I Love Myself and It's Okay: My Journey to Body Positivity
Updated: Jun 12, 2019
I discovered self-love and body positivity after a serious bout of dieting that ended up causing a lot more problems then it fixed. I had been chubby my whole life and fat since elementary school. I had never been a dieter because I grew up around a bunch of women who constantly dieted, and constantly gained weight, so clearly, dieting was not the solution. But I did hate being fat. I felt ugly, unacceptable, and unlovable. Finally, in my early 20s, I decided enough was enough, and I joined a 12-step program for food addiction. At first I loved it, it felt like the solution to all of my problems. I loved weighing and measuring my food and never having to stress over or question what I should or shouldn’t eat or how much. However, over the course of the year and eight months that I was in the program, I not only lost a bunch of weight, but I also lost my period, felt cold all the time, developed dry skin and brittle hair, started hoarding bottles of salad dressing, felt hungry almost all the time, constantly had eating and food dreams, struggled with depression, and people said ouch when they hugged me. But these symptoms were all very normal in the program, so at first I didn’t worry too much.
But after waiting around for about six months for a period that never came, it all got to be too much, and I went to see a doctor. The first thing she did, before knowing why I was there or asking me any questions, was put my weight and height into her computer and tell me that I was overweight. I told her, yes, I know, I had already lost a bunch of weight, and was still working on it. She was happy for me, and finally willing to listen. When I told her I was trying to figure out why I lost my period and how to get it back, she insisted that since I was still technically overweight my problem was not my weight loss or diet. But since nothing else had changed for me, I asked to see a nutritionist.
This nutritionist was my wake-up call. The first thing she did, after asking me why I was there and listening to my answer, was look at my diet and my hormone levels. She told me that I was healthy, and that I didn’t need to loose any more weight, however, if I continued to eat the way that I was eating, my health would soon start to decline. She also said that I behaved like her anorexic patients, she could tell that I was thinking and speaking through a fog. She asked me if I had ever heard of Health at Every Size (HAES). This was the first time I heard that phrase, and it struck a cord deep within me. It felt exciting, but also scary. I didn’t know what to do about it. I now realized that I wouldn’t be able to find health from within the program, but I was terrified of gaining all my weight back.
I did decided to leave the program, but I continued to diet on my own. I felt lost and alone, and I had no idea what to do next. While praying for a new path, I happened to go to an event with Marilyn Wann, fat pride activist and author of the book Fat?So!, and Connie Sobczak, co-founder of the organization The Body Positive. I learned that 95% of people who lose weight on a diet regain it, which causes the yo-yo dieting that is so common in our culture, and this yo-yoing is actually much worse for the body than just being fat and healthy. They said that beauty and health standards were tangled together in a way that caused much sickness and disease, and that I could untangle the mess and redefine beauty for myself in a way that included me. By doing this, I could not only be healthy at any size, but I could also be beautiful, loved, and accepted for who I am, and I could reject any messages that told me otherwise. Perhaps most powerfully, I learned that it was possible to for me to find peace in my relationship with my body and my food. I spent the whole event crying, knowing that this was the new path I had been praying for. After that it still took me a few months, but I finally decided to stop dieting, and love myself.
Giving up dieting was painful and scary. I tried to go slowly and ease my way out, but my body had different ideas. For the first time ever in my life I started binging, and I quickly gained back all of my weight. At the time I felt totally out of control and broken, but in hind sight I realized that my body was just rejoicing that I was finally feeding it and it decided to get all the nutrition it could in case another famine set in. After that intense period of time, I felt much better. I felt stronger and healthier than I did when I was dieting. I got involved with The Body Positive, and I started living my body positive life. I studied and learned more about HAES. I read the book Heath at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, by Linda Bacon, and got so angry and hurt by all the lies I had been told about what it meant to be fat and all the shame, guilt, and self-hatred I had experienced as a result. I learned that all the symptoms I had experienced while in the program were actually symptoms of anorexia and extremely restricted calorie diets. I felt how very scary and destructive it was to have a bunch of self-proclaimed food addicts making decisions about what was and was not acceptable for other people’s food and bodies. I ended up writing my senior thesis about my experience: Diary of a Mad Fat Woman: Living in a Socially Unacceptable Body.
After that, life went on. I graduated from college, got married and became an instant mother of three. Then I started having my own babies. As my life got fuller and more intense, I became more distant and disconnected from my relationship with my body. With each pregnancy, birth, and postpartum my food and body issues would stir and surface for a time, sometimes more intensely than others, I would work on it a bit, but then life would go on and it would start getting neglected again. Through it all I kept my self love and body positivity close to my heart, but I was very protective of my body and my story. I didn’t really talk about it, and didn’t want anyone else to either, because I didn’t want to have to explain myself, and I feared criticism, judgement, and misunderstanding.
Then I got pregnant with my third baby. That pregnancy was intensely painful and hard on many levels, and all my food and body issues came rearing up and smacked me in the face (read more of the story here). I gained more weight and my body shifted and changed more than it had with my other pregnancies. I couldn’t wait to give birth, hoping that my body would just go back to the way it had been, but of course, it didn’t. After my delivery, I was plagued with all my old feelings of body hatred, plus I felt guilty and deeply ashamed because I was supposed to be body positive and love myself no matter what! That was the decision I had made 10 years ago.
During this time I happened to read something that said a major cause of postpartum depression is body changes. My mind said, “Oh those poor women, they need to be body positive.” But in my heart I knew it was talking about me. At first, I felt even more ashamed, but also I realized that I was not alone, and that there were many other postpartum mamas out there who were experiencing the same thing. I realized that I had never actually healed from all of my food and body stuff, it had just been in hibernation for 10 years. I could no longer ignore it though, it was far too painful and costing me far too much. The time had come for me to heal for real. I knew that the only way for me to heal was to put down my shame and guilt, and love myself through whatever my journey had in store for me.
I developed the mantra: I love myself, and it’s okay. I love myself fully and completely no matter what state I am in or what I’m going through. And, whatever I’m thinking or feeling, doing or not doing, eating or not eating, it’s ok. I started telling myself this all day long. It didn’t always feel true or sincere, but I kept telling myself. I remember the first time I went to the gym after having my baby. I caught sight of my 2 1/2 month postpartum body in the mirror and I stopped short, tears came to my eyes, and I started to panic. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t come to this place and have to face myself. Then, I remembered, “Oh yeah, I’m here because I love myself, and it’s okay. I am not here because I’m fat, or because I am ashamed of my body. I am here for myself, because I love myself, I want to take care of myself, and I like how moving my body makes me feel. Plus, this gym has free childcare.” That is the only way I was able to stay that day, and how I was ever able to go back.
Now, my baby is almost 1 year old. I have not arrived at perfect self-love and body acceptance, some days are easier than others. But I love myself, and it’s ok. I am healing, and growing, and falling more deeply in love with myself. This past year I learned that self-love is not a decision, it is a commitment, and I am committed to stay the course. I know for sure that when I choose love, I am more joyful, I make better choices, and I have more energy to take better care of myself and my family. I am not perfectly at peace, but I am finding peace in the process.
Going through all of this has made me much braver, and for the first time ever, I want to share my story in the hopes of connecting with the countless other mamas and pregnant and postpartum people who are suffering in their beautifully changing and perfectly imperfect pregnant and postpartum bodies. So, if this story spoke to you, or if you saw a piece of yourself or your journey in it, please reach out and connect. I want to hear from you, and I want you to know that you are not alone. You are beautiful, you are loved, and you are worthy. Together we can heal ourselves and begin to heal the world through the next generation that we are bringing forth.