I grew up in a house where my mom was always on a diet.
The kind of diet that had her drinking Slim Fast shakes (or something similar), eating some diet food bar, or having a diet-approved, “good for you” food choice.
She was often shamed—by herself and others—for having cellulite, a big butt, larger-than-Barbie thighs, and a post-baby pooch that never really went away, no matter how hard she tried. And try she did.
She was active, played tennis, went to aerobics classes, walked for miles, and even had a personal trainer. Yet, that body she dreamed of—the one that would have her finally feeling good about herself, that would have her friends and family love her the most—eluded her. She often wound up over-indulging on junk foods or any food that was on the “not good for you” diet list.
No matter how bad or insecure she felt about her weight, self-sabotage and the love of food (she is a great cook) was waiting for her at every corner. She was constantly asking me if she looked fat and in turn, as I got older, I constantly asked her if I did. We bonded as women who may never be “good enough” for the body they had, or the men who supposedly loved them unconditionally.
I tried my first Slim Fast diet pill in my early teens, not thinking anything of it. Like many young girls, I went through various adolescent stints of trying to starve myself or purge my food just to make sure I didn’t get fat. But, there was only so much physical suffering I was willing to go through. Not only did I have a family that bonded over meals, but I was way better at over-indulging on sweets than suffering when it came to unconscious, sustainable self-loathing behaviors relating to food.
But old habits die hard, especially when the behavior goes against our own self-interest. They can shine a bright light on the shadow of our negative body image and the low self-esteem that tends to tag along with it.
By all standards, I’ve spent most of my life as a verified skinny person. My pant size has not climbed above a size four in two decades. Inside, however, I thought and felt like a person who has struggled with their weight. More importantly, I believed that I could never be good enough because of it.
It wasn’t just because I had the fear of god put in me when I went through an “overweight” stage in my teens. It wasn’t only because I had a mom who was perpetually on a diet. And it wasn’t because of the fear that my genetics may one day unleash the “obese me” at any moment. My dad’s sisters, my beloved aunts, both passed away from complications related to their obesity and the diabetes that came along with it.
I was always the anxious type. My anxious default mode was to take all the stress I was experiencing into my digestive system. My sensitive stomach made it really hard for me to digest all kinds of foods. I was carrying around Pepto-Bismol in my purse by the time I was in the fifth grade, until the gastroenterologist gave me prescription pills for my gut—which only made things worse. After years of trying to figure out the reactive nature between my gut and my mind, I decided to leave it be.
I was skinny by default.
But not anymore. Today, according to my BMI, I’m average—totally normal for my height and age. In the last two years, I’ve slowly put on close to 10 pounds and I find myself needing to justify it. To blame it on the breakup that almost killed me, the herniated disk and shoulder injury that grounded me from any meaningful fitness activities for a year, aging, and the fact that I don’t believe in dieting.
There is a huge part of me that’s like: Big f*cking deal. Welcome the real world. I know full well that my struggles are real, but they are far less than many and only a little more than some.
However, I’ve done enough internal reflection (years of therapy, energetic healings, and meditation)and have helped enough people with their struggles to see what’s going on. I’m being presented with an opportunity to shed some old, negative body-image patterns and the shame that comes along with them.
As I proactively protect myself from the irrational fear of being shamed behind my back or to my face for the body I have today by making public announcements of my weight gain, I’m coming to terms with an internal epidemic that has clearly been affecting my health.
Reflective awareness is a powerful tool when used correctly.
Both meditation and therapy have taught me how to become an observer of self as much as an active participant. These self-awareness skills help us to become conscious of our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, behavior patterns, strengths, and limitations. Changing a negative behavior pattern requires the first step of reflective awareness. Or as I like to say to my yoga students, “You have to catch the kid in the act of stealing the cookies from the cookie jar before you can stop them.”
Reflective awareness helps us to hold an emotional space, which can be quite challenging when we are dealing with old wounds that will often trigger unwanted self-sabotaging behaviors and feelings. Holding an emotional space is shorthand for allowing ourselves to take moments of observation, internal listening, verbal or written expression, emotional release, and self-soothing actions which will help to make peace with old, destructive behavior patterns, like a negative body image.
Many of us who embark on the path to personal growth, self-empowerment or generally becoming a better human being in this crazy beautiful world will, at times, wrestle with the person we’ve become and the emotional wounds that once defined us. But, isn’t freedom from suffering a choice worth making? Short term pain brings long term gain and more importantly a sense of feeling whole.
So, I sit back and watch myself in action. I watch myself struggle to accept the cellulite on my thighs and the lack of definition (I once had) in my abs or arms. I see myself purchasing new clothes like long dresses and baggy pants to replace my short, tight dresses, skinny jeans and wondering: Can I even wear my skimpy swimsuit anymore? I am dealing in the shadowy world of shame, lack of self-worth, and the fear that I will never find someone to love the new, curvier me.
So, I come full circle, as I find myself in my mother’s shoes—sharing the same internal struggles as she had—but living a totally different life, in a different body at a different time. And, since I’m not big on suffering for longer than I need to, I know it’s time to take some action and come up with a plan I can feel happy about and actually be disciplined enough to follow.
Neuroplasticity teaches us we can actually change the brain, which is shaped by our experiences. Essentially, we need to exercise our minds as much as we do our bodies at the gym, if the changes we seek inside us are to be longer lasting both inside and out.
It’s time I became my own life coaching client and embarked on a three-part plan:
1. Heal negative body image behaviors. Reflective awareness is the first step to permanent changes.
2. Become aware of impulsive behaviors and triggers, then do a step-by-step change of course over time. Impulsive behaviors are made up of learned habits fueled by difficulty in regulating emotions. Cognitive behavioral therapy could be key here.
3. Strengthen a sense of calm. Being calm us helps to make deliberate rational choices instead of impulsive ones. Meditation anyone?
Author: Heather Dawn
Image: Kukuh Himawan Samudro/ Unsplash
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Copy & Social Editor: Sara Kärpänen