Reflections on Losing Weight (and so much more)
I’ve intended to write this for a while now, but it’s a touchy subject in general and also rather personal. Thus, I have thought about writing it, and I have even practiced writing it in my head, but I have been reluctant to put my fingers to keys.
My spring break started 1 hr. and 48 min. ago (not that I was counting or anything), so this is a great time for me to procrastinate on the five projects I have to work on this next week and instead write here.
This story starts in my childhood. I grew up with an amazing family, who always loved me unconditionally and always encouraged me to love myself. As a kid, I never thought much about my appearance. If I did think about it, I was satisfied. I remember being about 10, looking in the mirror and admiring the get-up I had chosen for Wednesday night church. I remember that I had on my favorite jeans and 10-12 bracelets and necklaces. This memory sticks out to me, because it was a long time before I looked in the mirror and felt happy again. Also, why all the bracelets? I don’t understand the logic of my childhood brain.
Puberty was a strange experience. I’m sure you are chuckling to yourself and agreeing. It is rarely a graceful or easy transition. For me, in the course of a year, I went from looking like a little girl to a woman. I gained weight fast. I went from a kid’s size 12 to a women’s size 8, hips, boobs and all, in about a year. I woke up one day, noticed all my stretch marks, and realized that I was not skinny. I wasn’t foolish enough to call myself fat, but I heard all my friends complaining about their “fat” and less than perfect bodies, and I was bigger than all of them. It was a weird feeling. I was confused, because what I saw in the mirror was not what I felt. I identified as thin, and now I was not.
Insecurity set in.
I began to play the comparison game. Anytime I went anywhere, I would compare myself to those around me. I would search for the people that I was skinnier or prettier than. I would be discouraged when I was surrounded by people who were slimmer. I would compare hair, eyes, bust, waist, etc. until I could find something that made me feel better about myself. I played this game everywhere.
At the age of 13, around the same time that my health declined, I decided that I wanted to “be healthier”. What this really meant was that I wanted to be skinnier, but I needed to find a way to phrase it so that it would be an acceptable course of action in my household. I began counting calories and running. I gained more weight. I cried in frustration, because I was always hungry and miserable. My mom encouraged me that if I felt miserable, I shouldn’t continue. I didn’t need to lose weight. For the next three years, I repeatedly attempted to restrict my diet and never succeeded for a long period of time. By my senior year of high school, I had a celiac disease diagnosis which explained the weight gain, but didn’t solve my problems. My journey through celiac disease and my relationship with food could become a series of posts in and of itself. The long and short of it is that I was very sick and by my freshman year of college, I was a lot better. Food didn’t make me sick anymore, and I was able to eat a fairly normal diet without having severe stomach pain.
I was very stressed during my freshman year of college. This was when I learned that I was a stress-eater. If I was nervous or anxious, I was hungry. I was anxious rather often. I gained more weight and I continued to feel insecure, but I had learned that dieting was not a solution. I attempted to exercise, but I was never able to find a routine that I could stick with. Tests and sleep always interfered.
Around this time, I realized that there were three things I needed to change about the way I thought. The first was that I needed to stop playing the comparison game. Constantly comparing yourself to others is toxic. You will always find someone better than you and you will always find someone worse off than you. Finding these people will never make you feel better about yourself. It will only perpetuate your cycle of self-hatred. Self-hatred. That was the second thing. I needed to learn to love myself, as God loved me, unconditionally and without judgment. My value and my worth in His eyes were infinite. He was willing to die for me, and I needed to see myself as He did – with grace and love. The third thing I realized was that I needed to stop worrying. I received an anonymous card that said, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). This hit very close to home and convicted me. Jesus had already overcome the world, so who was I to worry?
For the next two years, I really focused on these three things. Stop comparing. God loved me. I should too. Have peace for He has overcome. I wrote these things on my heart and my mirror and my Bible and my arm. I reminded myself often. I talked to other people and asked that they remind me too.
I found that it was so freeing to not spend my time weighing and measuring myself against others. I found that I could see a pretty girl and appreciate her. I no longer judged those who weren’t thin, and in that, I found that I judged myself less. It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.
Lowering my level of anxiety required more than a change in my mentality. I had to learn what my limitations were and to not over-commit myself. I changed my career path partly because I realized that I was striving for an unachievable level of perfection in medicine, and the atmosphere was unhealthy for me. As I learned to worry less, I found that I no longer had to eat in response to stressful situations.
Loving myself involved a lot of mental reminders and a lot of failures. I was really nervous going into my senior year of college, because I was moving into an apartment with two girls that I saw as near perfection. They were thin, beautiful and smart, with fantastic lives ahead of them. I was scared that I was going to feel inadequate. Instead, they opened me with welcome arms (and became some of my best friends in the process) and by the end of the year, I was reflecting with surprise on how far I had come.
Overall, I loved myself, and I was not controlled by anxiety. I was not any thinner, in fact, my BMI was technically in the “overweight” range, but I was content with my appearance and general level of health. Obviously, self-hatred would creep back in occasionally, but the judgmental thoughts were few and far between. I recognized that I didn’t fit the standard American form of beauty, and I was okay with that. I felt no need to lose weight simply because my culture defined thin as beautiful. I felt valued and pretty in the eyes of my Creator, and I was not uncomfortable accepting compliments.
I have always had an ideal version of health that I strived for, but I’ve had to settle for less because of school and practicality. Each year, I would make small changes to improve my lifestyle. After graduation, I moved to Georgia for graduate school. Around this time I realized that if I couldn’t prioritize healthy habits as a student, I probably wouldn’t magically be able to develop them when I was a “real adult”. I decided to make health one of my top priorities in life. I joined a nonprofit running group, which I have blogged about before. I also became more committed to eating healthy and found a way to make it sustainable. In the spring, after I felt that running had become a regular habit, I added yoga to my routine.
My motivation for these changes was not appearance based. I never even considered the possibility of weight loss. I was focused on the fact that I was almost 22, and it was time for me to live a healthy lifestyle that would serve me well in future years. Running with a community was a great choice. They were encouraging, and by January of this year, I was running 3 miles, 3 times per week; I began to incorporate longer runs on my own, because I actually enjoyed them. I found that yoga relaxed me, and running cleared my mind. I had more energy, and I missed exercising when I had to skip for some reason.
Around November of last year, I realized that none of my clothing fit. I have never been one to stare in the mirror, and I don’t primp or care about my appearance that much. I do a brief mirror-check to ensure that I am not having a wardrobe malfunction and that my clothing at least kind of matches. I also don’t take selfies. So, I didn’t notice that I was losing weight until I could pull most of my pants off without unbuttoning them. When I went home for Christmas, I discovered that I could wear clothing that my mom had from my junior year of high school. I was surprised and decided to weigh myself out of curiosity.
I had lost 20 pounds.
I had also noticed around this time that I was more likely to get catcalled and/or hit on, but I had assumed that this was because I had moved to a new area that was culturally different. I then posted a full body picture to Facebook, and the comments began pouring in.
It’s kind of surreal even now. I’m still surprised every time I see a picture of myself, or I stop and inspect myself in the mirror. My mental image of my figure has run away from me (pun intended, sorry, I had to). I am currently facing the horrible reality that I have to replace my entire summer wardrobe – I hate shopping. I wear yoga pants every day, because the new pants I bought are now too big and I’m too cheap to buy new pants when the weather is about to change. Every time someone tells me I’m pretty or checks me out, I have this urge to pull out old pictures and tell them – this girl was just as pretty and worthy of praise. Would you have said that to her too? You should. She is just as beautiful, and I still love her as much as I love who I am now.
It’s funny, as I find that there is less of me, I am more likely to critique myself – the fact that I still don’t have a gap between my thighs, the love handles that I will probably always have, and the stretch marks and scars that will never fade. Every time I begin to do this, I firmly push the thoughts from my mind, and I remind myself that my value doesn’t come from my appearance.
I don’t know if I’m still losing weight, and I’m not sure what I weigh now. The number isn’t important. What matters is that I am inherently valuable and precious.
I hope you know that you are too.