DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional and none of the following should be taken as medical advice. I am speaking purely from personal experience.
I gazed at my old diary and grimaced.
“People think I’m skinny. I’m just good at hiding it,” I wrote. “And I don’t really have much weight to lose, I just want to be super skinny and curvy and beautiful and have awesome boobs and fall in love with the perfect guy and have everything fall into place.”
But my wince was not without wonder. I was disgusted that I spent so much of my life criticizing my body, but I was so incredibly proud of how far I had come since I was fourteen.
For years, I had fantasies of fitting into a size 4. I dreamed of feeling confident in a bikini. As I passed every mirror, I turned to the side and sucked my gut in to see how my profile fared that day. My face burned red when I saw photos of myself at my heaviest, which was really only just above average weight.
The feast and famine, however, was the most exhausting part. Since I was in middle school, I had gone through vicious cycles of self-hatred and weak attempts at new diets.
I’ll just eat this tonight and count calories again starting Monday, I would promise myself.
Monday always came and went. I tried to change my habits for a short while, then I slipped right off the wagon. Then, the anxiety. The shame. Further down the rabbit hole I went. Rinse and repeat.
One day when I was 20, I was visiting Europe (and naturally, eating everything I could get my hands on). I felt hopeless. I knew I was gaining weight and the more upset I let myself get about it, the more I ate.
The fuller I got, the more empty I felt.
Then, I thought to myself, I’m pretty tired. And I’m the only one who’s forcing myself to feel this way. What if I just…stopped?
It wasn’t so easy to let go.
When I would have midnight binges, I got the most uncomfortable feeling in my belly. I could feel each roll of fat individually stuck to my ribcage. I was worried someone noticed I looked bigger. Breathing felt awkward because I was full and lethargic.
But instead of hating myself for it like I used to, I did my best to give myself a few minutes to agonize and then move on.
I didn’t weigh myself for probably six months. It was hard not to, but the sweet relief of eating whatever I wanted with no anxiety or shame carried me through.
Over the course of a year, I ate according to my cravings and stopped eating whenever I felt like it. Sometimes I gained a few pounds. Sometimes I lost a few.
I learned that the source of my poor body image was not my body at all. My own negative feelings about my life were what triggered me to overeat — and I exacerbated the problem even further by being self-punishing when I didn’t conform to a diet perfectly.
For years I had tried to change something that was the effect of a problem, not the cause.
After I taught myself to love my body and my choices (even when I disliked them), over time, weight started coming off naturally for me.
Clearing the space in my mind that was once occupied by the constant pressure to lose weight also opened me up to spending my time more productively.
I’ve developed my sense of creativity musically and artistically, which I’ve struggled to find for years. I have a much clearer sense of my values and goals. I appreciate my body for the wonderful things it does for me. I exercise regularly.
I’m now about 15 pounds lighter than my heaviest weight and, even though I’ve gained a few pounds since the holidays began, I still feel confident and sexy. Most importantly, I feel content.
If you’re struggling to feel happy with your body, trying to lose weight, or even if you generally have low self-esteem, here are a few tips I have from my experience to help you on your journey:
Stop weighing yourself regularly
I used to do this all the time for quick gratification. If the number was low, I was proud of myself. The problem was that the number was not always low. And when it was high, I felt terrible. Also, weight fluctuates throughout the day, so weighing yourself multiple times a day or even every day is not a true reflection of progress. I was assigning myself value based on an arbitrary number.
Learn to enjoy your splurges, no matter how often they happen
Eating something unhealthy isn’t the main thing that derails your progress, it’s leaning into the anxiety and stress you impose on yourself. It’s perfectly okay to eat something “bad,” enjoy it, and keep going without the added guilt. There is nothing productive that comes from punishing yourself after the fact.
Find a long-lasting, sustainable motivation for losing weight
There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to lose weight to look better. The problem I found was that this motivation was not sustainable in the long term. When I’m about to eat Taco Bell at 2 a.m., my desire to look good in a bikini is not as strong as my craving for a Crunchwrap. What has worked for me, however, is learning how it feels to eat right and nourish my body. When I follow that feeling of wholeness, I feel much more able to maintain a balanced diet.
Focus on your hobbies and lifestyle
If you channel all your energy into weight loss, you’re going to get burnt out. Refocus your attention on things that nourish your soul — find hobbies to get invested in, find a type of exercise that you like (mine is yoga + running), or turn cooking into an activity you love.
Love your body every step of the way
Every little part of your body (even the things you hate) contributes to a whole, unique, beautiful you. No one else in the world has the same combination of features. When I’m especially down, I like to think about the utility my body offers, as well. My thighs might be thicker than I’d like, but the fact that I have legs is amazing. They take me anywhere I want to go.
I have lots of days when I don’t feel perfectly happy with the way I look. Everyone does. But it’s important to remember that you can choose yourself each day. Being kind to yourself and making small, intentional acts toward self betterment will take you miles further than holding your habits to an impossible standard.