I stood there staring at my most unfavored part of my body, just like I do in front of every full-length mirror I find myself in.
Medically, it is a called an abdominal pannus—a layer of fat that hangs over the pubis bone. Sometimes called a “fat apron.”
I’m a 31-year-old nurse. I first noticed this pannus when I was seven. My matching short and shirt were too tight and the bulge that sat atop my pubic area finally jumped out as abnormal to me. My cousin didn’t have one. Why was my belly different? I graduated nursing school three days after I turned 20, over a decade ago, and the first time I heard the word pannus was around a conference table last year among fellow nurses discussing a new admission who apparently had an infection in the abdominal belly fat that hung past her vagina.
Fear and shame gripped me as if I were being snatched out of my body in order to save my precious ears from hearing this reality I had long avoided somehow. For the first time in 13 years, there was a name for this part of my body I had spent well over a decade hiding since the first time it popped out over my navy blue oddly patterned shorts of triangles and squares. I cringed as I flashed back to seeing fellow women grocery shopping with bellies that nearly hung past their knees, walking on the outsides of their feet in white Keds that couldn’t accommodate the width of what seemed like exceptionally short feet draped in a Hanes t-shirt complete with a chest pocket. I was terrified to be that woman.
I didn’t want to be afraid anymore. I wanted to be free.
Nothing engenders freedom like facing our darkness. I stood stark naked in front of a plum semi-gloss wall and felt my feet on the ground. I breathed into all those spaces that harboured darkness. And when I reached down and wrapped my arms around my large and neglected stomach area and asked why it even existed in the first place, compassion and understanding enveloped me.
Suddenly, I realized this extra weight existed because I had been afraid to show up fully, with my open heart, afraid some person or situation would take from me energetically. It existed because my feelings had been hurt, and I didn’t want to show it. Because I was anxious, because I had been bored. It existed because I worry, about everything it seems. It existed because I didn’t want to feel any of these things, I chose to eat instead.
My belly, my pannus, was riddled with worry and fear—emotions I deliberately hid from the world only to have them manifest as increased body weight in an ongoing attempt to attract my attention for release. I needed to let some things go. Things long overdue. These heavy emotions were literally weighing my body down. Understanding how they came to be changed the way I looked and felt about myself.
This was my least favourite part of my body. Many of us have that one part of our body we can’t help but to stare at in horror like a train wreck happening in front of our eyes.
One of my biggest obstacles has always been looking at myself in the mirror, naked and alone, without cursing and judging myself—my progress, my failures, my moments of weakness, where I had been, hopes of where I wanted to go, and decisions I had made. I knew I had to stop judging myself so harshly; words are powerful. I decided that instead of staring at all the unwanted parts of my naked body, shrouding myself in shame, anger, disgust, frustration, I would find a way to be kind to myself.
These five sentences help me shift my mindset to allow room for healing and walk away from that mirror feeling lighter.
1. My weight cannot determine my self-worth.
This is different for me than the saying, “My weight doesn’t determine your self worth.” That I’ve heard before, a hundred times. It’s like stating a fact; I shrug my shoulders a bit and say, “I know.” And walk away a bit quieter, a bit ashamed because although it know doesn’t, it shouldn’t, it has so many times. But to say it cannot determine is bit of a different story, it offers a choice. Saying that is empowering. After hearing that statement, I felt for the first time in my life I could chose how to feel about myself.
2. Be self-confident.
It’s the chicken or the egg mentality. When do we “get” body self-confidence? When we lose that 10 lbs? When our face clears up? When do we not feel like a failure? When do we not feel fat, disgusting, ashamed, tired, or sad? That’s how I felt that day.
Honestly, there have been days when I actually weighed-in lighter that the week before and still felt all those negative emotions. Was it when we didn’t skip the gym or have whipped cream on our coffee everyday?
Being self-confident, no matter what the current state of reality offered acceptance of where I was. Tuning into my body allows me to feel when my self-confidence is replaced with fear of judgement—my shoulders slouch a little, my head hangs a little lower, I pull at the end of my shirt and adjust my belt. This usually happens when I walk outside my house, or when I’m surrounded by people I don’t know.
When I notice myself doing these things, I take a deep breath and stand a little taller, pull my shoulders back and imagine my solar plexus opening and shining a beautiful yellow. I exhale all the fears I noticed, and keep moving on with my day. I choose to be self-confident.
3. My perception is not reality.
I caught myself saying things like, “I feel fat today.” That statement alone came with a heaviness—and I needed to be lighter. I could weigh exactly the same weight day to day, and “feel” completely different each day. These feelings weren’t helping me any, especially if they grew from fear.
My “feelings” were based on my perceptions, which were not, in fact, reality. I was choosing to feel certain ways, most likely perpetuating the very cycle I most feared and wanted to be rid of.
To be lighter, I needed to feel lighter. And I started that day with choosing to feel differently about myself no matter what my current perception of my physical body.
I began that day affirming my worth instead of my fears, accepting what currently was, and not hiding it or being angry about it. In doing so, I was freeing myself to feel all those stuffed emotions and release what was holding me back from my goals—the root cause of why I compulsively eat in the first place. Self-awareness is half the battle, and reminding myself that my perceptions is not always reality, alleviated a lot of fear.
4. I am working on it.
I am working on it. Every day. One day at a time. One choice at a time.
Every time I go to the gym, every time I go for a walk, every time I walk out of that convenience store without my favourite chocolate bar—I am working on it. Not stocking typical “junk” food in my cabinets, cooking instead of eating out, and putting that fork down when I’m no longer hungry is me working on it. Asking my higher power everyday to help me make mindful choices and stay in-tune with my body are steps in the direction I want to go. My hang up is my emotional eating, my compulsive eating, and I’m working on that, too.
So, before I get down on myself and want to remind myself of all the things I didn’t do right this week, I take a deep breath, and remind myself of all the things I did. I will keep moving, and keep working on it until I find what works for me. This statement affirms movement and change; it defies stagnation.
5. Even though I currently am not at my ideal weight, I deeply and completely love and accept myself.
Isn’t this the key?
We have to love ourselves to make good choices. We have to love ourselves enough to want to make good choices, and make it easier to say no to the bad ones. So many of us find, lurking at our core—hidden under extra pounds of flesh—pain, hurt, disappointment, heartbreaks, sadness, guilt, fear.
What if we just loved ourselves fully, as we are right now? What difference would that make for us? How easy would that make “good” choices.”
I get it. It’s hard to not want to cry and binge and hate that “spare tire” hanging over the belt that’s too tight, but I must choose to deeply and completely love and accept myself right now to make the changes I want to make. Often, I recite this tapping.
Today, my progress comes from small victories such as making a good choice when it matters at least once a day (maybe tomorrow it will be two), showing up to the gym when I don’t want to, and having compassion for myself.
Author: Dorothy Fuller
Image: flicker/Christy Mckenna
Editor: Erin Lawson