Updated: Aug 20, 2019
This is going to start off by sounding a lot like a first world problem. It probably is. What I do know though is how much this problem affects so many of the women around me and how addressing it can change so much more than just your pants size, so bear with me.
I am just going to go right ahead and admit that when I lost weight the first time, it was almost solely because of how uncomfortable I was in my own skin and how much I hated my body.
I didn't know who that person was in the mirror but I didn't want anything to do with her. I was still young! I was the first of my friends to have a baby. I had somehow managed to be completely unaware of what real postpartum bodies looked like and was shocked to find out that the big stomach I had wasn't just because there was a baby in there. The baby was out and there it still was, along with all sorts of new lines, marks, and jiggly bits that I kept hoping would disappear one night in my sleep. "Dang," I thought, "I should have listened to those people going on about cocoa butter after all! What a mistake!"
My solution to my new problem was to entertain secret dreams of things like falling off a cliff and needing some sort of emergency surgery where the kind doctor would take pity on me and say, "you poor thing! Look at your sad body. Let's throw in a new one and instant body-positivity!" When that didn't happen, it occurred to me that I should probably start some diet or possibly maybe exercise. I have been one of the laziest people alive pretty much since I was born but I was basically out of options, so I went for it. It surprisingly worked or so I thought. The weight came off. Much to my surprise, the feelings of self-loathing and dissatisfaction with my body remained. Nothing I could do was enough. Nothing I could do would satisfy my expectations or cure the severe dislike I had for my believed-to-be ruined stomach and forever thick thighs (for real. The world could implode and my thighs would be the last things standing. You know that song 'These Boots Were Made For Walking'? Well, I should write a song called These Thighs Were Made For Holding Large Buildings In Place In The Event of An Earthquake'.) No compliment, no "wow, you are so tiny!" could make me proud of the changes that I had made and to love the physical part of who I am. This not only trickled into my attitude about my appearance but it got to the point where I was filling my head with negative thoughts about who I am in general. I started to convince myself that I was a pathetic mom, a failure as a wife, that friend that no one really wants to show up to the party (and who am I kidding. I'm an introvert. I don't go to parties.) What had started with little jabs towards myself when walking past a mirror had unknowingly escalated into a huge problem with negativity.
Fast-forward to the birth of my third baby. All the weight had come back. I was weaker than ever. I couldn't go up the (ridiculous amount) of stairs in our house without nearly having an asthma attack and I don't even have asthma. Nothing on the outside had changed since the last time I had found myself in this situation. This time around though, I decided to change my attitude. I was going to have to start over again, whether I liked it or not, so I might as well not torture myself in the process, I thought. I had just had a baby. Especially after going through a miscarriage prior to this, I knew not to take what my body had done for granted.
Was it frustrating, scary and overwhelming to be back to the place I had spent so long fighting against? You bet. The difference was that this time, I refused to participate in the negative thoughts that my brain tried to feed me.
I wouldn't allow myself to be tempted by extremes, like crazy diets. I didn't let myself stand there, gazing at myself in the mirror, cursing every squishy part. I got rid of the scale. This time, I chose kindness. I encouraged myself. I reminded myself that it takes time, to trust the process, one day at a time.... Basically, anything that you could throw on top of a cheesy sunset meme in script and have a winning photo on instagram. I said whatever I had to say to change the negative thoughts into positive ones. Slowly, that became a habit. That habit somehow turned into self-acceptance.
The weight came off and my strength came back.
This time though, instead of being consumed by negativity and impossible standards I had set for myself, I was left with a complete change in attitude that has seeped into so many other aspects of my life. I have never felt so free to be kind to myself and to let the perfectionism go. Once I stopped allowing myself to think these thoughts about my body, I have seen myself being kinder to myself in other ways.
Instead of dwelling on all my failures, I remind myself of my accomplishments. Instead of thinking about all the things that went wrong in a day, I pick out all the things that went right. Instead of telling myself to try harder, I know that I am doing the best that I can. I have even seen myself extending this new kindness and grace to my thoughts about others.
My attitude adjustment also completely changed the way I saw health and fitness. I was now working out to take care of myself instead of to punish myself. I realized that a healthy lifestyle gave me energy to be a better wife and mother and helped me to keep my mental health in check. Instead of obsessing about my size, I wanted to be strong and to reach strength goals. I realized that I liked my body! It was my ally in making fitness a part of my life so my life can be better as a whole. It doesn't mean that I can't work towards changes. It means that that I am going to honour my body by taking care of it and that I accept myself, as I am, whatever that looks like currently.
It is so freeing to let that negativity go. Try it. Yes, there are bigger problems in the world than how we view our bodies, which are such a small part of who we are. I promise you though that using the opportunity you have to love your body will extend into your life in bigger, unexpected ways. I can also promise you that, if you feel like you're not enough, losing weight is not going to solve that. So, the next time you're tempted to tell yourself how sparse your eyelashes are or how your knees are looking a little leathery, stop. Just stop. Ask yourself if what you are about to tell yourself is something you would say to a friend. Would you ridicule them for eating some cookies on bad day? For not getting enough sleep and choosing to nap instead of doing a workout? Of course you wouldn't and you shouldn't do that to yourself either. Give yourself grace.
Remember that your body is just your vehicle to your experiences, your accomplishments, your time spent with family. Let yourself find the freedom in being imperfect. Tell yourself something kind. Love yourself.