During my late teens and early 20’s, I desperately longed for a slim waistline, lean arms, and a bunch of other idealistic things that I thought were important at the time.
But since I’m not naturally built like a stick, getting the slim figure I wanted was a struggle. And I was willing to try just about any diet or quick fix I could find in order to achieve a body type that I was never meant to have.
It didn’t help that during the times I was able to get down to what I thought was my ideal weight (which usually only lasted a few months or as long as I could stand to deprive myself before going on an eat-everything-in-sight binge), I would always get positive feedback from others.
Isn’t it funny how skewed the correlation is between how healthy we are and the amount of fat we have on our bodies?
By most people’s standards, it probably seemed like I was healthy and thriving when I was at my thinnest. But in reality, I was more unhealthy than I’ve ever been during those times.
I was sick with a cold or sinus infection at least every other month, had constant stomach issues (gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation), and terrible allergies. I got very little sleep (4-7 hours most nights), and energy drinks were the only reason I was still able to get up for class in the mornings.
But instead of focusing on improving my health, I continued on in my futile attempts to control my weight the only way I knew how — restrictive and nonsensical fad diets.
I jumped on a number of different bandwagons (cabbage soup diet, the Kellogg’s cereal diet, Atkins, etc.) hoping they would help me lose that extra 3 pounds (or whatever trivial number my heart was set on losing at the time). I did obscene amounts of cardio just to stay thin and had no interest in lifting weights or getting stronger — because then I might get bulky, and that was definitely not something I wanted.
Before I continue, it’s important to note that there’s nothing wrong with being skinny, doing cardio, etc. But the reasons behind why I was doing these things, the way I was doing them, and my mindset at the time made for a disaster that it would take me years to fully recover from.
Skinny Doesn’t Always Equal Healthy
Weight and body fat can certainly have an impact on health. There’s no denying that. But it isn’t always so black and white.
Like I said above, I was actually pretty unhealthy during the times when I looked my “best” (by other people’s standards). Today, I weigh a good 10-15 lbs. more than I did when I was at my thinnest. A lot of that is muscle, but not all of it. And I’m a-okay with that! These days, performance-based goals (like how much weight I can overhead squat) are a heck of a lot more important to me than appearance-based goals.
And you know what else? I actually like myself.
But let’s back up a bit. In a way, I’m glad that I was so set on getting skinny at one point. Because if it wasn’t for my desire to lose weight, I never would have found paleo.
Yes — I’ll admit it. I started doing paleo to lose weight. That was pretty much all there was to it. And although the concept of eating the sorts of foods our ancestors ate for thousands of years made a lot of sense to me, my true intentions didn’t go too far beyond shedding belly fat and getting a thigh gap.
Making the transition to paleo was hard. And I wasn’t able to do it all at once. Instead, I started by just going gluten free. Within a few weeks, I lost 5 lbs. This was encouraging. But what really had me excited was the difference in how I felt (something I didn’t even know I cared about until I experienced what it was like to not feel like crap all the time). I was no longer constantly tired. My digestion was improving. My allergies were getting better.
For the first time ever, feeling good started to matter more than looking good.
This motivated me to take my new “diet” to the next level and eliminate all grains, dairy, legumes, and processed junk. After 30 days of this, I knew there would be no going back. Ever. My energy was through the roof. My digestive system started functioning how it was supposed to. My allergies ceased (only to flare up again after moving to a farm, but that’s another story). Colds and infections became rare occurrences. My mood improved. I could really go on and on.
Real food transformed my health in big ways. But it also changed my relationship with food and how I saw myself. It empowered me to stop chasing society’s impossible ideals of perfection and start appreciating, loving, and supporting my body and health in ways I had never even conceptualized before making the switch.
Negative Self-Talk — Breaking The Cycle
Goals based on negativity and self-sabotage will never yield positive results. For awhile, my dieting philosophy was based on a series of successes, rewards, failures, and punishments which usually went something like this: If I ate the wrong thing or too much of something, I forced myself to do an extra 30 minutes on the elliptical, another mile of running, or extra of whatever else I was into at the time.
But if had been “good”, I would allow myself to have a treat of some sort. At one point, I’m embarrassed to admit that I even printed out a picture of myself (one that I thought I looked fat in) eating a piece of cake and hung it up on the back of my bedroom door to remind myself of what I didn’t want to be.
So trust me — if I can break free of self sabotage, so can you. Here’s how.
- Don’t punish yourself. Exercise shouldn’t be used as a means of self-discipline, just as industrial garbage crap food shouldn’t be thought of as a reward. Eating too much didn’t make me a bad person or less worthy of being happy and feeling good about myself, but that’s exactly the association I used to place on it. (All. The. Time.)
This sort of thinking leads to a downward spiral of emotional distress surrounding food choices where every slip-up is blown way out of proportion. Placing that much pressure on something that should be a positive experience is no way to get healthy. In fact, it’s extremely un-healthy.
- Eat real food. Once I learned and experienced the power of real food, it completely changed the way I felt about health and body image. And it wasn’t long before I no longer wanted to eat garbage! It wasn’t that felt like I couldn’t or that I was scared to gain weight. But once I began listening to my body and paying attention to how certain foods made me feel, it became pretty easy to avoid fake, processed foods.
- Don’t call yourself fat.There’s nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight (if necessary), but calling yourself derogatory names isn’t the way to do it. I used to complain about being fat all the time, as did many of my friends. But once I made the decision to end the negativity I directed at myself on a daily basis, my self-confidence skyrocketed. I stopped resenting my body for everything it wasn’t, and began appreciating it for everything it was.
I’m not perfect. I don’t make the best food choices 100% of the time. And while there are many foods that I always avoid (soda, Twinkies, Frosted Flakes, etc.), I thoroughly enjoy eating gluten-free pizza once or twice a month or having ice cream every once in awhile.
Stressing over food choices and body image is no way to live. And while it’s important to eat well for health purposes most of the time, it’s also critical to be okay with those times when we eat foods that aren’t necessarily the best thing for us. The human body is incredibly resilient. And in most cases, it can handle the occasional treat or indulgence.
Negative thoughts and self-sabotage will always lead us down the wrong path. But once you accept, appreciate, and love your body for the brilliantly designed masterpiece that it is, it will love you back in ways you never knew were possible.