Three years ago I weighed just shy of 250 pounds. I wore size 18 pants, XL or XXL shirts, and had curves for days. Society would not necessarily have considered my body beautiful, but I was extremely comfortable in my skin. One day I decided to slap on a bathing suit, write a little blurb about how capable my fat body was, post in on social media, and ended up in the newspaper, on the news, and in Cosmo Online. I had strangers writing to me from everywhere thanking me for helping them to realize they mattered even if their bodies were not “perfect.” In that moment I was on a high.
Fast forward one year and I was still existing in the same vessel, but decided it was time to make a change. Now, I want to emphasize that I did not decide to embark on a weight loss journey because I was unhappy with my body. I wanted to do it to prove to myself that I could. I am a very driven person, and can typically accomplish most things I put my mind to. Weight loss, however, had always eluded me. No matter how many times I had tried to slim down I just couldn’t stick to a plan long enough to make it happen. I decided to try using a weight loss program that centered on low carbs and allowed me to purchase certain foods to eat each day.
10 months, and SO MANY low carb bars later, I managed to lose 100 pounds. I felt like I was on top of the world. I had actually accomplished my goal, and it felt pretty great to be able to shop in any store that I wanted. I rode that high for a little while, and decided that the next step in my journey would be to join CrossFit. I wanted to tone up. I joined the gym, contacted a nutritionist, and started slowly introducing foods back into my diet.
As bodies do, mine was attempting to adjust to a new normal. In doing this I began putting weight back on almost immediately. I was exercising a ridiculous amount, and being completely neurotic about my food intake, so I was not quite sure why the scale seemed to be ticking up and not down. The nutritionist helped me to solidify an eating plan, ensured me that my body was adjusting and the weight gain would eventually stop, and promised me that my body fat ratio was in the normal range. I heard her words, and was thankful for her help, but the voice in my head was louder than hers and it began to convince me that I was disgusting.
For months I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I reached a point where I was working out 7 days a week and felt an immense amount of guilt no matter what I put into my mouth. I had felt poorly about my body before but NEVER to this extreme. I was the skinniest I had ever been in my life and I felt absolutely hideous. As this was happening the rest of my world was slipping into a pretty dark place as well. I was struggling. I almost had a full out breakdown at the nutritionist and decided on that day that I was never going back. She made me get on a scale when I went to see her, and even though she never actually made me look at the number, just knowing what it might say made me want to vomit.
My dark days became darker when someone I loved passed away. What I didn’t realize at the time, because I was so stuck in that darkness, was that the very people who were going to be the key to my future body acceptance and happiness were starting to become a part of my life in a big way. We all worked out together, but we didn’t just exercise. They let me talk about how disgusting I felt, they let me talk about the friend I had lost, and most importantly, they made me feel strong.
One day they invited me to go out for pretzels and beer, and that night was an integral part in my progression from the darkness back to the light. Going out to eat had been something that I had come to find to be cumbersome and unenjoyable. If the menu did not have some kind of salad with chicken I had no interest in eating there because I wasn’t willing to waste calories. For whatever reason, on that random night, I said what the hell and I indulged in pretzels and beer, and the funniest thing happened. I felt happy. I didn’t feel guilty, I didn’t feel disgusting, I felt happy. I knew full well that I would be at the gym first thing the next day, but that was ok, because this was the start to me learning about balance.
Since that night I have been slowly climbing back into the light. I go out way more than I used to, I drink delicious beers, I eat yummy foods (still in great moderation, but it’s something), and I smile. I am happy to be with people who love me whether my body is a size 10/12 (which it is now) or a size 18 like it was before. I realized that I was the only one beating myself up for the way I looked.
I have gained a great deal of muscle. My thighs and butt are huge, but that just means I can squat more weight. Shirts don’t fit on my biceps because they’re getting fairly big, but that just reminds me of all the fun gym sessions that I have had with people who have become some of my biggest supporters. For the very first time in about a year I looked in the mirror the other day and realized I no longer wanted to crawl out of my skin. I have realized the importance of balance and that sometimes nachos are worth the extra calories when eaten with good people.
I know that body image is something that most people struggle with, and I also know that in the future I will struggle with it again. The only advice I can offer is to try to find your balance. Allow yourself to indulge, but also couple that with healthy choices. Speaking of healthy choices, I want to encourage everyone to find an exercise program that they enjoy and stick with it. Daily exercise has been a HUGE factor in getting my mental health in check. Most importantly, find your people. Find people to workout with, find people who you enjoy drinking beer with, find people who will allow you to tell them how hideous you feel and will help you to own those feelings rather than telling you that you’re being foolish. Find people who will hug you even when they don’t like giving hugs. Find people who will love you on your darkest days, and make sure when they are at their darkest points you are there for them too. Love yourself, allow others to help you, and realize that your body is merely the vessel you exist in and does not define who you are as a person.