body image

Couture: Party of 3

Just before Christmas, Jarrid and I were over the moon to get the news that, come August, we will be a family of 3. At 6 months pregnant, I can confidently say that this is the most exciting time of our lives!

Given my history, I always anticipated pregnancy would be challenging for me, especially the experience of my body changing. I know my body well enough to know that I can easily put on and hold onto weight, so suffice it to say I knew I wouldn't be one of those adorable women who looks like she swallowed a basketball...good god, I envy those women!

The first trimester was surprisingly smooth. I was lucky to feel mostly well and be able to keep up with all my usual routines. I gained weight, as anticipated, but found myself at ease with that. It was like I knew my body was doing what she needed to do. And for the first time in my life I noticed (in amazement) as the shape of my body fell lower on the list of things that mattered. I felt settled in a way I never had. I felt content with exactly where I was and had a deep appreciation that so much of what I wanted in my life was coming to fruition for me. And if I’m being honest, that was an entirely new emotion for me. I don’t think I’ve ever felt truly content with exactly where I was in life. I’ve always been preoccupied with what’s next; this is good, but how can it be better; I got a promotion, but when will the next one come; I love my boyfriend, but when will he be my husband? You get the idea…What a welcome change it was to feel deeply happy in the present moment. 

And then the hormones hit me like a ton of bricks. That shit is REAL. Without warning, I felt weepy and irritable. The sense of calm contentment was replaced with a rapidly growing anxiety that matched my rapidly growing…everything. I started to panic at the changes I was seeing in my body. Considering how well I was able to maintain my exercise regimen and, for the most part, pretty well balanced nutrition, I felt like my body was betraying me. Yes, I knew I needed to gain weight to provide a healthy and safe home for this baby growing in me. But 18 or so pounds by the half way point freaked me out. Would I keep gaining at this rate? Was it too much? What would happen by the time the baby was actually gaining weight?

The truth is, I fought for many years for this body. I fought hard to take good care of her, to be kind to her, to be comfortable in her, and to love and appreciate her as best as I was able. And now it felt like she was taking on a life of her own. Like it didn’t really matter what I did, because she was in charge. 

I’m aware, and extremely grateful for how lucky I am that I was able to conceive without issue and that I have maintained a healthy and uneventful pregnancy for the last 24 weeks. To those who have struggled to become pregnant or carry a pregnancy to term, I imagine that my concerns over my changing body seem like a welcome challenge. But for me they are real and they bring up a lot of pain. There were many days where my detest for myself and my body led me to a very dark place. It took over a decade to claw my way out of that darkness, so any inkling of those feelings sets off all sorts of alarms for me

We all have our demons. Your burden may seem objectively heavier to bear than mine, but the fact is, that doesn’t make my (or your) struggle any less real or less painful. While one’s feelings about her body might seem inconsequential to some, it could mean living as a prisoner in one’s own skin to someone else. So, I try not to judge my own struggles, even though I intellectually understand that so many people are suffering in ways so much greater than I could fathom. 

For me, these feelings felt troublingly familiar. And I knew that I couldn’t push them down in hopes that they would just disappear, especially given how important it is to me to bring this baby into an environment where he can see his parents love and respect themselves as much as they love him, and one another. 

A check-in with my therapist was the first step. She reminded me that this is new territory for me. While some of these feelings may seem like the past creeping up on me in the dark, in fact, this is an entirely new experience – one I’ve never had before. I am taking good care of my body and, in turn, this precious cargo. The rest may just be up to her for now. I have the tools to recognize when I am falling subject to those old beliefs about myself and to steer my internal dialogue in a different direction. 

As always, this is a good reminder for me that it’s OK to have bad days. I have to allow myself to experience all my emotions - not just the pleasant ones. I need to give myself permission to feel sad some days, even if there’s no “good reason” for it; I can have days where I feel anxious about my body or uncomfortable in my skin. What I can’t and won’t do, though, is allow those feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy the power to break me like they used to. 

I fought hard for my body but I fought even harder for my mental health…and nothing could be more important than that with a sweet baby boy on the way. 

But Will I Be A Beautiful Bride?

On August 13, 2016 I get to marry the love of my life. Every fiber of my soul cannot wait to be this man's wife. It took 13 years of dating, but I found him!

I always imagined that meeting the right man would, to some degree, heal my body image issues. If someone else found me beautiful, certainly, I would finally be able to see the beauty in myself. Right??

For me, it was always the physical aspect I struggled with. I was raised to be very clear about my worth. I always believed that I was smart and kind and worthy of love, that I had a lot to offer someone. But I feared that if I wasn't thin enough, if I didn't meet the typical standards of "beauty", then that love may not happen for me.

Before you scoff in disapproval, you should know how difficult it is to write that about oneself. Admitting that one worries deeply about his or her appearance indicates a level of shallowness that I would not characterize myself with. The fact is, though, this was my truth. I had a deep-seeded fear that my body wouldn't be acceptable enough to attract a man. 

I was wrong, as we usually are when we are blinded by our own insecurities. I met my perfect man, who tells me often how beautiful I am. And I guess I believed that would be enough. Falling in love does seem to have that effect on humans. It feels so good that it can, at least temporarily, mask a lot of the pain that might still be at play in your life. The truth is, however, that the love of someone else cannot heal something that is broken within you. 

So, here we are. I am so fortunate to be planning a beautiful wedding to celebrate spending the rest of my life with this wonderful man, yet I find myself experiencing many of those all-too-familiar self-loathing thoughts about my body. Sure, every bride wants to look and feel her best on her wedding day, so it's no surprise that anxiety about my body would be heightened right now. But over the last couple of months I catch myself falling into old habits; feeling uncomfortable in my skin and removing his hand from my belly, berating myself with negative thoughts that I spent so many years a prisoner to. 

As a health coach who fundamentally does not believe in dieting, it's a provocative place to find myself in. I very much believe that traditional dieting methods are not a positive option for me and I know how deeply important self-kindness is when it comes to how I take care of my body. In other words, when I am cruel to myself, I don't treat myself well. Those are the days I skip my workout or binge on foods that don't feel good in my body. When I am gentle and kind to myself, that is when I take the best care of my body and when my body responds well in turn.

I don't just know these things intellectually and preach them to my clients. I have experienced them and I trust in them deeply. But there is this bizarre element of weddings – this desire to put on a flawless performance, when we really should be focused on celebrating a partnership that is guaranteed NOT to work if treated like a performance - that can make us lose our way. I'm lucky to have a partner and a family that reminds me of this fact; the fact that the best part of all of this excitement is what happens when it's over: I get to be married to this person for the rest of my life!

Does this mean I won't stress about my upcoming dress fitting? No. Does it mean I won't have days where I revert to my old ways of trying to punish myself into the body I think I "should" have? Ummm no. I wish I could say otherwise, but this is the place where I get real with you guys about real shit. And that would not be real. 

The difference for me now is that I have the tools to keep those feelings at bay. I can allow myself to experience these feelings, as crappy as they feel, without allowing them to debilitate me. I can be open and share these feelings with others who support me, rather than keeping them hidden where they do the most damage. I can trust in the belief that I am loved as I am today. And I will be loved as I am tomorrow. And if I feed my body, mind, and soul with that belief, I'll also rock that dress, which will be icing on the proverbial wedding cake. 

My Mother's Daughter

My mother is the strongest and most badass person I know. Its empowering to be raised by a woman who demonstrates strength in all aspects of life. It's not her phD or her professional success which make her, in my eyes, the strongest woman I know. Its not that she and my father started their young lives together with nothing and raised three children while working full time and providing us with everything we could hope for. It's not even that she beat cancer and cared for my father as he beat cancer. As an adult, I can now appreciate how much sadness and adversity my mother has faced in her 66 years: the loss of both of her parents, one when she was in her 20's; the loss of a sister; the fear she had to face for a child in the throws of an eating disorder. Most trying, though, has been her fight to help her oldest child - my sister - who suffers from debilitating mental illness. Its a fight that is ever present in her life, day in and day out.

And yet, she gets up every day and lives life with grace and fortitude, recognizing all that she has to be so grateful for. She does everything in her power to support a child that cannot help herself but doesn't let it keep her from living her own life. She still finds joy in the small things - the sound of the waves crashing onto the beach, an afternoon with a lifelong friend; and she relishes in the big things -  supporting me as I embark on a new career path.

The strongest woman I know. And, yet, I have these vivid memories of being a girl and hearing her wish longingly for "legs like that woman's". I remember my dad telling me how my wise, successful, stunning mother (see above) used to comment that she wished they had machines that could stretch your body out. It's something most (sadly I don't think thats an exaggeration) women probably think about more often than we'd like to admit, regardless of how successful or fortunate we are.

I tell you this story not because I think my mother did anything wrong or "caused" my body image issues. My mother was and is incredibly supportive of me in all ways. I share this because as I get older and plan my future with my fiance, the thought of how I teach my daughter to embrace her body is always on my mind. How can I guide her to love herself and be grateful for the incredible things her body is capable of, regardless of what size she wears, when it has been so hard for me to do the same for myself? How do I ingrain in her that she's beautiful as she is while making her realize that she is so much more than what she looks like? So much more than her measurements.

I suppose it's something I can't answer, at least not yet. One thing I do know is that it begins with me. Children pick up on how we treat ourselves and they mimic us. So it's up to me to walk my walk and not just talk my talk. It's up to me to embrace my body for all she is capable of, whether I ran 5 miles or ate pizza on the couch that day.

I also know that we will talk about it often and honestly. I can't control the so-called "ideal" images of women that will surround her everywhere she goes. But I can remind her that who we are - not the size of our skinny jeans - is what makes us beautiful. And it's when we love ourselves and our bodies that our beauty shines through most brightly. 

Ladies, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, whether or not you're a mom. How do you approach body image with your daughters, sisters, and loved ones? Please share, as it's something all of us can learn and benefit from!

Fifteen

I was 15 when I decided I wanted to lose some weight. Nothing drastic - I had always been a pretty athletic kid. But I had just finished my Freshman year of High School and I was realizing I might need to work a little harder to look the way I thought I "should" look. I was away at sleepaway camp for the summer, so I cut out the junk food (read: no sneaking Twizzlers on the rafters of our bunk) and started jogging. It worked. And people noticed. I started that school year on cloud 9. But it wasn't long before I had lost the reins. Breakfast was coffee, lunch a small fat free yogurt and an apple, and dinner a large veggie salad with fat free cheese (i.e. plastic) and half of a piece of pita bread. Every single day. And I ran. And ran. Outings involving food now riddled me with anxiety. Would I HAVE to eat? Would they have plain vegetables? The very possibility of having to eat something outside of my 3 safe food categories was terrifying. My parents took me to see a therapist and a nutritionist but it fell on deaf ears. I was really good at not eating...

Until I wasn't. After years of starvation, not getting my period, bad skin, and faking that all was great, I couldn't do it anymore. My body needed nourishment. But my mind wasn't ready to accept that "failure". So, instead of learning to feed my body with good foods, I began a treacherous cycle of restricting and bingeing. A few days of not allowing myself any food were followed by a day (or 3) of hiding food under my bed, hiding food wrappers, and eating until I was physically sick. By the beginning of my sophomore year of college - which I had worked my whole life for - I had gained 50 pounds and was deeply depressed. Many days I could not get out of bed, I contemplated suicide. I was trapped in a body I detested. I loathed myself and prayed for a disease - anything to end this misery. 

After a weekend visiting my sister, I couldn't deny that I was at a dangerous point and needed help. Three days later I took a leave of absence from college and entered an inpatient eating disorder treatment facility. It was the first step in a very long road to recovery; one which I will probably always be on.

I spent all of my teenage and most of my adult life to date obsessed with my body and what I would or would not eat that day. It took 15 years for me to learn that my self worth does not equate to what I eat, that a day can only be "bad" based on what I've eaten if I allow it to be. The truth is, there are days when I forget that. At times it's easier to fall back into what I call the "dieter's mindset" - a self-fulfilling roller coaster of following and breaking rules, emotional highs and lows, feelings of self-worth followed by guilt and punishment crashing down on us.

And on those days I remind myself that I deserve better. I am more than the sum of my meals. My experience is what prompted me to launch the Sustainable Body Project. That is my story. It's made me who I am today, and for that I am grateful. What's your story? I'd love to hear from you. Comment here and follow me on Facebook and Instagram.