A repost from my old blog, written on 3/07/2017:
Dear Body Week
This week is “Dear Body Week” at my school, and various events will be held on campus to promote daily body positivity. This theme is partially based off of a project that came to us last year called “Dear World”, which (according to their website) aims to reveal stories of hope, struggle, and of brighter days by sharing photos of people who are willing to participate. Given these themes, I felt like this was an opportune moment to share my experience with my own body image struggles and this beautiful project.
My Food Anxiety
At the beginning of my sophomore year in college, I developed an anxiety with food as a result of creating unrealistic fitness goals for myself. Weight loss had always been fairly difficult for me because I’m a slow burner, I grew up in the south where butter is its own food group, and I lacked knowledge around nutrition. But working with a trainer the summer prior to my sophomore year of college was a true milestone for me.
My first year of college did not go at all how I expected it to, and for the first time in my life, I experienced what true depression really felt like. It was to a point where I would wake crying every single day, and I didn’t know how to stop it. Fitness training helped me find some answers; it made me feel empowered and resilient by my own physical and emotional strength. While I was always somewhat self-conscious about being the “bigger” girl in my friend group growing up, my real incentive for those workouts was to challenge myself. I wanted to see how far I could push my mind and body, and to discover if I had any true limits. It was a distraction from the sadness I was holding inside, and an outlet for it. In just 8 weeks, both my physical and emotional transformation was something I never believed I could achieve. I was SO proud of myself for pulling myself out of this rut through something that I thought was so healthy.
Gaining it All Back… And Then Some
When I transferred to my new college that fall, I was placed into an entirely new environment full of amazing food, lots of drinking, and little sleep. Naturally, I started to gain the weight back. At this point, I was hyperfocused on the scale, because it’s all I knew to “track my progress”. After the first 5 pounds, I had thoughts like okay this is normal, drinking again does this. You’re experiencing New Orleans and all you can eat dining hall food, it’s fine.
Then, after the next 5-8 pounds, I started feeling truly ashamed about myself and about my body. I would say things to myself like You worked so hard to lose weight and build muscle, how are you letting all of that slip away? You can do better and SHOULD do better! Little did I realize that I was not really using those words as motivation to get healthy, but as a punishment that started driving me back down into a dark place again.
Amongst other consequences, that negative self-talk and lack of control turned into emotional eating habits. I would buy food for myself when I wasn’t even hungry, I’d make myself workout even if my body was hurting. I didn’t know why I couldn’t control these things after a whole summer of successful weight loss. I felt myself spiraling out of control and ended up gaining 20 pounds that year.
The Beginning of Healing
After some hard months, I finally recognized that the way I was eating was problem that was interfering with my life. I knew it wasn’t normal, because these behaviors and thought patterns about eating weren’t ones I’d always had. I started getting scared about what emotional eating meant for me. I didn’t know how I was going to achieve my fitness goals while also handling anxiety around food and weight gain. Was it even possible? I had to come to realization that these behaviors were attempts to maintain control over my life to compensate for the little control I had in other areas in my life. I still held onto sadness, anger, and trauma from my past that I’d never fully dealt with.
This confrontation with myself is when the healing really began. I started seeing a therapist, who unfortunately didn’t know much about binge-eating. So while she helped me with some of my anxiety, I had to do a lot of research on my own. I began by simply replacing those negative thoughts with ones that forced me to be honest like Why are you really reaching for food? What do you actually need right now? Why do you really want to lose weight? Is this goal realistic right now? How does your body feel? Can you accept your body for where it is in this moment?
While I attribute much of my healing and progress to the support of some amazing friends, the true key to my recovery came from within myself. In addition to having more mindful thinking habits, I had to actively work on loving myself.
My Journey to Self-Love
When deciding on what aspect of my life I wanted to show on my body for my Dear World photo, I thought about some of the positive quotes I’d read during this continuous journey of self love. One of those sayings consisted of a few simple words that truly changed my perspective on how I now navigate through life:
Sometimes it’s okay if the only thing you did today was breathe.
In other words, waking up alive each day is not promised; it’s a gift and a privilege. It’s so easy to get caught up in our day-to-day routines, to go about our days on auto-pilot instead of truly living our experiences. To focus on things like how we look rather than how we feel. We forget to be thankful that we had the chance to do life all over again that day.
Within the darkness of my own self punishment and sadness, I had forgotten to also remember all of the beautiful light that shed pure joy on my life. As I mentioned a year ago in my original Dear World post on FaceBook, Buddha said, “You, yourself, more than anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
So this week, I ask you to remember that whatever struggles you might be facing, whatever pain you’re dealing with inside, and wherever you’re at in the process of achieving your goals in life: Take it one day at a time, and one step at a time. Trust yourself to make your being whole. Be grateful and recognize your existence and of everything beautiful around you. Be forgiving of and kind to yourself.
You don’t have to accomplish all of your goals and overcome all of your obstacles in one day; Some days, all you need is to take a moment for yourself, find presence, and simply breathe.