Everyday is a fight to recognize my own worth aside from how I look. I can't tell you exactly what has caused me to feel this way, though I have my suspicions. I remember being very young, like 7 or 8 yrs. old, when I first started worrying about how others saw me physically. Did they think I was cute enough? Was I strong enough to hang out with the boys? Were my clothes "cool" enough that the girls would want to be my friend? I remember wondering if I should "diet" in order to look more like the other 3rd and 4th grade girls. The crazy part is that I was completely average sized and even on the short side. I have memories of turning down chocolate and pizza when at friend's houses because I was worried what they might think of how much I ate. There was constant comparisons of myself to these girls wondering if I was pretty enough, thin enough, cool enough, talented enough to be hanging out with them.
This was not confined to elementary school; in fact it was magnified as I entered junior high and high school. By this time, I had moved out of the "normal" weight zone and had begun gaining. My family was going through some turmoil during this time and feeling that my friends couldn't possibly understand, I found myself quite lonely as a teenager and food became my solace and friend. The more I turned to food, the more I turned away from activities that I enjoyed and stayed close to home. I felt self-conscious and anxious around others as I spent the majority of the time analyzing whether or not I fit in, which just made me feel even more isolated and lonely, which lead to more eating.
By my sophomore year in high school I was becoming weary with my situation and decided to make a change. My sister had introduced me to home exercise videos, Cindy Crawford specifically - yes, I just aged myself, and in addition, I decided to start walking everyday. Those walks became therapeutic for me and they soon changed from walks to long jogs. I felt my outlook changing. I liked the physical changes that were happening and I liked the attention that I received from my accomplishments. I created my own exercise and eating regime; during the summer I would start the day with an hour run (no running apps in those days to know the distance), followed by a 50 min exercise video, watching nutrition labels and not counting calories but fat grams (again… telling of the times) making sure to stay under 20 grams of fat everyday. By my senior year I was 5' 6" and 115 pounds, holding steady but now weighing myself everyday… actually, multiple times a day, and awarding myself kudos for losing and negative feedback for any fluctuation upward. Most ideal or healthy weight charts put me at 130 pounds for my frame and age at the time. I'd done a hard swing in the opposite direction and though I looked "healthy" enough on the outside and was wearing size 4/5 pants, I still had underlying turmoil and a borderline obsession in regards to my body and appearance. This affected EVERY situation I encountered; entering a classroom, locker room, dances, family gatherings, friend gatherings, especially meals where I felt like everyone was judging how much food I took and consumed, stores, church, literally every situation I was in.
I fluctuated up to a healthy 135 in the first 2 years of college, but my underlying concern never went away. I ran several times a week and yet every time I saw myself in a full size mirror or in a store window I scrutinized my size; 'Wow. I've gotten big.' 'Whoa…I've got to do something about this.' I was now wearing 7/8 and it felt huge in comparison to the 4/5 of my senior year. Yes, NOW I realize just how ridiculous that is but this was my reality at the time. While dating and engaged I would often try to mask my concerns by joking about my weight and say things like, "I'm the only girl who isn't dieting for my wedding" because I felt like if I said something first then maybe others wouldn't judge me as harshly as I was already judging myself.
With marriage came children and multiple big moves and stress and responsibilities and throughout it all… my weight has been center stage in importance. I was reading through my old journals recently and sadly over and over and over my recordings revolve around how my daily life has affected the SCALE! That was eye opening… To this day, after all the hard work I've put into living healthier overall and working to claim my life as my own and participating in activities that bring me joy, this battle with my body and mind still picks at my confidence.
For those of you who have been following LWC for the past 7+ years may have (or not) noticed that you haven't heard much from me on the blog for at least 6 months. I feel like I should share why. The last 2-3 years have been difficult; my father passed away, I lost 2 nephews to suicide, had physical injuries including severe shin splints, IT band pain, hip pain, blow to my upper back from a fall on stairs, a bulged disc last summer that caused severe lower back pain, plantar fasciitis, hypothyroidism and a recent lupus diagnosis. All of it combined has worn down my mental resolve and confidence. During this time, I was testing out the sport of triathlon and my insecurities surfaced full-force as I found myself comparing my worth according to how I looked compared to other racers and my race times. My mind went right back to judging my body type against another's standard and wondering if I could just be a little lighter, a little stronger and little more of whatever someone else was… then maybe I could be as good as the other athletes and not always feel left behind. The quote, "Comparison is the thief of joy" could not be more true for me.
With everything else going on and the addition of the lower back injury, which caused chronic pain, my emotional state was at an all time low, last December for the first time in 7 years… I gave up. Due to my underlying autoimmune issues and injuries, my weight would not budge and so with two weeks left of the mini challenge, I stopped recording points, I stopped even trying to exercise since what I saw as "lame" walks wasn't worth it. I stopped working on me and succumbed to what was easy…food. In 3 short weeks, I gained 15 pounds. When I gave up I was already 15 pounds heavier than I wanted to be so… though I was still 20 pounds less than my all-time high, I felt like a complete failure. I felt like I failed my family, the business, YOU and myself. I figured "Why on earth would you want to hear from me? What kind of wisdom could I possibly have to give right now? How can I tell you to exercise and eat right when I have no desire to do it myself?" So, I stopped writing and sharing, and I tell you what…that was my downfall. When I should have been reaching out, I isolated myself and felt worse.
Now, I'm sure you're all wondering at this point, 'Why on earth is she sharing this? I'm totally bummed out now! Does this mean that all my work is for nothing and I'm going to end up like this lady anyway?' Well, I certainly hope not! My goal is not to bum you out, honestly. I guess my goal is really quite selfish…to start to heal internally and stop hiding when things get difficult but learn to reach out to others and trust that no matter what others think of me or my journey that I can be okay with who I am because I'm more than my physical representation. I have to maintain hope that I CAN overcome the compulsion to compare, that I CAN stop seeing my body as the enemy and start loving who I am AS I am, that I CAN learn to be vulnerable and trust others, that despite anyone else's opinions I'm a pretty great person.
It's interesting how this is all coming out right now. I've been traveling with my family for a Disney vacation (our first ever) and a stay in beautiful Santa Barbara, CA. Without all the distractions of everyday responsibilities I think it has become more obvious to me the internal dialogue I have on a daily/hourly basis. When dressing for the day, I realized that I could pull out an outfit thinking it should look pretty good, then try it on, see my current momma pooch and immediately sigh, hope that I don't run into anyone that knows me, want to change into something else (and sometimes would), wear a "magic jacket" or wish I owned Spanx. This has happened EVERY TIME I put on anything, shorts, capris, jeans, swimsuits, workout clothes, etc. I've actually been shocked at how often I scrutinize my appearance; upon dressing, walking into any room, hiking, walking through stores, taking pictures, meeting someone new or anyone really, passing a mirror or window. This has been my reality and I hadn't even realized it until I slowed down long enough to truly listen to what I've been telling myself quietly for a very long time, 'You're not good enough'. But, I'm done quietly standing by.
I'm ready to stand up to the lies being fed to me by my own mind. I'm ready to own my body for what it is and work on making it better not because of the opinions of others but because I want to ENJOY my life and what I can do with the body I have right now (not the one I hope to have… someday…). I want my mind and body to work together and stop fighting because I've got stuff to do! I don't want to be closed off from the world because of a little muffin top here and there and I don't want to stop encouraging others to reclaim their life and their JOY just because I'm not perfect at it yet. So, judge me if you must, but whatever size, shape or level of motivation I'm currently at, I will still be here to love, encourage, care, build up and educate as best as I can because those are the things that I'm good at and no scale or pair of jeans can tell me differently.
So, right now I'm going to embrace the rest of my vacation by wearing my swimsuit on the beach without board shorts (and not just because I failed to pack them). I'm going to play in the surf in said swimsuit and I'm going to ENJOY doing it. I'm going to stand a little taller, walk a little more confidently and "own" it. I'm going to shutdown all the negative comparisons that come to mind by focusing on the activity at hand as well as looking for the good qualities in others and myself that have nothing to do with appearance. I'm going to start saying "YES" to my kids who want me to play silly games on the beach, "YES" to workouts in new fitness centers, "YES" to confidence and "YES" to being me and loving me, for me.
[In case you were wondering if I followed through... I DID and it was scary yet strangely liberating.]
If any of this sounds familiar to you, please don't hesitate to reach out. Let's rise above this struggle together. I can't be the only one, right? I've come to realize that I really can't do this alone. I need others who understand this fight who are willing to lift, encourage, and share along with me as we press forward toward a life of confidence and joy. Join me in sharing stories, struggles and triumphs as we step out of comfort zones of self-doubt and walk away from the fight for our self-worth because the truth is, we don't have to fight for it, it's already there.
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