Like most women, I have spent a large portion of my life hating how I look. When I was a teenager and my weight got into the triple digits, I decided I must be huge and that everything would fall into place if I just lost weight.
I obsessed over dieting for a few years, certain that getting skinnier would solve all of my life’s problems. Of course I was tiny already, but I thought my very muscular thighs were too fat. And of course my roundy face was too roundy.
In high school I started eating like any other teenager, which got me up to a healthy weight. And then it kept climbing. I tried a few diets here and there, usually ending up back at a healthy weight whenever I used the South Beach diet.
The only time I was really happy with my body during that time was when I was pregnant. I felt gorgeous with my big baby belly!
Then it was back to the same, gaining then doing South Beach and losing, but never losing enough to really be happy with how I looked. As things grew worse in my career, the dieting stopped and the medicating with food started. I hated how I looked, and that only seemed to make me want more ice cream.
So I get it. When people say they are done with diet culture and hating on themselves, I absolutely get it. When I was miserable with my job and my life in general, the last thing I wanted to do was give up the only comfort I had. And standing in front of the mirror, looking at how awful I looked, only increased that misery.
If I had not started to see my beauty when I was at my heaviest, I think the cycle would have continued indefinitely.
But in seeing my beauty and learning to love that person, inside and out, I began to realize that I was medicating with food because I was miserable. Of course I took steps to make my life less miserable first, and that was the hardest part. But in loving myself, I saw that I was not feeling my best when I was overeating in order to escape. I was not feeling my best when I was caught in an addiction.
That is what led me to my therapist and dietician. If I were eating only when I was hungry and making food choices that led me to feel my best, it would not have mattered that I was the size I was. But the truth was, I no longer experienced the feeling of being hungry. I was so out of touch with my own body that I no longer recognized hunger.
Once I learned to recognize and honor my hunger and fullness, I realized that I wanted to make food choices that made me feel better. Pizza is so comforting, but when I eat it to fullness, I feel yucky and tired. I enjoy treats still, but I have learned that I feel better when I enjoy them in moderation.
And finally, my weight was a problem. I love running, doing yoga, and otherwise being active, and my weight was causing my knees to hurt to the point where I couldn’t climb stairs normally. Heart problems and diabetes run in my family, and taking care of my health was a part of loving myself.
I worked on being more informed about my food choices. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have treats, but it does mean that I practice moderation with some foods.
So while there are some aspects of “body positivity” that I definitely agree with, there are some areas where my opinion differs from some of the prevailing ideology.
Here are the thoughts I have on body positivity:
1. I had to see myself as beautiful before I could make changes.
I was never able to hate myself into thinness. I had to accept and love the person in the mirror, as she was. Even now, I have been happy with my appearance at every weight. I am trying to lose my pandemic pounds, because I gained them from binge eating. If I just naturally ended up at this weight through healthy eating, that would be fine.
2. For me, having some structure helps me be mindful.
I loved the book Intuitive Eating. In fact, I highly recommend it to anyone. However, I need a little more structure and information at this point. I monitor my weight, because it helps me understand my body better. I know that I tend to gain more water weight at different points during the month, for example. I also know that if the overall trend is toward weight gain, then I need to look at my patterns. When I am overeating, it is not long until my overall mental health takes a nosedive.
Tracking what I eat is also helpful for me, because it helps me see my patterns. I don’t obsess over calories, but when I go out of my Smartpoints range, it usually means that I am emotionally eating. Tracking also helps me to eat more of the foods that make me feel better: fruits, vegetables and lean protein.
3. I eat when I am hungry.
Always. I carry snacks with me and eat them when I am hungry. Yes, they are zero or low Smartpoint snacks, but that also helps me to gauge when I am actually hungry, as opposed to emotional eating.
4. Exercise is not punishment.
I went to a bootcamp class once. We worked really hard for the entire hour, and I could not do half of the exercises. I didn’t go back.
Instead, I focus on having an active lifestyle with activities I enjoy. I like running, because I have kind of a competitive streak. Yoga is my spiritual practice, and I never need to motivate myself to go to class. In fact, I need a good reason not to go, if I miss. I love walking, especially in the woods. And bike riding instead of driving is a special treat!
I don’t exercise to burn the fat. I am active because it feels good, and it improves my mood significantly.
5. I eat donuts.
There is a donut shop next to my yoga studio. They have a cream filled chocolate donut. They are delicious. I eat one every Saturday.
6. Everyone’s journey is different.
I don’t sit around, judging everyone who weighs more or less that I do! In fact, I barely notice and really don’t care. We are all at different places, and we are all doing our best. I just think the important thing to remember is that we need to do what works for us, rather than trying to follow a philosophy 100%.