In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, here’s a post I’ve been mulling over:
On Valentine’s Day, I woke up wanting to bury myself deep into the covers. I felt ugly. I felt fat. And I wanted to hide. Did you know in European folk traditions Valentine’s Day signifies the coming of Spring– rejuvenation, regrowth, renewal? So on the day of love, friendship and revival I was sulking over my belly fat and thighs. Absolutely ridiculous right? I know.
Despite how ridiculous it might be I have been going through all the motions of self-loathing: pinching my belly fat, disregarding my appearance and putting on clothes that make me look “less fat,” eating all the junk food I can get my hands on while secretly asking myself why I have such a lack of self control, crying in bed. My self image has always been distorted. At my leanest I kept wondering why my thighs weren’t more muscular, why my belly pooch wouldn’t budge, why I could still flap my underarms and now, on the flip side again, I wonder why I let it all go. Oy, if we could only take a step outside of ourselves and see just how stressful hating our bodies can really be.
Last summer, I heard my mother whisper to my father “She’s got a boyfriend. She’s thin and everyone tells her she looks beautiful. Why is she upset about her weight and looks?” It sounded so simple, as if having someone who loved me and found me beautiful was enough to erase all my deep seated self-esteem issues. While a partner’s love can help you work through these issues, that love will not automatically erase the issues for you. We’re taught relationships will fix us and wallow when we’re single on Valentine’s Day because we’re still “broken.” In the past I thought a lot of other things would fix me: falling in love, discovering my passion, losing weight, earning more money, traveling constantly, getting recognition, becoming famous. But the more I see my weight, eating habits and self-esteem yo-yo the more I understand nothing outside of me will change how I feel about myself or what I see in the mirror. That’s important to remember, because now that Valentine’s Day has passed we–all of us who are unable to see our true beauty– need to realize we come first. We should be showering ourselves with love and gifts and recognition and yet, we don’t.
I thought I was doomed to be single on Valentine’s Day as long as I was “fat.” Well, I’ve been in a loving relationship for two years– J asked to make our relationship official on Valentine’s Day– and I still, after two years, keep telling myself I am not enough because of the amount of fat on my body and the size of my jeans. Having someone love you and call you beautiful does not mean you automatically love yourself. I have a lot to learn about loving myself and not holding on to shame/guilt. I have a lot to learn about eating dessert and not feeling as if I am a “cow” simply because I don’t have a six pack. I have a lot to learn about courage and not allowing other people’s opinions keep me from hitting the gym or running outside.
I have a lot to learn about standing my ground and saying “no” when I don’t want to eat fast food. Do my mistakes mean I’ve failed? I used to think so. It’s easy to fall into those traps: looking at another woman and thinking “I’ll never look like that,” or binging in secret and hiding it from your coach for fear they’ll think you’re weak or thinking people don’t want to be your friend because you don’t “train enough.” Would it make a difference in how you feel about yourself and your body if the above were false? If you could look “like that” or if your coach was in fact nurturing and people didn’t care if you hit the gym six times or twice per week? Me? I’d still be at square one because I didn’t put the focus on where it needed to be: changing my mindset. Learning to love me. My mistakes mean I have kinks to work through. My mistakes mean I have yet to find what suits me. I should be more gentle with myself.
My self directed meanness poisons every other part of my life. I fantasize about the days when my life consists of writing, working out, eating, baking, traveling, photographing, and modeling. But I have always told myself that dream life is silly because “It’s hard to write and get paid for a living.” “I can’t model if I’m not lean and muscular.” “I want to work out but I’m just not motivated enough.” “Traveling costs money.” “My photography isn’t very good.” “I don’t have enough time to cook and bake and create new recipes.” I had this crazy idea last year to do a photoshoot for my upcoming birthday. I would spend the whole year hitting the gym and being consistent so I could do a photoshoot, finally prove to myself I could. But I kept it secret because I imagined people scoffing at me as they gave me a once over. From the beginning, I didn’t even believe I could achieve. I have even been too scared to hit the gym for worry I won’t remember what the hell I’m doing (though I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work that way). I guess you could label it a lack of motivation but I also know there’s a layer down below it: fear of being judged and fear of failing. Or fear of being judged for failing. And it all stems from not loving and believing in myself.
Two years ago I thought “motivation” was restricting to the point of binging, last year I thought motivation wasn’t for me so I said “fuck it” and ate without limits– especially when I was feeling sad or angry. Neither approach worked very well so I had to go back to the drawing board. I have been asking myself how I can get motivated again to hit the gym, eat healthy, feel beautiful and ultimately create my dream life. How do I move away from those destructive behaviors that keep me back?
First, stop the lies. Motivation is self-created, it waxes and wanes but it can never be lost. To lose motivation would mean motivation cannot be recovered. Motivation can be recovered! The same way Eating Disorders can be recovered, and recovery from an Eating Disorder can go hand in hand with recovering motivation. If you’ve been telling yourself you’re not motivated join me in stopping the lies. Say I am motivated! Then think of all the other lies you’ve been telling yourself and stop saying them. Write them down, tear or burn the paper. Those lies no longer define you or me.
Second, start slow. I’m a perfectionist. I always want to do everything at 100%. When you live a life of moderation though sometimes things don’t happen at 100%, so taking a slower approach to health can really help you keep focus and not feel as overwhelmed. For example, my first focus was adding fruits and veggies back into my meals. Then it was putting extra effort into packing nutritionally complete meals. Re-building a healthy mind and body means setting up a good foundation. Start slow and focus on the small details now rather than later to help establish future successes.
Third, create a plan. One that fits your pace. Results can be achieved on a 4-day workout split, and if you grind it out during your workout treats won’t set you back. This isn’t a time to worry about how much you used to lift, or what pace you use to run at. Ignite the fire first then build up the flames.
Fourth, stay positive! Breaking out of a dark period means believing you can change your life. Not every day will be easy. And not every day will you want to do the things that help you get better. Every day holds the possibility of a breakthrough so keep pushing forward anyway. Start to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
Fifth, keep pushing forward. It’s important, so I’ll say it a third time: keep pushing forward. Building a strong self-esteem and regaining motivation will not happen overnight. But if you do just one thing every day that brings you a little closer then you’ve succeeded.
So, I’m going to keep pushing forward knowing I am beautiful, motivated and enough. I hope you will too.
A few inspirational posts that helped me this week: