For most of my life, I have struggled with my weight and general health. In my teenage years I battled depression and anxiety, and although my weight at the time would have been considered normal, I suffered from low self-esteem and didn’t take care of myself properly.
I was an early bloomer, and while most of my friends were still skipping rope and playing with chalk, I found myself looking into the mirror at a body that looked as if it belonged to someone much older than me. A body I hated. The expansion of my chest and hips caused me a great deal of anxiety and insecurity, and I desperately wished they would go away.
I left home early and found myself in the foster care system, and at the age of 16 I ended up living alone with no adult stewardship guiding my health choices. The medications I was put on as a teen for my depression and anxiety had the unpleasant side effect of making me gain weight — and lots of it. Coupled with the fact that I was living independently and not making healthy choices, this resulted in gaining approximately 50 pounds over the course of a year. This fueled the cycle of restriction and binging that on and off would characterize the rest of my teen years and early adulthood.
As I grew older I continued to pursue weight loss and “health” in all the wrong ways. After many years of crash dieting and disordered eating patterns, I decided to take back full control of my health after my second child was born. I didn’t just swap out a few bad food choices for smarter and leaner ones, I also had to come to terms with my emotional health before I could understand how to get to a healthy body weight. It was a struggle for sure, but as I lost 70 pounds, I learned a few incredible lessons that I won’t soon forget. These are the ones that have left a lasting impression on me.
Real food is where it’s at
In my quest for a slimmer waistline, I did some seriously destructive things that did not benefit me in any way. When I finally found a plan toward health that was working for me, it was from adopting a mostly plant-based diet that was low in processed foods. This “real food” approach to eating taught me to fall in love with food as a fuel for my physical and mental wellness, rather than an emotional crutch or coping mechanism. I still enjoy some foods that would make a dietitian cringe, but I prioritize fitting in lots of fresh produce as well. Additionally, I try to keep tabs on how I’m doing mentally, and my first line of defense in times of high stress is to try to feed myself properly.
You don’t need to go to the gym
I lost 70 pounds almost exclusively from changing my eating habits alone. I definitely was not a gym rat — I was a new mom and spent a lot of time pushing a stroller. Walking was a great way to get my body moving with minimal effort and exertion. The best part of walking is that it is easy to incorporate in your day to day and is possible at almost any fitness level. For many years I paid for a gym membership and didn’t go, aside from short bursts where I would optimistically put in the motions before my interest inevitably fizzled out. Walking was different because it was a typical part of my every day.
The less you focus on weight, the better
At the beginning of my weight loss journey, I made a concrete list of goals that had absolutely nothing to do with pounds. I wanted to eat less processed food, learn to jog and teach myself how to cook. By chasing those goals and not putting pressure on myself to see a certain number on the scale or fit into a certain size, I gave myself the freedom to actually focus on getting truly healthy.
Ditch the deprivation and negative self-talk
I have been on many diets that consisted of soups, sad rice cakes and snacking on lettuce, but when I actually got healthier than I had ever been I was taking special care to eat what I wanted when I wanted. This included chocolate, cookies, and chips. By not focusing on losing weight quickly, I felt less pressure to deprive myself of the foods I loved. This made it so that I wasn’t caught in a scarcity mindset, leading to a toxic pattern of restriction and binging. I also shut down any negative self-talk. I realized the harm I was doing when I would pick myself apart in the mirror and compare myself to impossible body standards. It became obvious to me that it was critical for me to do a lot of work emotionally and mentally when it came to being patient with my body, giving myself grace, and treating my whole self with the care and love that I was realizing that I deserved.
Reaching your goal weight does not fix everything
There was a time I thought that losing weight would fix so many of my problems, but I can say with total confidence that I was wrong. I’ve experienced reaching my goal weight from starving myself and treating my body poorly, and I’ve experienced reaching my goal weight by fueling my body with fresh whole foods, and you know what? At neither point did my weight have some magical effect of fixing my problems or repairing my self-esteem. The biggest lesson for me was finally understanding with clarity that I absolutely had to stop equating appearance for self-worth. Now don’t get me wrong, eating a diet that is rich in plant-based fresh foods has done wonders for my physical and mental health, as has increasing my daily activity level. But the important thing to note is that neither of these things have anything to do with the number I see on the scale. Focusing on my overall health rather than my weight allows me to have the patience to develop healthier habits that will in turn make me happier and the added benefit of keeping the weight off.
I want all women to know that they are so much more than their weight, jean size, or looks. Good health is about treating our bodies as well as our hearts with the tender love and care that all of us deserve.