Love: You First

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I’m fifteen, standing on a scale.  I’m at the house of the two little girls I babysit at the end of every summer, but they’re absorbed in play, prancing around their My Little Ponies, so I take a moment to escape. I’ve ducked into the master bathroom so I can weigh myself.  Just as I do every day, multiple times a day.

I’ve gained three more pounds.  That’s it, I think.  I will not let this number increase.  I decide to skip eating for the rest of the day.  My body doesn’t deserve calories.

—–

I’m sixteen, staring into the mirror, analyzing every inch of my face and finding fault with all of it.  My cheeks are too plump.  My eyes are too small and my lips are too thin.  I’m generic, forgettable.  I wish I were more exotic looking, beautiful in the way the models that grace the covers of magazines at the grocery store are.  I want darker hair.  Greener eyes.  Fuller lips.  I’m not enough.

—–

I’m seventeen, driving home from a sleepover where my friends and I, despite being seniors in high school, spent the night giggling and bingeing on Doritos with sour cream and frosting straight out of the can while watching our favorite movie, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton.  I feel a little sick and my stomach bulges out uncomfortably.  I am fat.  I feel miserable.  The rest of my day is ruined as I am consumed with thoughts on how to fix myself.

—–

I am in the bathroom of our favorite Mexican restaurant, emptying the contents of my stomach.  I feel guilty and ashamed and terrified that someone will walk in and discover my secret.

—–

 

It’s hard to share this.  As I type this, the feelings come back–raw and real.  I’m that teenage girl again, full of self-hatred as I analyze myself through the lens of what I didn’t realize was Body Dysmorphic Disorder–an incredibly common affliction among women (and men).  I never, ever thought I could like myself–much less love myself.

But I do.

I never thought I could be satisfied with who I am–my flaws and foibles, my strengths and weaknesses, my talents (or lack thereof).

But I can honestly say that I am.  And I am so proud of that.

As of this moment, I can truly say that I like myself.  I like who I am, I like the way I look, I like the direction my life is heading.  I’m okay with my stretch marks and wrinkly stomach skin.  I’m okay that my now-deflated breasts are past their glory days.  I love my hair and my eyes.  I spent years comparing myself to other women, anguished that I didn’t look like them, wasn’t as beautiful as they are.  But–as trite as it sounds–I don’t need to be look like someone else to be pretty.  I am me, and that is enough.

My transformation from self-loathing to self-love wasn’t swift.  It didn’t happen over the course of a couple months or even a couple years. It took a while.  Of course I still have insecurities–it’s part of being human.  But I can finally be alone with myself and not feel like I’m abiding with the enemy.

We’ve all heard that you can’t really love anyone else until you love yourself.  Maybe it’s because when you are dissatisfied with yourself,  your love comes from a place of insecurity, of need–the need for someone to complete you, to validate you.  The need to be saved.  And that’s a heavy burden to place on someone else.

Or maybe you put up walls, protecting yourself, never allowing yourself to be really open or vulnerable.  You can’t give your whole self to someone else–after all, if you can find all of these inadequacies, how could someone else possibly overlook them?  How could anyone else really love you?

But when you can be completely comfortable on your own, and like what you see in the mirror, you’re in a place where you can let someone else in.  Let’s be real–vulnerability is hard no matter how self-assured you are.  It’s scary, terrifying even–but also necessary if you want to form deeper connections.

And interestingly, I’ve found that only after I decided to just accept myself as I am, right now–not thinner or stronger or smarter or more disciplined–only after I could do that could I start to make lasting changes.

And sometimes, I’ve found, you don’t need to change at all.

 

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Final Stretch

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28 weeks!  We’ve hit the third trimester!  Hallelujah amen.

I’m going to attempt a quick pregnancy update that hopefully will not morph into a long-winded tale of the gritty details of my gestation thus far.

From the beginning, this pregnancy was quite different from my other two.  Mostly I just had more, and different, symptoms.  I was quite a bit sicker but that passed a while ago.  I still throw up a few times a week, but the episodes are brief and barely an inconvenience.  I taught the boys to rub my back while I’m throwing up (rather than staring over my shoulder, commenting and asking questions the entire time) which I highly recommend to all other expectant moms.

I started showing pretty early, and got big really quickly, as I did the last two times–and then it stalled.  It looks/feels like I haven’t gained any belly girth in the last month or two (although I have already surpassed my previous pregnancies in the weight gain department).  I don’t know if this is just a really small baby or I’m carrying differently or what.  Fun facts.  Moving on.

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Throughout the past few months, I’ve been thinking back to my first pregnancy and how different this third one has been–specifically my attitude and feelings about my body.  In both of my other pregnancies, I spent the first trimester exercising (which is unusual for me, ha) and restricting; I think somehow hoping that if I could create a weight deficit it would help me come out on top, in control of the numbers and what was happening to me.  (By the middle of the second trimester I had pretty much given up and settled in for the ride–although not without a lot of mental anguish over my changing physique and the appearance of many many many stretch marks.)

This time, I am proud to say that I did not restrict.  I did not panic and do dumb things like go on daily 2 hour walks with only a carefully counted out 12 almonds and 8 apple slices to sustain me.  I’ve just felt so much more comfortable this time–it helps that I’ve gone through this before, and it helps that I am no longer in the throes of bulimia.  For the most part, I feel pretty relaxed about everything (and let me tell you, that is a very nice mental space to be in).  I mentioned that I’ve gained a very decent amount of weight.  That is the truth.  I’ve already hit the amount I had gained by the time I delivered Tesla at 40 weeks.

A few years ago, this would have devastated me, panicked me.  But now?  I am proud to say that I feel really okay.  I mean, I’m hoping not to gain a ton more, because I know each extra pound that creeps on now is one I have to lose later, but for the most part I feel pretty comfortable in my body and I have no intention of freaking out or banning nachos and donut runs.

We can all share a knowing chuckle when I come crashing face-first off of my little body confidence soapbox after I get my postpartum reality check during that first post-delivery glance in the mirror…but for now, the ol’ bod and I are on good terms.

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Also, my cats are in love with the belly.  It’s hard to despise something that brings you tons of extra kitty snuggles.

 

 

 

 

Making Lemonade…Not One of My Talents

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So…pregnancy has me a little bummed right now.

Or maybe it’s the fact that the boys have fevers and I haven’t really left the house in three days.

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And missing several doses of meds probably contributed.  (Silas pointed out that I was probably throwing up my medicine a few times a week, so I switched to taking it at night, but then I kept forgetting it…)

I just feel…out of it.  Melancholy.  And my self-esteem has taken a hit, since I’m in that uncomfortable and awkward “don’t really look pregnant but have gained ten pounds anyway and everything fits weird” period.  Also I don’t have any bras that fit, and that’s never fun.  (I’m employing the old “sports bra strapped on over a regular bra” trick today.)

My face keeps breaking out and I re-dyed my hair yesterday since it had faded a lot…but it’s too dark.

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And Silas is leaving in less than 10 days and the thought of it is looming in my mind like a dark cloud of impending loneliness.

I know, I know.  Buck up and put the tiny violin back in its case, Heather.  Make lemonade.  Find the silver lining.

I do recognize that everything is just fine, and that my body image problems are mostly in my head.  It’s extremely normal to feel a little down in pregnancy–your body is changing in unfamiliar ways that are (mostly) out of your control.  And the boys will be better soon and my melancholy mood will fade away.

So, pity party over.  I’m taking down the streamers and popping all the pity balloons.  It’s the (freakin) weekend!  Cheering up is inevitable.

 

—–

This was a terrible Friday post, sorry to be such a downer.  Read this if you need some awesome in your life.

 

You Are Allowed to Take Up Space

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Yesterday a friend posted on facebook about an experience she had shopping with her 2 year-old daughter.

She was trying on clothes and her daughter said to her, “Mommy, you look great!  You look tiny!”

My friend said her heart broke, and she wondered how a 2-year old could have possibly learned that looking great means looking tiny.  She immediately sat down next to her and said, “Sweetie, Mommy doesn’t look tiny.  Mommy looks just right.”  And her daughter smiled and said, “Okay Mommy, you look just right; and so do I!”

That story touched me and got me thinking.  I think she did an amazing job of addressing the “tiny = beautiful” issue right there, in the moment, in a natural and honest way.*

You know what, though?

I don’t know if I would have caught it.

And I’m ashamed to admit that.

As passionate as I am about women (and men, but I’m going to be focusing on women today) accepting themselves exactly they way they are, I still struggle with it myself.  And I don’t know if my child calling me tiny in an effort to praise me would have set off the alarm bells that it probably should.

I started thinking about my own body image “journey” (please, someone supply me with a less cliché word), and I realized that as far as I’ve come, I still haven’t been able to let go of that desire to be “tiny”.

Why is that?  What is so appealing to me (us?) about being small and skinny?  When I look at other women, I don’t mentally whittle them down to a size 00.  I absolutely love curvy women, and I think there is nothing sexier than seeing a woman who is obviously comfortable with herself, and has chosen to embrace her body, rather than trying to hide or mask it.

And yet.

And yet I look at myself sideways in every mirror I pass, assessing the size of my stomach.

And yet I often wear sports bras and looser shirts, trying to flatten and hide my breasts so that I lose all semblance of curves and look thinner and straighter.

And yet I long to be smaller, thinner, wondering what it would be like to be able to fold myself up into practically nothing when I sit on a chair, or to not have to tuck my stomach back into my pants when I sit down, or to be able to wear clothes and know they are going to hang just right on my frame.

I was talking to another friend about this, trying to get to the root of the issue.  I couldn’t figure out why thinness wasn’t a body type I idealized in or expected from other women, but somehow, after everything, it was a standard I kept holding myself up to.

She said something that I’d never been able to pull into conscious thought before.

“It’s about not wanting to take up space.”

I recognized the sentiment as soon as the words left her mouth.

It’s about not wanting to take up space.

I am uncomfortable in my own skin.  I feel I don’t deserve the space I take up, or maybe I want to hide sometimes.  I want to be smaller, ever smaller, so that I can choose when to disappear and when to be noticed.  I don’t want to take up space.

But guess what?  I am 5’8″.  Even if I lost 20 pounds, I would still be 5’8″–just more gaunt, and definitely saggier.  (Sorry, boobs.)  No matter how much weight I lose, I will not be able to erase my body.

And I don’t need to.

As women, we are constantly apologizing.  We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and we go out of our way–sometimes shoving ourselves out of the way–to make sure that we don’t.  We are constantly apologizing for our feelings and for our thoughts and sometimes, for ourselves.

But we are entitled to our thoughts, no matter how different they are.  We are entitled to our feelings, no matter how “unacceptable” they are.  Binge eating is tied into this–when you think your feelings aren’t acceptable, or you’ve never learned how to deal with them, you numb them.  Hide them.  Shove them away.

It is okay to feel and to exist, and to take up as much space as you want to.  You are a human being, a person created by God.  You have a right to be.

Accept the space you take up, and own that space.  Fill it however you want to.

You are allowed to take up space.

 

 

 

*I just feel I should point out, there is nothing wrong with being thin or tiny if that’s how your body is.  I know naturally small women sometimes get left out in all the anti-media “real women have curves!” hype.

The thing is, some real women have curves.  And some real women don’t have curves.  Our definition of what constitutes a “real woman” shouldn’t hinge on her appearance.

—–

What does body acceptance (or self-acceptance) mean to you personally?

Mediocre Confessions–Vanity

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Let’s pretend we’re at a sleepover. We’ve already snacked on everything in the house and listened to our favorite tunes, we’ve already braided each other’s hair and painted our nails and played “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board”. We’ve exhausted ourselves with boy talk and now it’s three in the morning and we’re all lying there in the dark, feeling bonded in our girlhood and just tired enough to let our guards down and start spilling all of our secrets.

There’s a breath of silence after we all finish teasing the girl who admitted to having a crush on our history teacher.  I wait for a moment, knowing how silly I’m going to sound.  And then I hold onto my courage with both hands and confess that my deepest desire when I was growing up was to be a model.

That in itself isn’t that embarrassing.  Wanting to be a model is not an uncommon wish for a young girl–it’s probably up there with “rock star” and “ballet dancer”.  But I really, seriously, wanted to model, more than anything else.

Of course that’s not what I answered when well-meaning adults asked me the dreaded “What do you want to be?” question. I would tell them that I wanted to be a teacher or a therapist.  I would describe my dream to become a Spanish translator and work in third-world countries.  But my real career aspirations were much less altruistic than that.

I wanted to model.  So, so much.  I thought about it constantly, imagined what it would be like. I think it was because I didn’t believe I was beautiful and worthy, and I needed something to prove that I was.  In my mind, becoming a model would be irrefutable evidence that I was desirable and special and important.

I took a lot of pictures of myself in high school.  (Still do.  Partly because I’m the only subject I have that will actually sit still for a photo, and partly because I just love me some selfies.  Judge away.)  I would do my hair and makeup and play with the lighting and photo effects.  (Teen angst looks more dramatic in black and white.)  I would stare at these pictures and try to figure out if I could be pretty.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I put a lot of stock in beauty–something I could see and envy in everyone else but myself.  In my mind, beauty opened doors.  We as a society like pretty things, and we like pretty people.

I spent hours researching modeling agencies and casting calls, but I never had the guts to actually put myself out there.  I was secretly terrified of failing–of being told I wasn’t good enough.  It was easier to dream and wish than to take the chance of being rejected.  So I quietly fantasized about one day being “discovered”, just like all the success stories I’d read.  (Which is unfortunately not very likely to happen when you live in Rincon, Georgia.)

I’ve grown up (a bit) and come to terms with the fact that I won’t ever be a model.  And that is totally okay.  I’d like to think that being beautiful isn’t life goal numero uno for me anymore. I’m not hating on models or the modeling industry–I have friends who have modeled and I think it would be super fun and badass.  (And I’m not gonna lie, if someone called me right now and asked if I wanted to be in a photo shoot I’d be like “HELLZ YES I CAN BE THERE IN FIVE MINUTES.”)

But I have different dreams now, and some of the same old ones, too.  That little girl who loved reading more than anything else grew up to be a big girl who realized that words are her lifeblood, that writing makes her feel whole in a way nothing ever has before.  She finally decided that she is beautiful, whether or not anyone else thinks so–and realized that nobody who matters to her even cares about that.

My life turned out differently than I imagined it would when I was a fifteen year old writing Evanescence lyrics on my binder.  (I still have a deep and abiding love for Evanescence so don’t you dare.)  It’s not as glamorous or as exciting as I wanted it to be, and it can be dull and messy and funny and hard sometimes.

But most of the time, I think it turned out better than I could have hoped.

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———-

What did you want to “be” when you grew up?

How to Be Gentle With Yourself

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Being gentle with myself was a pretty revolutionary concept for me.

I spent my teen years mentally berating myself for every tiny mistake, every shortcoming, and every faux pas.  This barrage of criticism and disparagement only perpetuated the unhealthy behaviors I had developed, and did a good job of keeping my self-esteem hovering in the negative digits.

I think it was Geneen Roth who first introduced me to the concept of treating myself with gentleness and respect.  I scoffed at first–I was never a believer in positive self-talk and bathroom-mirror-affirmations.  But I knew I had to change, and that the change needed to start at the root–in the battleground of my mind.

So I began talking to myself differently.  Rather than slamming myself with criticism after I made a mistake, I talked to myself like I would a child–reminding myself that it wasn’t a big deal, that I could try again.  And this silly, hokey stuff actually began to work.  Calling a ceasefire allowed me some space to breathe, some space to make mistakes and learn from them and move on.  For the first time, I was actually able to make some changes and stick with them.

I know many women (and men) aren’t in the habit of treating themselves with kindness.  So here are my top 3 tips for learning to be gentle with yourself.

 

1. Practice “it’s just okay”.

This is something my best friend taught me.  When I call her and tell her that I’m screwing everything up and that I let my kids watch two hours of TV this morning and didn’t get anything done and haven’t mopped my floor in weeks and I just inhaled seven doughnuts without even blinking, she says, “Heather, everything is okay.  You are okay.  So you let your kids watch six episodes of Jake and the Neverland Pirates?  They’re fine.  So you ate a bunch of doughnuts?  It’s not a big deal.  Everything is just okay.”

And it really is.  Most things, even the big things, are not the end of the world.  “It’s just okay” takes the pressure off.  Things don’t have to be good or bad.  They can just be okay.  And that is such a relief.

So the next time you mess up and your inner critic wants to jump in and yell at you, remind yourself that it is what it is.  Life goes on.  And it’s just okay.

 

2. Acknowledge your victories.

So maybe you screwed up at work or failed at your “exercise every day” New Years Resolution or yelled at your kids or forgot your spouse’s birthday.  Guess what?  You got up this morning.  You are breathing in and out.  Look at you, living!  You’re a genius.

I’m kidding.  But only a little.  Focusing on how everything is going wrong will likely do nothing but send you into a downward spiral.  In order to focus on the positive and keep yourself motivated, you have to remind yourself of what you are doing right.  Even the little things.  And even if it feels silly.

The past few days were…not good.  I was going through some personal stuff and not handling it very well.  I slacked off a lot in the parenting department, didn’t want to cook, haven’t really done much cleaning, and coped with my emotions using my old standby–food.  I felt like everything was sort of falling apart and I didn’t have the energy to gather it all up and fix it.

When I started to notice myself listing everything I was doing wrong, and thinking about all the things I “should” and “shouldn’t” be doing, I intervened.  I reminded myself that I had played play dough with the boys the other day, and that I folded three loads of laundry today.  I forced myself to acknowledge that even though most of our meals had consisted of rice and beans lately, at least I cooked something–and it was cheap and healthy!  Points all around.

For me, thinking about my daily “victories” forces me to acknowledge that I am, in fact, a decent human being who makes good choices sometimes.  I am capable of things.  It also helps protect me from extremist thinking, which I am prone to.  Everything is not falling apart–I went to the grocery store and then cooked dinner for four people, like a freaking adult!

Find your victories, even the smallest ones, and make them take precedence over your failures. Some days, just getting out of bed will be a victory.  And that’s okay.  It counts.

 

3. Retrain your mental voice to speak to you as if you were a child (and I mean gently, not patronizingly).

I am not kidding about this.  It works.

When I used to binge, I would think things like, “Ugh, I cannot believe I ate all that food.  I feel so sick.  I feel disgusting.  Why don’t I have any willpower?  Why am I so out of control?  I’m so weak, I’m so stupid.  I am disgusting.  I’m not going to eat any food tomorrow.  Water is all I deserve after eating like that.”

Let me just tell you that it did not help.

Now, when I binge or overeat, I say to myself, “Hm. I wish I hadn’t eaten that much, I don’t like feeling sick.  It’s okay, though.  I know I’ll feel better and I can try again tomorrow.”  And then I move on.  No dwelling on it, no wallowing in misery.

I don’t do this as much anymore, but when I first starting learning about intuitive eating I practiced gentle self-talk that would go something like this:  “Hey, body.  I’m really sorry for making you feel sick again.  I haven’t been treating you very well.  Thank you for always being strong and for taking care of me.  I promise I will try to take better care of you.”  Sometimes I would even talk to myself out loud (if I was alone, obviously), check in with myself, see how I was feeling and what was going on.

Yes, I’m serious.  Just try it.

The key here is kindness, gentleness.  Treating yourself with the love and respect you deserve.

And remember that progress isn’t linear.  We all wish it was, but it just isn’t.  There will be a lot of ups and downs no matter what your goal is–the important thing is not to get caught up in the peaks and valleys, but to look at the overall trend.  Most of the time, by taking a step back you’ll see that you are, in fact, making progress.  It’s just hard to see that when you’re in the trenches.

———–

Is your inner voice supportive or destructive?  Give yourself a little mental hug today, loves.

Confessions of a [Recovering] Binge Eater

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I used to be obsessed with food.

It was the first thing I thought about when I woke up, and the last thing I thought about before my mind finally shut down and I fell asleep for the night.  I was constantly obsessing about what I had eaten, what I wanted to eat, what I was going to eat next.  I looked at recipe books and food blogs and ate and thought and planned and ate…and hated myself for all of it.

I remember looking at food and seeing numbers.  Calories.  I divided foods into safe and unsafe foods, good and bad foods.

Once I wanted egg-in-a-hole (if you do not know what this is then get yourself to my house with haste and I will make you a delicious breakfast).  But I couldn’t have it of course.  Too many calories.  Too much fat.  So I modified it.  I nixed the egg.  Eggs are bad for you.  I also tossed out the butter.  Butter would most certainly make me fat.

So I picked up a slice of spongy, disgusting 40-calorie bread and misted it with cooking spray.

Then I cooked it in a frying pan.  And ate it.

It tasted weird and metallic.  It was disgusting.  But I ate it and pretended it was good, pretended that it satisfied me and congratulated myself on my self control.

And then I inhaled a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips and half a block of cheddar cheese.

You see, the flip side of this sort of restrictive behavior for me was bingeing.  All that denying myself, all that carefully controlled portioning and measuring and counting and managing–it was like stretching a rubber band.  Once it reached its limit, it would snap back–with equal and opposite force.

A binge was a complete loss of that control.  I would just start eating and my brain would shut off; and I would have no clear memory of how I came to be standing in front of the pantry, holding an empty box of Wheat Thins and a decimated bag of trail mix.

I was so, so ashamed of this “dark side”.  I just knew that people would be disgusted with me if they knew how I really was.  Lazy.  Undisciplined.  Weak.  Every time I binged, I was left with a sickeningly full stomach and a massive black cloud of shame and self-loathing.

What is wrong with me?  Why can’t I stop eating?  I tried to counteract the massive amount of calories I would consume in my binges with purging, and with exercise.  I remember eating 8 pieces of pizza and then forcing myself to go on a 5-mile run, as if to atone for my “sin”.  (And just in case you think that is a good idea, let me tell you that it is a very, very stupid idea.  I once had to run into a hotel and vomit into a bathroom toilet because five pieces of jalapeño and pepperoni pizza do not make a good pre-run snack.)

I remember high school sleepovers, where our snacks of choice were Doritos + sour cream and anything we could find to dip into canisters of vanilla frosting.  I remember watching a movie, snacking on the Doritos, and not being able to stop.  I remember wondering how the other girls could just watch the movie, seemingly uninterested in the food; when all I could think about, all I could focus on, was that there was food next to me.  I would wake up the next morning with a food hangover, feeling nauseated and bloated, and all I wanted to do was go home and hide.

I literally could not concentrate on anything else when there was food in the room.  Parties and buffets were torture.  Everyone would be mingling, talking, and all I could think was when are we going to eat this damn food?!  It was like this pressure built up inside of me, and I needed to eat so I could move on and think about something else.

I used to bring my lunch to school–and eat the whole thing before first period started.  I literally could not ignore the fact that there was food sitting in my backpack.  It would be there, taunting me, consuming my thoughts, until I gave in and ate it to silence the voices.

One time I ate 36 cookies in one sitting.  (Not that you’re aware enough to count when you’re bingeing.  But I checked later, and that’s how much the recipe made.  I ate all of it.)

I was disgusted with myself.

I never, ever thought I would be able to escape that cycle.  I didn’t think I was strong enough.  I used to pray every day that I could have a normal, healthy relationship with food. I prayed that I could overcome this demon that haunted me; prayed that some day food wouldn’t rule my life anymore.  And yet it happened, again and again and again.

My prayers were answered, but it took a long time.  I had hoped I could overcome it in a month.  It didn’t take a month.  It didn’t even take a year.  It has taken several years of trying and failing and trying again, of changing my thought patterns and reimagining my relationship with food and with my body.  There were so many times that I felt like I would never break free.  It didn’t seem like I was making any progress.  It was only when I looked back and compared myself to where I was a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, four years ago, that I began to see the changes.

I rarely binge now, and I don’t restrict.  I can honestly say that I am not controlled by or afraid of food anymore.  It is possible.  It won’t be quick, and it won’t be easy, but it is possible. 

——

Since I occasionally get concerned emails when I talk about depression or disordered eating, I want you all to know that almost all of this stuff is in the past for me.  Writing helps me to process things though, and if you are struggling with something like this right now, I want you to know you are not alone and that you are not trapped–there is hope.  I found a few really honest blogs when I was struggling and it helped me so much to realize that I wasn’t the only one, and that I wasn’t weak or lazy.

If this post was upsetting or triggering for any of you, I am so, so sorry.  That was not my intention at all.  Please let me know in the comments.  I can preface all of my ED-related posts with a warning if that would be helpful, so you can skip the ones that wouldn’t support your recovery at this time.  I will not be offended; I have had to stop reading and watching things in the past because they were triggering for me.  Taking care of yourself comes first, and it’s hugely important that you be honest with yourself regarding what is and is not okay for you.

Love.

On Being Good Enough

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One of the hardest steps on this journey (you know, the overcoming disordered eating and a sucky body image journey) has been coming to terms with and accepting the body I have, right now.  Not the body I wish I had or hope to have one day, if I work really hard and push myself; but this body—the body that has a loose, squishy stomach and stretch marks and deflated breasts and round cheeks and thin lips.  The body that won’t ever grace the front of a magazine and most likely won’t be caught dead in a bikini.  The body that doesn’t always look right in clothes and the body that can look legitimately pregnant after a good dinner.

This is also the body that created and grew and birthed two (big) little babies.  This body stretched and grew and ached and hurt, and it supported and sustained and nurtured all three of us.  It’s a pretty nifty body, after all.

I don’t look like I did in high school.  And sometimes, I get it into my head that I should.  I think that I should look like an underweight, not-yet-developed fifteen year old girl, not like a woman and wife and mother who carried two children.

But guess what, self?  I am a woman (whether or not I feel like it).  I am a wife.  I am a mother who carried two children, and those children left their mark on me.

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And that is okay.

There is so much pressure sometimes.  So much pressure to be better! stronger! prettier! thinner! and it can feel suffocating.

So a few months ago I just said, Screw it.  I’m done.

I’m done feeling like I’m not good enough.  I’m done with “self-improvement”.  I’m done with all of these workouts and diets that are being pushed at me.  I’m done with trying to be “stronger” and “healthier” when they’re being used as code words for “thinner” and “prettier”.  I’m done with feeling like I have to be beautiful to be worthy of love and attention.

I’m done with trying to be a green, natural, media-free, creative, inspiring, perfect mother. I just can’t do it right now. I’m done with all of the conflicting parenting rules and impossible standards I set for myself before I realized what I was doing.  I’m done feeling bad about everything I do because someone out there doesn’t agree with it.

I’m done with goals that never get reached, but taunt me later when I find the discarded slips of hopes, scribbled down in a fit of optimism.  I’m done with feeling like I’m never doing enough, with being overwhelmed by all there is to do.

I’m not saying goals are bad.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to improve.  Not at all.  What I am saying is, you have to know yourself.  Know when you’re okay and when you’re not okay.  Know when you need to step back from everything, and know that it’s okay to take a break for a while if that’s what you need.

Know that it’s okay to be exactly who you are, right now, and to like that person.  For a long time I thought it wasn’t okay to like myself.  I thought it was vain or prideful.  I thought women were supposed to hate themselves and criticize their bodies.  That’s what everyone does, right?  That’s normal.

That’s also a big, huge, freaking lie.

When I went to college and had roommates for the first time, I found out that I wasn’t the only one riddled with insecurities.  All of these girls that I thought were so beautiful and perfect and intelligent had things they didn’t like about themselves–their stomachs, their thighs, their eyebrows, their hair, their lips, their arms…the list really is infinite.

What the hell are we all doing, treating ourselves like that?  What is so wrong with us that we feel like we have to constantly be fixing and perfecting everything about us in order to be “good enough”?  Who or what are we trying to be “good enough” for?

The secret is that we are already good enough to the people that love us; to our friends and our families.  We are already good enough to God.  And I’m giving you permission to believe that you, exactly as you are right now, with all of your supposed imperfections and insecurities and habits and mistakes–you are good enough.

Maybe that sounds cheesy or trite.  But I spent years telling myself how stupid and ugly and fat and [fill in the blank with any negative word of your choice] I was and it took me a long time to realize that that is not okay.

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It was scary at first, learning to like myself.  It was scary to say, “Hey world.  I screw up a lot and I might offend people sometimes and I’m not very disciplined.  But I like myself, whether or not any of that ever changes.”  It’s scary to decide that you look good the way you are.  It’s scary to finally start buying clothes that flatter you, the current you in all your glory, instead of waiting until you’ve hit that ever-elusive goal.

If someone calls you fat (or ugly or stupid or whatever) it’s almost easier to just duck your head in shame than it is to stand up and say, “NO.  I love myself, and it is not okay for you to treat me like that.”  Sticking up for yourself can be terrifying.  But you have to do it.  You have to take care of yourself.  And that includes (and starts with) protecting yourself from that nasty critic that is constantly monologuing in your head.

Again, I don’t think that wanting to lose weight or improve yourself or reach any goal is bad.  It’s the motivation behind it that I don’t like.  When your motivation is coming from a negative place, or from self-loathing, that’s when I think it’s time to step back, take a breath, and give yourself some space.  Space to be, space to grow and change–or not.

And who knows–you might just surprise yourself.

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So, in the interest of authenticity and solidarity (and oversharing?) I did something I never ever thought I’d do–post a picture of my bare, non-pregnant abdomen.  So there’s that…  😉

Body image is something I’m really, really passionate about (obviously) so forgive me if I seem a little overzealous.  That said, it’s something I love to talk about, so if you have thoughts and experiences, please do share.

And show yourself some love.  You deserve it.