Lately, I've gotten emails from girls talking about how they are struggling with loving themselves, being comfortable with their body, anxiety over food, etc. The stories that break my heart because I've been there, and some days I'm there myself. There is no instant cure or solution even though I wish there was, not for myself but for other girls who might be struggling.
I will never claim that I have all the answers but everything that I share on this blog is from my own personal experience. I know I'm no expert but as I've said before if you need someone to talk to please don't hesitate to reach out. We can be so much stronger if we come together!
With that being said, I wanted to write a post about how I started my own journey to being more comfortable with my body, and actually getting to a point where most days I love my body, exactly as it is. I can say without hesitation that it took me a solid year to get to this point. I was just starting my journey last September and only in October of this year can I say that I'm feeling the strongest mentally that I ever have in my life. I'm not at my goal yet but I'm still on my way.
I said there's no instant solution but the first step can be simple enough in theory:
1. Be nice to yourself.
It sounds silly and insignificant, right? But think about it. Would you say some of the things that you've said to yourself to someone you love? Like your sister, mom, aunt, cousin, friend, grandma or anyone else that you care about for that matter? Of course not!
So why would you say it to yourself? Someone you are supposed to love and care about, too.
The day I decided to be nice to myself is the day where things started to change. Yes, it went SLOWLY, and some days I felt as though I had taken two steps back. But I started to make progress where I never had before. I stopped telling myself that I was fat, that I wasn't pretty, that the number on the scale wasn't low enough, I stopped standing in front of the mirror picking out every single little flaw that I wanted to change about myself. Instead, I stood in front of the mirror and forced myself to pick out things I liked about myself. I'll admit in the beginning I felt like I was being insincere, that I was just going through the motions of the exercise. It took a conscious effort for me to make these changes because wearing myself down on a daily basis was a regular habit.
But little by little, those small changes started to add up. When you start decreasing the number of times you say something mean to yourself, when you start seeing the things you like about yourself rather than your flaws, then pretty soon the changes will be apparent.
Two of my biggest supporters! :)
2. Food is fuel
After I started being nice to myself, I began changing my perception of food. Think about it this way: your body needs food to properly function (I mean, duh) but for so long I saw food as the enemy. If you want your metabolism to perform and your body to be able to do its job, then you need to FEED IT. I would not be able to lift what I can in the gym or hit new PRs without giving my muscles what they need a.k.a. fuel!
What I did is I took a step back and looked at my body objectively. As the biological miracle that it is, and exactly what it needed in order for me to reach my goals. I looked at myself and started to appreciate what a gift and treasure it is to be alive, moving, breathing, as an independent living being. When you start to look at yourself that way, as a delicate creation, suddenly those societal ideals seem so trivial and pointless. The human body is amazing and we need to treat it with respect, and that means taking proper care of ourselves. I used that as a reminder when I felt a binge coming on and desperately wanted to consume all those "forbidden foods". I knew my body wouldn't be happy with me because your body craves homeostasis, it needs things to remain consistent and balanced. That is the key to repairing any metabolism, and I had to keep that in mind.
I wanted to respect my body and nourish it. That meant stopping all the binging and restricting that was only wrecking my metabolism and thereby impeding my goals.
3. Don't Place Limits
Once I had a more positive grasp on food, I made the switch to IIFYM, and stopped restricting myself from any foods. For close to two years, I saw certain foods as "banned, forbidden, bad" etc. I mean any label you want to place on them meaning that they weren't allowed. When I started to slowly incorporate those foods back, I realized I felt less inclined to binge because I was allowed to have those foods whenever I wanted.
I made the switch to IIFYM because it gave me mental freedom and I felt less guilty about incorporating "naughty" foods. I learned that an Oreo or cupcake every once in a while wasn't going to kill me. It wasn't going to make me gain 50 pounds over night or ruin all my hard work.
I still eat whole and organic foods a majority of my day but every once in a while I allow myself to try incorporating those foods I once thought I could never eat again. In the beginning, I had to get rid of a lot of those trigger foods but as I got stronger mentally, I could slowly bring them back in one food at a time. Right now in my pantry I have Oreos, cookie butter, pumpkin bagels, marshmallow fluff, tortilla chips, graham crackers, about 5 different flavors of whipped peanut butters, dark chocolate, and I ran out of things off the top of my head. The point is, I have access to those foods but I don't always eat them. The huge thing for me at this point is that I can have them around but not have the irresistible urge to gobble them all up.
Don't worry, I have the chocolate one too ;)
The reason I can do that is I know that I'm allowed to have them when I want them. All I do is look at my macros for the next day and fit in those fun foods. It's no longer the mentality of "I have to eat all of this right now because I won't be able to eat them later when I go back to being 'clean'." It's all about finding balance and what works for you. I know people who do IIFYM while still following Paleo and each week they allow themselves a non-Paleo meal, and it works for them!
4. Workouts are a reward for your body, not a punishment
I have always loved exercise and being active. I am a runner to my core who just happened to also find out that I love to lift as well! For me, exercise has always been an important part of my life as a healthy outlet to reduce stress. Before I began restricting, I absolutely loved my runs. They were therapeutic and allowed me to escape the pressures of my schoolwork. Once I began restricting food, though, and feared gaining weight, I saw running and working out as a means to keep the weight coming off.
Eventually, I used running and workouts as a means of punishment on my body. For whatever I ate or didn't eat, I forced myself to work out extra or run extra miles. My body was wearing down and getting tired but I wouldn't listen to it. I began to dread my runs because I was exhausted so they ended up being terrible but I would force myself to keep running. I would tell myself that if I didn't run the extra miles that I would be fat or if it was after a binge I told myself that I deserved it, that it was what I got after eating those foods.
Once I began properly fueling my body, had a more positive perception of food, and a better attitude overall about my body, I found that I started enjoying my workouts again. I was getting stronger, faster, leaner, and loved the progress I was seeing. I'm not talking about physique changes but just being able to lift more or increase my mileage. I loved the feeling of being empowered but most importantly I loved having my passion for fitness back.
It was no longer a chore to do my workouts out of fear of the scale but rather it was fun again! I began looking forward to my workouts, and felt completely refreshed. Right now, I haven't started my official marathon training but I still take the time to have a long run each week just because I love it and find it therapeutic.
5. Notice your progress and be proud!
No matter how small or big the changes, celebrate them and be proud! In the beginning, I used to keep a note in my phone of the number of days since I last had a binge. It was encouraging for me to see that little number increase, and all the more motivation to not have it go back to zero. Of course, I had to reset it a lot and go back to zero but eventually that number got bigger and those resets became farther apart. Eventually, I didn't have to keep track anymore because it became so long since my last one. It's all about recognizing your success and rewarding your progress!
Lastly, don't look back. If you relapse and have a binge, don't sweat it. Yeah I know easier said than done, right? But really, try to look past it. Keep the past in the past and don't try to let it control you in the present or the future. My unhealthy eating was a chapter in my life. I learned from it, I grew from it, but it is in the past. It's something that I want to keep in the past because the more you dwell on something, the more power it holds over you.
Again, these changes take time and I swear to you that there were days where I wanted to give up, where I stood in front of my pantry fighting back tears because I was disgusted with myself, and there were days where I never thought there would be a way out of all that unhealthy eating. It completely consumed me and controlled my life, and I'm not trying to be dramatic or get sympathy. That's never my goal but I only want to be open and honest because hearing other girls' stories helps me to realize that I'm not alone. I love being able to connect with others who have gone through similar things which is why my door is always open :)
So, please, remember to be nice to yourself. Treat yourself with love, respect, and kindness as you would any other person. No matter what anyone says, you are beautiful and perfect just the way you are designed. Please don't ever forget that <3