning stages of that learning experience here and here.
Since then, my life has changed drastically for the better. I can truly say that I live life without the fear of food. I am able to walk in freedom regarding the choices I make around food and exercise. And I am so so grateful for the change that has occurred in my actions, and more importantly, my heart. I was a prisoner, in bondage to food and what it would do to the size of my body. My life revolved around controlling my food and punishing my body with exercise. Whew! What a relief that is no longer my life!
As part of the intuitive eating process, I let go of the dieting facade. I stopped believing the lie that I could control my weight through "trying hard enough" and limiting my food choices. I realized that my constant thoughts about food, cravings for sweets, and episodes of overeating were a direct result of restricting the foods I wanted and not giving my body enough energy. I started to trust that my body would regulate its weight through regulating my appetite, cravings for food, and desires for movement. I didn't freak out when I overate because I knew my body would naturally compensate later during the day, week, or month (so I didn't have to). But I also let go of the idea of having a perfectly chiseled body with very little body fat. I had to, in a way, mourn the body that I had for so long strived to achieve. I came to realize that the only way to achieve that body was through severe restriction and agonizing time at the gym. I decided I would rather have a life and freedom over that elusive, perfect body.
Over the last year I've let go of the reigns when it comes to food and exercise. I've decreased the amount and intensity of what I do. I listen to it when its tired. I notice when something is hurting. I also listen to my cravings and eat food that satisfies my mouth, body, and mind. And as a result, my body has changed. I have gained weight and am less toned. For some of you, that idea is absolutely terrifying. It freaked me out too for 8 long years. But I've come to realize that there are more important things in life than what my body looks like. I don't even know if this current size is my body's new normal size. I'm not exactly sure where my weight is going to end up, but I am confident that it will stabilize and that whatever that weight is it will be healthy for me because I am taking care of my body.
I'm not going to say it's been the easiest or that I absolutely love my body. I've definitely had to process through these changes. And there are times that my husband has to remind me to speak truths to myself rather than the harsh lies I'm buying into. Changing the way I see my body is something that I've had to work on and will continue to work on with regards to helping me to accept my new, healthy body size. A few of my thoughts as I've been on this journey?
The first is just that. My body (and mind) are finally healthy. For the first time since I was a sophomore in high school I am finally having a period without the help of hormones. A sophomore!! Physicians never seemed to think it was a big deal, but it's obvious to me now that my body wasn't spending energy on reproduction because I wasn't giving it enough food and was exercising too intensely. My Raynauds wasn't nearly as bad this winter and my toes were so much happier :-). Additionally, my body temperature regulation is SO much better. I actually enjoy it to be a little chilly now. These are things I have to remind myself of when I start to become dissatisfied with my new extra weight. I feel so much better physically in my body now.
I've also had to come to the realization that it is unrealistic for me to expect to have the same sized body now as I did in high school. For goodness sakes! It's okay for me to have a woman's body, because that's what I am, a woman, not a girl. I refuse to feel ashamed or guilty for allowing my body to be the size it is supposed to be at this stage in life. Eating disorders often onset during adolescent years when our body's are changing and maturing. We need to do a better job of preparing girls for puberty and having different bodies and of letting them know that these new bodies are good.
When I look in the mirror and I see my now larger arms or slightly bigger love handles, I remind myself what it represents. It doesn't represent laziness, being out of control, being less valuable, a source of shame or disgust, etc. It represents my new life and all of its experiences. It represents cozy coffee dates with a friend (or by myself), spontaneous walks to braums for ice cream with my husband, going to social situations and not worrying ahead of time about the food or bringing my own, sleeping in on Saturday mornings, and trying new foods and new experiences. It represents LIFE. What a beautiful reminder to have with me all the time.
I haven't had to buy new clothes yet, but I am definitely noticing a difference in the way that my pants fit. I've been wearing more stretchy pants or tights to work because jeans are less comfortable. I plan to buy new clothes to fit my body. Unlike what our society says, I'm not "giving up" or "accepting defeat" by being okay with my new size, getting rid of too small clothing, and buying new clothes. Instead, I'm choosing to respect my body by covering it with comfortable and stylish clothes that make be feel good both physically and emotionally.
It's okay that my body has gotten bigger--I forced it to be too small for far too long. And it's okay for your body to get bigger or softer too. Being healthy doesn't mean that we have to have a certain BMI or body fat percentage. I can tell you that I am the healthiest I have ever been physically, mentally, and emotionally, and that is all the result of easing up on food and exercise and gaining weight. Being healthy does mean that I feed my body the types and amounts of foods that is right for it in that moment, that I move my body in a way that energizes, strengthens, or relaxes me, that I connect with those around me, and that I have the freedom to do the things I truly want to do because my body is no longer holding me back. How about we pursue that kind of health together, regardless of what that means our waist size will be.
P.S. Listening to Intuitive Eating podcasts such as Food Psyche, Nutrition Matters, or the Love Food podcasts and following body positive/HAES/IE people on instagram (rather than people posting pictures of themselves in bikinis 🙄) played a huge role as well!