body image vs. good health

For some reason the world has left us under the impression that slim translates into healthy and anything outside of that is unhealthy. That there is no in between.

We’re forced into this belief through whispers from the women who raise us and images plastered all over the media. Through diet-culture we think, we have to shrink, that is how we are healthy.

We’re left to our own devices to unnaturally morph our bodies to fit this mold, an illusion of good health we all buy into. The truth is, the number on the scale and our learned definition of beauty have nothing to do with how healthy we are.  

I am a fairly tall woman and I’ve been 140lbs, 216lbs and everywhere in between. I’m here to tell you that when I was 140lbs I felt my worst. At 140lbs I was Amazonian like, constantly complimented for being able to maintain a small frame, asked if I was a model or aspiring actress regularly and overall praised, my nickname was “slim Jim”. What was aesthetically pleasing outside of my body for everyone else was at the expense of my internal wellbeing. I had gallstones, I was lactose intolerant, I was fragile and tired. My diet consisted of occasional bowls of cereal and vodka. I knew nothing of nutrition and despite what I was taught to believe, I was NOT healthy.

I had to unlearn everything I thought I knew about health. I did research, dissected truths, I tried every diet you can think of, not because I wanted to be slim but because I wanted to achieve true good health. I wanted to feel good and I did exactly that, within months I no longer had gallbladder issues and I was eating Ice cream. I wish that was how the story ended but it’s not. In learning about nutrition I became an expert at not only feeling great but making my body look fit. I obsessed over muscles I never knew existed. With this came eating with the sole intention of molding my body, counting calories and macros, weighing myself excessively. Doing workouts on nights I over consumed, I actually enjoyed this part of it, I felt like a little scientist.

What I didn’t know was happening simultaneously was that I was building an expectation for myself for those around me. If I gained five pounds I would be questioned, if I ate a cupcake, or drank a beer I would get scolded because I wasn’t living the life other people had imagined I should be living. I was ashamed, I was embarrassed and what started out as a fun journey became pressure and obsession. Once again I was internally damaged because of external factors.

Then my body did the most miraculous thing, I carried a baby for 9 months, my body was able to expand with permission. I still took into account good health practices but learned how to remove other people’s expectations from it all. I gave birth, I nursed my child for 12 months, my body was healthy and did not let me down. I became so proud of myself, so happy with my body and what it was capable of.

I remain expanded from carrying a child, at times it is uncomfortable and discouraging, after all it goes against everything I’ve ever known, expanding isn’t the definition of beautiful I was taught. There are moments when I want to go back, be strict, deprive myself and live up to what everyone thinks I should look like but I remind myself that I like this version of me best.

The version I am today eats good whole foods intuitively. I am positive, at peace, I practice gratitude, I workout, I run longer distances at ease without pressure. I may be less athletically pleasing to society but I am free of food guilt, free of allowing the scale to determine my value, free of expectations from others to maintain an appearance that makes them feel comfortable.

The challenge is letting go of what we’ve been taught we are expected to be and exploring what activity and foods bring this feeling of true physical and mental health. It’s different for all of us, slim, not slim or something else, listen to your body, explore it and discover it in an entirely new way, it can be liberating.

It took years but the version of me I am today feels good, physically and mentally. And most importantly, she doesn’t look in the mirror and say anything out loud that if overhead by a curious young child can be harmful to the perception of their body and health.