In honor of “Change the Way you See Not the Way you Look” week hosted by Operation Beautiful, I wanted to take the opportunity to post my story about my journey with body image and self love. I never had an eating disorder that endangered my health but accepting my body as it is hasn’t always been easy.
I participated in dance recreationally from the time I was three years old and sports starting in elementary school. During these years, my weight or the way I looked never crossed my mind. I was average height and size compared with my classmates even a bit taller than some.
When I was thirteen I became a vegetarian and as I entered high school I started to become more aware of how I looked. Somewhere along the way, my classmates had surpassed me in height and I had become what was described as “petite.” Being petite gets both negative and positive attention and little did I know this label for a body type I could not control would define me as the years went on.
As a freshman in high school, I joined a health club and for the first time in my life started exercising three times a week and loved the way it made me feel. I ate whatever I wanted in moderation but I was very thin and had a desire to maintain this look … if only I had known how.
When I went away to college, my days lacked structure and I found it hard to adjust. I continued to exercise and started becoming very focused on the number on the scale afraid of reaching the “three digit numbers.” Regardless of this fear, I knew littls about healthy eating. I was still eating a vegetarian diet but was influenced by the food available in the dining halls, in the college town where I attended college and by my friends’ eating habits. Needless to say, I ate a lot of grilled cheese and french fries, chocolate chip cookies and ice cream/frozen yogurt. Greens and whole grains were not top of mind. I had also taken up drinking at frat parties and late-night snacking.
By my junior year, I had gained about ten pounds and didn’t feel good about myself. I compared myself to other girls on campus who were smart, pretty and thin. I moved into my sorority house that year and things didn’t get much better. I ate most of my meals there which in all likelihood were not very healthy. The salad bar was minimal and there were desserts galore! To add insult to injury, our house mother left the kitchen open around the clock so we could have access to it whenever we pleased. Raw cookie dough after a long night out at the bars, anyone? I began to obsess over how many calories I ate and how many I burned. It consumed my thoughts constantly and when I went to sleep at night I would play over exactly what I ate that day scolding myself and vowing to do better the next day. It became a constant cycle of worry and shame.
When I moved out of the house my senior year and into my own apartment, I joined a fancy health club which was just around the corner from where I lived and took up running (!), pilates and boxing. I shed the pounds and although my junk food vegetarian diet was still partly intact, I did my own grocery shopping and generally felt better about how I looked. I began to gaina sense of control over my health and feel fit.
I continued to watch the number on the scale and throughout my twenties became addicted to exercise hitting the gym six and sometimes seven days per week, often twice a day. When I missed a workout, the negative self talk started. Also during my early twenties, I developed hips and began to realize that I had in fact been “cursed” with a skinny top half and curvy bottom half. At that point, I decided I hated my body because no matter how much exercise I did, I couldn’t get rid of my hips.
After spending a decade and a half as a junk-food vegetarian and raging sugar addict all the while hating my figure, I began my love affair with whole foods and nutrition in 2006, a year after moving to NYC. Aside from having whipped up some mac and cheese or slice-and-bake chocolate chip cookies in my time, I could hardly find my way around a kitchen.
With my hand-me-down pots and pans and a new but inexpensive vegetable steamer in tow, I slowly began to reclaim my health. Starting simply with grilled fish (I added fish back into my diet in 2005) and steamed vegetables, it wasn’t long before I forayed into fancier recipes to add some variety and flavor. I learned that you don’t have to be Rachel Ray to make a healthy, satisfying and even impressive meal. However, my love affair with sweet treats continued to plague me. When sugar and I were together, I had little self control. I needed something sweet after every meal and I often substituted sugar for real food. Think, Pinkberry for dinner.
I tried everything from artificial sweeteners to quitting cold turkey. The sweeteners only caused bloating and the deprivation more intense cravings for what I told myself I couldn’t have. During this time, I was looking for love in what literally seemed like all the wrong places. Overwhelmed by heart break after heart break I desperately sought fulfilment in my life — from a man, my career, myself.
After hitting rock-bottom one evening several months into my thirties, I decided I needed a lifestyle makeover. Unsure of where to start, I continued on my stuck-in-a-rut path until one night I attended a talk that led me to a group of women who showed me how to change my perceptions not only about myself but about the world. When I retrained my mind, I retrained my sight and slowly began to fall in love with myself. When I fell in love with myself, I fell in love with a man (my soul mate) and a career I am passionate about.
It’s a daily practice that takes lots of effort to love my body the way it is but I always try to live by this motto: Treat yourself as you would a loved one. Staying true to this motto means that I eat healthy foods, listen to my body, exercise in a balanced way, rest when I need it, get plenty of speep, drink lots of water and speak kindly to myself.
Training for triathlons and marathons has made my journey toward self love much easier for me. Using my body to complete races of physical endurance makes me more aware of the beauty in its strength and capabilities.
I’m grateful for the people in my life who support my inner beauty and allow me to share it outwardly and for movements like Operation Beautiful for its role in changing the way women all over the world choose to see themselves.
In love and health,